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HOME : Chinese Art : Tang Dynasty : Tang Terracotta Sculpture of a Camel
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Tang Terracotta Sculpture of a Camel - H.1060
Origin: China
Circa: 618 AD to 906 AD
Dimensions: 18.125" (46.0cm) high
Collection: Chinese Art
Medium: Terracotta

Location: United States
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During the Tang Dynasty, the beloved status of the camel ranked second only to the revered horse. Camels symbolized commerce and its associated wealth, largely concentrated on profits though trading on the Silk Road. Trade across this extensive network of paths and trails brought prosperity, foreign merchants, and exotic merchandise into China. However, the arduous journey through the rugged mountains and harsh desert of Central Asia could only be traversed by the two-humped Bactrian camel. This remarkable beast was able to withstand the scorching heat of the desert and to maintain its own nutrients, surviving for months without fresh supplies of water. The government kept vast herds of these invaluable creatures, presided over by civil officials, for hauling their precious commodities across the Silk Road. These exotic creatures were a common sight in the cosmopolitan cities of Tang China, carrying both traders and their goods directly into the markets. Likewise, Tang 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 specifically created in an ancient Chinese custom for interment in the tombs of elite individuals in order to provide for their afterlife. Some of the most beautiful works of Chinese art were excavated from such tombs, and this polychrome sculpture of a camel is a perfect example of the refined artistry dedicated to such works even though they were never meant to be seen by the living. A remarkable amount of the original pigment that once covered this work remains intact. Vibrant yellow, red, and burgundy hues decorate the camel and its accoutrements. Bulging with merchandise, a large pack shaped like a growling tiger rests atop the camel’s humps. This majestic sculpture reveals the Tang Dynasty’s respect and admiration for this beast of burden, so essential to the prosperity of ancient China. - (H.1060)


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