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HOME : Chinese Art : Ming Dynasty : Ming Glazed Terracotta Sculptures of a Horse and Rider and an Attendant
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Ming Glazed Terracotta Sculptures of a Horse and Rider and an Attendant - H.506
Origin: China
Circa: 1368 AD to 1644 AD
Dimensions: 15.5" (39.4cm) high
Catalogue: V17
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Glazed Terracotta

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.

After years of suffering from Yuan domination-- a domination realized through the mastery of cavalry warfare--the Ming Dynasty emerged to reclaim its culturally superior status. In the statuette art of the Ming, horses are favored subjects. Ming horses typically have a robust and rather massive appearance. This modification is apparent in this set of horse, rider and attendant. The rider sits high on a saddled horse with an attendant at his side holding the reigns. The figurines are painted in blue, red, and white glaze. Apparently of high social status, the rider is dressed in plain military attire. His hands grasp something we can no longer see, but can only imagine to be a weapon. His rank and position in society enable him to travel on horse accompanied by a male attendant. It was also common for men of his background to engage in equestrian activities such as polo. Through realistic facial detail, the Ming artist gives life to the medium. An individual emerges out of these lifeless objects; the depiction of real-life expressions enhances the vitality of these characters who have existed throughout China's long history. Imbuing the object with life was the goal of craftsmen since their work, as representations of real people, were to accompany the deceased along a perilous journey into the other world. Whether or not these ceramic pieces made during the Ming carried the same significance for its owner still remains a mystery; however such burial practices did not disappear with such speed or entirety. - (H.506)


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