camel is an unusual domestic animal; it carries a saddle of flesh on its back;
swiftly it dashes over the shifting sands; it manifests its merit in dangerous
places; it has a secret understanding of springs and sources, subtle indeed is
Pu, 3rd Century AD
Camels symbolized commerce and its associated wealth,
largely concentrated on profits through trading on the Silk Road.
Trade across this extensive network of trails brought prosperity, foreign
merchants, and exotic merchandize into the heart of China.
However, the dusty trails of the Silk Road were an arduous journey
through the rugged mountains and harsh desert of Central Asia that could only be
traversed by the two humped Bactrian camel.
The government kept vast herds of these invaluable creatures, presided
over by civil officials, for hauling their precious commodities across the Silk
Road. Camels were a common sight in
the cosmopolitan cities of China, carrying both traders and their goods directly
into the markets. Likewise, artist
began to create charming representations of these prized creatures as mingqi
in order to symbolize wealth and prosperity in the afterlife.
Mingqi were works of art created in an ancient Chinese custom
specifically for interment in the tombs of elite individuals in order to provide
for their needs in the afterlife. Some
of the most beautiful works of Chinese art were excavated from such tombs, and
this crème-glazed sculpture of a camel is a perfect example of the refined
artistry dedicated to such works, despite the facts that they were not intended
to be viewed by the living. Most
remarkable, this work still retains some of its original painted pigment,
including red highlights on his ears and mouth, which heighten the naturalism.
This majestic sculpture reveals China’s respect and admiration for this
beast of burden, so essential to their prosperity.