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HOME : Chinese Art : Masterpieces of Chinese Art : Sui Glazed Terracotta Sculpture of a Camel
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Sui Glazed Terracotta Sculpture of a Camel - H.724
Origin: China
Circa: 581 AD to 618 AD
Dimensions: 13.5" (34.3cm) high
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Glazed Terracotta

Location: Great Britain
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After almost four hundred years of civil war and division, Yang Jian succeeded in reunifying north and south under one authority, the Sui Dynasty. However, despite its brief duration, lasting for the rule of only two emperors, the Sui Dynasty paved the way for the cultural renaissance that would arise during the T’ang Dynasty. Reforms were introduced to wrest power out of the hands of the aristocracy, military, and Buddhist communities. The Confucianist system of selecting government officials from state schools, by means of rigorous examinations, was initiated. Perhaps their most significant program was the construction of the Great Canal, a project that facilitated the movement of people and goods across great distances, aiding in the reunification of China. However, the cost of the Canal bankrupted the empire and ultimately led to its dissolution, coupled with a failed campaign to conquer Korea. The rulers of the T’ang would capitalize on the infrastructure improvements of the Sui and establish one of the greatest empires in the history of China, following the footsteps of the Sui.

The 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 its knowledge.

--Guo 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, loaded with a swollen bundle of goods, 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.
- (H.724)


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