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HOME : Chinese Art : Chinese Collection/ HK : Tang Painted Terracotta Sculpture of a Camel
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Tang Painted Terracotta Sculpture of a Camel - LA.513
Origin: China
Circa: 618 AD to 906 AD
Dimensions: 10.75" (27.3cm) high x 19" (48.3cm) wide
Collection: Chinese
Style: Tang Dynasty
Medium: Painted Terracotta


Additional Information: HK

Location: Great Britain
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Description
The Tang Dynasty was an era of unrivalled wealth and luxury. The country was successfully reunified and the borders were expanded, pushing Chinese influence into new lands. Confucianism became a quasi- religious instrument of the state; yet Buddhism continued to flourish, spreading into Korea and Japan. The arts reached new levels of sophistication. Poetry and literature flourished under the enlightened rulers. The Silk Road brought fortunes into China. Precious treasures were imported on the backs of camels from far away lands and bartered for Chinese silk, medicinal herbs, and pungent spices. Tang China was a multicultural empire where foreign merchants from across Central Asia and the Middle East settled in the urban centers, foremost among them the thriving capital of Chang’an (modern Xi'an), a bustling cosmopolitan center of over two million inhabitants. Foreign traders lived next to native artisans and both thrived. New ideas and exotic artistic forms followed alongside. The Tang Dynasty was a cultural renaissance where many of the forms and objects we now associate with China were first created. Moreover, this period represents one of the greatest cultural outpourings in human history.

“The camel is an unusual domestic animal; it carries a saddle of flesh on its back; swiftly it dashes over the shifting sands; it manifests its merit in dangerous places; it has a secret understanding of springs and sources, subtle indeed is its knowledge.” This quote by Guo Pu dates to the 3rd Century A.D. and reveals the extent to which the Chinese adulated camels. For the Chinese, these creatures symbolized the wealth and luxury that resulted from trading on the Silk Road. Commerce across this extensive network of paths and trails brought prosperity, foreign merchants, and exotic merchandize into China. However, the dusty trails of the Silk Road were an arduous journey through the rugged mountains and harsh deserts of Central Asia that could only be traversed by the two humped Bactrian camel. This remarkable beast was able to withstand the scorching heat of the desert and maintain its own nutrients, surviving for months without fresh supplies of water. The government kept vast herds of these invaluable creatures, presided over by civil officials, for hauling their precious commodities across the Silk Road. These exotic creatures were a common sight in the cosmopolitan cities of Tang China, carrying both traders and their goods directly into the markets. Likewise, Tang artist began to create charming representations of these prized creatures as mingqi in order to symbolize continued wealth and prosperity throughout the afterlife.

During the Tang Dynasty, restrictions were placed on the number of objects that could be included in tombs, an amount determined by an individual's social rank. In spite of the limitations, a striking variety of tomb furnishings, known as mingqi, have been excavated. Entire retinues of ceramic figures - animals, entertainers, musicians, guardians, etc. - were buried with the dead in order to provide for the afterlife. Some of the most beautiful works of Chinese art were excavated from tombs, and this sculpture of a camel is a gorgeous example of the refined artistry of works that they were never meant to be seen by the living. This recumbent camel has paused for a moment before returning on the arduous journey. The saddle is packed high with goods including rolled carpets possibly from Central Asia. A fur blanket with engraved tufts of hair tops the bundle. The camel’s head is held high in the air, as if getting ready to stand. This sculpture reveals the Tang Dynasty’s respect and admiration for this beast of burden, so essential to the prosperity of Ancient China. This fine unglazed example would date back to the early Tang period, i.e. 7th century AD, when unglazed pottery figurines were still preferred to the later sancai glazed earthenware. Similar sculptures have been indeed unearthed throughout the Zhongyuan, prevalently in Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces, attesting to the lively and incompassed artistry of the early Tang potters. - (LA.513)

 

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