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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Name-CRT: Chinese
Title: Civil Official
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 700
Creation End Date: 799
Creation Date: Tang period, 8th century
Creation Place: North China
Object Type: Sculpture
Materials and Techniques: Earthenware with multicolored lead glazes and traces of pigment (sancai ware)
Dimensions: H. 40 3/4 in. (103.5 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.114
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Context: The use of clay to make sculptures and other furnishings for tombs is one of the most distinctive aspects of Chinese ceramic history. The Chinese belief in and desire for an afterlife that continued the pleasures and activities of the world is reflected in the use of ceramics to make models (known as spirit goods, or mingqi) of attendants, entertainers, pets, domestic animals, and a host of worldly goods, all of which would be needed and used by the deceased in his or her afterlife.
Many tomb sculptures from the Tang period (618-906) are coated with the vibrant lead glazes known as three-color or sancai. This large standing figure of a civil official illustrates the technique. His outer robes were tinted amber-brown by adding an iron oxide to the glaze, while the green used to trim the sleeves of the inner and outer robes was derived from copper. The cream color also used to trim the sleeves of the robes is the third of the three colors for which these glazes are named. As is often true of this type of ceramic, certain areas were deliberately left unglazed, and the color of the earthenware body adds another element to the decoration, as did the painting of the face and hat, although very little pigment traces remain.
Three kilns have been associated with the production of sancai: the Tongchuan kilns in Shaanxi Province, the Neiqiu kilns in Hebei, and the Gongxian kilns in Henan. Both Tongchuan and Gongxian are known to have produced goods for imperial use, and it has been suggested that the development of three-color wares may also have been supported by imperial patronage. The earliest known examples of ceramics covered with sancai glazes were excavated from the 675 tomb of Li Feng, the fifteenth son of the Emperor Gaozong. Ceramics colored with this flamboyant glaze were also made in some number during the reign of the usurper Empress Wu (r. 690-704). Tomb figurines covered with sancai glazes appear in vast quantities in Tang imperial tombs dating to the first decades of the 8th century. The restoration of Li family control of the Tang empire was marked by the reburial of several members of the imperial family who had been killed by the Empress Wu, and the immediate need for a large number of tomb sculptures must have also contributed to the development of sancai wares.
The large size of this figure of a civil official and the use of a contoured pedestal suggest that this sculpture was in the tomb of a member of the court, if not of the imperial family itself. Such pedestals are found on tomb sculptures of both civil and military officials excavated from the grave of Prince Zhuanghai, the second son of Emperor Gaozong, who was reinterred in 706. It is unlikely, given the rigid structuring of tomb sizes and burial goods in the Tang period, that a figure of a civil official would have been placed in any tomb but that of a member of the court. This official's folded hands indicate that he was in a subservient position to the deceased; only someone of considerable status would have had any authority over a civil official.
Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, , p. 54.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.114
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights:
Copyright, Asia Society
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