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HOME : Chinese Art : Miscellaneous : Ming Glazed Terracotta Sculptures of a Horse and an Attendant
Ming Glazed Terracotta Sculptures of a Horse and an Attendant - H.507
Origin: China
Circa: 1368 AD to 1644 AD
Dimensions: 9.5" (24.1cm) high
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.

This glazed figurine set of an attendant and horse is typical of the artistic changes that occurred after the Mongols were expelled from the Chinese court and the Ming Dynasty was established.  Mingqi burial pieces tended to reflect this revitalization of the glorious past and celebration of the triumph of Chinese strength and spirit.  The horse is endowed with features of the Mongolian breed of horse that was short, stocky, and powerful as it is also stylized in such a way that emphasizes new imperial strength. The naturalist features of the horse’s head such as its black mane, small pointed ears, penetrating blue eyes, and long muzzle and the colorfully painted bridle and armored saddle indicate a shift from highly stylized portrayals of horses as in previous periods. Both the horse and the attendant are painted in colors of vivid green, brown, and gold. The attendant’s robe and cap are representative of the changes in court fashion, as the new regime championed the doctrine of Neo- Confucianism and began to restructure customs and rituals to its prescribed formula of conduct. Entombing burial objects with deceased officials and lords continued as a practice, but it gradually began to subside toward the end of the Ming.  This mounted set of a horse and attendant is embodied with the historical spirit of the times as it represents the evolution of burial practices from early China as well as the celebratory mood of the Ming Dynasty. - (H.507)


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