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HOME : Chinese Art : Ming Dynasty : Ming Glazed Terracotta Sculptures of a Horse and a Civic Official
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Ming Glazed Terracotta Sculptures of a Horse and a Civic Official - H.016
Origin: China
Circa: 1368 AD to 1644 AD

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.

With his arm outstretched holding an imaginary rein, a civil official stands patiently beside his horse.  He wears a long, flowing turquoise robe with wide sleeve openings folded loosely across the body with a high, crossover white collar and a belt drawn through a circular belt buckle.  A flattened, tall cylindrical hat rests snugly on his head, accentuating his pendulant earlobes and delicately featured white face.  The horse is caught in a natural pose with its right leg cocked and mouth agape.  Its sturdy, graceful body is decorated with colorful layers of fittings and insignia.  The mane is combed and parted between the ears, and the long tresses of the tail are cast in a singular mold.  It has a playful, childish quality that comes forth through its gestures and expressions.

After the T'ang Dynasty (AD 618-907), figurines no longer formed standard part of tomb furnishings but the tradition lingered on.  The use of burial objects varied according to individual choice or local habit.  The Ming consciously revived the art of tomb figurines, adding to the range of colored glazes used since the T'ang--light to dark blue, green, yellow and turquoise.  Although the belief behind their use faded, the Ming still produced marvelous pieces, perhaps for their aesthetic and symbolic value.
- (H.016)


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