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HOME : Chinese Art : Ming Dynasty : Ming Glazed Terracotta Temple Roof Tile Depicting a Horse and Rider
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Ming Glazed Terracotta Temple Roof Tile Depicting a Horse and Rider - H.718
Origin: China
Circa: 1368 AD to 1644 AD
Dimensions: 18.25" (46.4cm) 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.

Chinese architecture is one of the more distinct styles of building. Perhaps the most characteristic element is the pagoda roofs that end in dramatic curves. This sculptural tile would have been situated on that curved edge of a Ming Dynasty temple. Depicting a horse and rider, this work was placed on the roof in order to frighten away any evil spirits that might attempt to infiltrate the sacred space. The rider, apparently a soldier, is decorated in ochre- glazed armor that covers his body. Both his hands are positioned as if they once held something. Most probably weapons, perhaps swords, rendered in wood, that have deteriorated over the centuries. Although this detail has disappeared, the vibrant hues of the blue and ochre glaze remain as brilliantly colorful as ever. The horse’s saddle, mane and tail are all a beautiful deep blue glaze, some of which has dripped over the other elements of the work, creating a marvelous pattern. Blue-glazed ribbons decorating the riders swirl in the breeze, just like the wavy winds that blow at the horse’s feet. When one considers that this remarkable architectural sculpture is just the tip of the temple, the beauty of the completed temple must be truly astounding.
- (H.718)


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