Female Burial Figure, Tang Dynasty (618-906CE)
Female Burial Figure, Tang Dynasty (618–906 CE)
Gift of Ann and Henry Brunnier. In the Permanent Collection of the Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
The Tang Dynasty was known for its tri-color ceramic glaze technique called sancai. Artisans used copper to create the green color and iron to achieve the amber color. These, in combination with the clear cream glaze, provided the three-colored low fired ceramics characteristic of the Tang Dynasty. These ceramics were used primarily in burials and are thought to not have been for daily use. In some cases, sculptures such as this female figure are seen as tomb guardians, not unlike the objects the ancient Egyptians used to bury with their dead.
Under Tang rule, the Chinese witnessed an era of tremendous political, cultural and economic growth. The arts of this period offer impressions of an aristocracy enjoying financial prosperity and intellectual enlightenment. These changes in taste were primarily a direct result of expanded trade, that the silk road brought about in the previous dynasty, calling for increased quality in craftsmanship and variety in designs highlighting more international influence. This celebration of ethnicity illustrates an era of adaptive assimilation, with the Chinese selecting elements from other cultures that complemented their traditional lifestyle.
This burial figure is a lady in waiting. She is a fine Tang Dynasty example of the co-mingling of traditional and progressive tastes that occurred in this period. A courtesan with covered hands and a traditional hairstyle are images reminiscent of Chinese heritage. Featuring a European-influenced robe with a low-cut neckline and a slender body, this figure illustrates significant absorption of western trends into Chinese society.
From the early seventh century through 664 CE the Chinese concept of femininity was idealized as slender and elegant. The women were normally shown as ladies in waiting, musicians, or dancers. The body was covered with a transparent glaze over the pigment. The face was left unglazed and realistically painted in unfired pigment. These wares were quite splendid at the time they were placed in the tomb. Unfortunately, the pigments used were impermanent and only a few touches of original color remain.