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HOME : Chinese Art : Archive : Pair of Ming Glazed Terracotta Court Attendants
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Pair of Ming Glazed Terracotta Court Attendants - H.046b
Origin: China
Circa: 1368 AD to 1644 AD
Dimensions: 13.5" (34.3cm) high x 4.25" (10.8cm) wide
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Glazed Terracotta

Additional Information: SOLD

Location: United States
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Upon leading a victorious rebellion against the foreign Mongul rulers of the Yuan Dynasty, a peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang seized control of China and founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368. As emperor, he founded his capital at Nanjing and adopted the name Hongwu as his reign title. Hongwu, literally meaning “vast military,” reflects the increased prestige of the army during the Ming Dynasty. Due to the very realistic threat still posed by the Mongols, Hongwu realized that a strong military was essential to Chinese prosperity. Thus, the orthodox Confucian view that the military was an inferior class to be ruled over by an elite class of scholars was reconsidered. During the Ming Dynasty, China proper was reunited after centuries of foreign incursion and occupation. Ming troops controlled Manchuria, and the Korean Joseon Dynasty respected the authority of the Ming rulers, at least nominally.

Like the founders of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.- 220 A.D.), Hongwu was extremely suspicious of the educated courtiers that advised him and, fearful that they might attempt to overthrow him, he successfully consolidated control of all aspect of government. The strict authoritarian control Hongwu wielded over the affairs of the country was due in part to the centralized system of government he inherited from the Monguls and largely kept intact. However, Hongwu replaced the Mongul bureaucrats who had ruled the country for nearly a century with native Chinese administrators. He also reinstituted the Confucian examination system that tested would-be civic officials on their knowledge of literature and philosophy. Unlike the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), which received most of its taxes from mercantile commerce, the Ming economy was based primarily on agriculture, reflecting both the peasant roots of its founder as well as the Confucian belief that trade was ignoble and parasitic.

Culturally, the greatest innovation of the Ming Dynasty was the introduction of the novel. Developed from the folk tales of traditional storytellers, these works were transcribed in the everyday vernacular language of the people. Advances in printmaking and the increasing population of urban dwellers largely contributed to the success of these books. Architecturally, the most famous monument of the Ming Dynasty is surely the complex of temples and palaces known as the Forbidden City that was constructed in Beijing after the third ruler of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Yongle, moved the capital there. Today, the Forbidded Palace remains one of the hallmarks of traditional Chinese architecture and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the vast nation.

These two sancai glazed figurines depict a male and female attendant presenting gifts in a ceremonial procession or waiting on superiors. The rich colored details and linear sculpting of folds is distinctive of Ming period pottery art. Modelled wearing layers of green and yellow ochre draping robes accented with a floral broach and white collar, the female attendant balances a box on her hands hidden under the folds of long sleeves. Her hair is stylistically portrayed in a flopped bun tied to the side of her head with a red clip. Her face is white and fleshy, realistically molded to convey the courtly aesthetics of the time. Her counterpart, a male attendant dressed in a cross-over robe of matching colors and pointed black cap, humbly presents himself draping a diamond patterned sash over his long, voluminous sleeves. With his eyes lowered, his demure countenance expresses humility and respect. Although the practice of burying pottery objects had dwindled by the Ming, they continued in use up to and including the Qing period. Their function of depicting the world of the living was maintained, and with advances in ceramic technologies, their appearance evolved, as seen in the application of beautiful glaze and sculpting techniques. - (H.046b)


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