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HOME : Chinese Art : Masterpieces of Chinese Art : T'ang Painted Terracotta Sculpture of a Lady-in-Waiting
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T'ang Painted Terracotta Sculpture of a Lady-in-Waiting - H.997
Origin: China
Circa: 618 AD to 906 AD
Dimensions: 20" (50.8cm) high
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Painted Terracotta

Location: UAE
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The T’ang Dynasty was an era of unrivalled wealth and luxury. The country was successfully reunified and the borders were expanded, pushing Chinese influence into new lands. Confucianism became a semi-religious instrument of the state; yet Buddhism continued to flourish, spreading into Korea and Japan. The arts reached new levels of sophistication. Poetry and literature flourished under the enlightened rulers. The Silk Road brought fortunes into China. Precious treasures were imported on the backs of camels from far away lands and bartered for Chinese silk, medicinal herbs, and pungent spices. T’ang China was a multicultural empire where foreign merchants from across Central Asia and the Middle East settled in the urban centers, foremost among them the thriving capital of Chang’an (modern X’ian), a bustling cosmopolitan center of over two million inhabitants. Foreign traders lived next to native artisans and both thrived. New ideas and exotic artistic forms followed alongside. The T’ang Dynasty was a cultural renaissance where many of the forms and objects we now associate with China were first created. Moreover, this period represents one of the greatest cultural outpourings in human history.

During the Tang Dynasty, restrictions were placed on the number of objects that could be included in tombs, an amount determined by an individual's social rank. In spite of the limitations, a striking variety of tomb furnishings, known as mingqi, have been excavated. Entire retinues of ceramic figures - animals, entertainers, musicians, guardians - were buried with the dead in order to provide for the afterlife. Of the various types of mingqi, there is perhaps none more beautiful or charming than the sculptures of elegant female courtiers. These gorgeous sculptures represent the idealized woman of T’ang Dynasty China. This sculpture representing such a sophisticated lady is remarkable for its size, nearly twice as large as the standard type. She provided eternal companionship for her lord throughout the afterlife. We can imagine her gracefully dancing or singing a poetical song, two very popular customs for ladies during the T’ang Dynasty, considered a golden age of Chinese culture. Such courtiers are described in the numerous love poems written during this era, likely the greatest outpouring of poetry in Chinese history.

She wears her hair in an elegant coiffure featuring two buns that appears almost like the alert ears of a startled dog. This elaborate hairstyle is matched by her sumptuous orange robe. Much of the original pigment that once decorated this work remains intact, most noticeable in her dress, her vibrant red lips, and her soft, rosy cheeks. Such women may represent wives, princesses, or attendants. She carries what appears to be a flower-shaped loaf of bread or some pastry treat, pointing to it with her other hand as she proudly presents it to us. Their beauty inspires us as we are transported back to another time. This large terracotta effigy of an ancient courtier has been to the next world and returned to our modern era to tell us her tale. She speaks of the enormous wealth and sophisticated culture of the T’ang Dynasty, one of the greatest periods of artistic creation in human history. Although she speaks of the past, this lady in waiting continues to amaze us in the present with her unmatched beauty and sculptural refinement. - (H.997)


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