East Asia, China, Tang Dynasty, ca. 618 to 907 CE. A large, hollow pottery figure of a Bactrian camel wearing very distinctive saddle bags in the form of monstrous masked faces. This camel was made to be a tomb figure, known as a "mingqi." Tang dynasty elites had underground tombs full of pottery figures that were made to care for their every need in the afterlife. This figure was painted (rather than glazed, as some others were), with black paint still visible around the saddle and some white paint visible, especially on the face. He stands on his own, his four legs part of an integrated flat platform. The camel's head is curved back, his head up and mouth open wide in a bellow. The monster masks on the sides may have been designed as wards to frighten evil spirits and protect the dead. Size: 16.2" L x 8.4" W x 22.15" H (41.1 cm x 21.3 cm x 56.3 cm)
The art of the Tang Dynasty is truly international, reflecting a world in which the Chinese court spread its influence through military conquest and trade to Central Asia, India, Persia, Africa, and southeastern Asia. In this prosperous period, Tang elites imitated the style of the Persians, wearing high boots, short tunics, and leopard skin hats. Music, sport, and dance all emulated Central Asian styles. Nothing is more representative of this cultural milieu than the figure of the Bactrian camel who, with his saddle bags, carried so many of these goods and, by extension, practices east and west along the Silk Road. Travelling west from the Tang capital, Chang'an, the Silk Road passed through the Taklamakan Desert. The Bactrian camel was vital to this transport because of its abilities - to go without water for a week, to travel 30 miles a day, and to carry hundreds of pounds, as well as to withstand very hot and very cold temperatures.
Compare this example, with the monstrous saddle bags, to a glazed one with a rider at the Art Institute of Chicago (1969.788a-b).
Provenance: private Scollard collection, Los Angeles, California, USA collection
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