Pair of Early Tang Pottery Female Dancers

SKU LA.558
Circa

618 AD to 700 AD

Dimensions

10.75″ (27.3cm) high

Medium

Terracotta

Origin

China

Gallery Location

UK


 

Two painted earthenware figurines of female dancers, white pigmented faces with red lips, upswept hair in high bun, high waisted flowing floor-length gown with frontal central pleat revealing trefoil upturned shoes, traces of original pigmentation remain. One arm folded backward behind the back, the other raised and bent at an angle, the long sleeve covering the hand to mimic a dance movement.

Music, as well as dance, was highly appreciated by the Tang aristocracy who would indulge frequently in lavish displays. The atmosphere was well captured by the poet Du Fu (712-770), who in his “Song of the Beautiful Ladies” provides a poetic description of these entertainments:

“Third month, third day, in the air a breath of newness: By Chang’ An riverbanks the beautiful ladies crowd, Warm-bodied, modest-minded, mild and pure, With clear sleek complexions, bone and flesh well matched, In figured-gauze robes that shine in the late spring, worked with golden peacocks, silver unicorns. On their heads what do they wear? Kingfisher glinting from hairpins that dangle by side lock borders. On their back what do I see? Pearls that weight the waistband and subtly set off the form.” [Watson 1984: 222]

Early Tang music and dance stemmed out of Central Asia, from Silk Road centres such as Kucha and Sogdiana. The Central Asian musical influence is well reflected in the inventory of musical instruments, which included small drums and cymbals, barbarian lutes (hu pipa) and horizontal harps (hangkou) of clear Central Asian derivation. These exotic instruments were preferred during the Tang period possibly because they would have been easy to carry around for less formal performances.

According to archaeological findings, Chinese dance has a history of over five thousand years. Until the Han dynasty (206 B. C. – A. D. 220), most of the Chinese dances originated and were maintained by from the folks. Only during the Han period, a musical entertainment court was established for the imperial family, which was essentially a centre for systematically documenting and enhancing folk songs and dances.

Because of the political stability and the economic prosperity of the Tang dynasty, poetry, music and dance were given opportunities to flourish. The Tang dynasty has been regarded as the golden age for dance in ancient China. Dances in the Tang dynasty inherited techniques that were developed in the past dynasties such as Zhou, Qin, Han, Wei, Jin, and Nanbei. During the early Tang period, Buddhism was introduced to China and because trade and social relationship with other countries rapidly expanded, dances was influenced by folk dances of other countries such as India, Rome, Persia (Iran), Korea, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, and other Central Asian countries, through the Silk Road. In addition, it also combined with other forms of fine arts such as painting, scenery, and colourful costumes as well as poetry, classical music and drama. The combination of these multi-faceted traditions brought the performing arts to a new peak of entertainment.

Even the emperors of the Tang dynasty paid significant attention to the development of the Chinese dance and music, often by directly contributing to this effort. Among them, Emperor Li Shimin who personally composed the song Pozhen yuetu, which was successfully staged for a major dance festival and was later introduced to India, Turfan (Xinjiang), and Japan, and Emperor Li Lonji (also known as Tang Minhuang), who composed another brilliant piece of music called Nishang yuyi. Tang Minhuang used graceful traditional dance techniques combining with marvelous Indian dance skills and music to portray an elegant fairyland with beautiful maidens. Staged by Tang Minhuang, danced by his famous concubine and dancer Yang Guifei, and music played by Liyuan, the Nishang yuyi dance has been regarded as one of the splendid treasures in China’s dance history.

The cosmopolitan emphasis in music and dance during the Tang is well reflected in some of the astonishing high Tang murals in cave 178 of the Mogao complex in Dunhuang (Gansu province). Everywhere, even in specifically religious themes such as the preaching of the Buddha, images of dancers often accompany the narrative.

The magnificent dance of the Tang period was the result of inheriting the traditions, enhancing the Chinese classical and folk dance techniques, as well as widely incorporating music and dance skills from other countries. Due to the broad spectrum of styles, characteristics and topics, dance was one of the favorite performing arts and was very well received by almost every social class during the Tang period. It also played a significant role in the social relationship among different countries as well as different ethnic groups. The Chinese classical dance has passed from generation to generation, and is still practiced by the Chinese classical and folk dance community.

Our elegant pair of female dancers manages to crystallise in a single untouched pose, the beauty and enjoyment Tang people must have felt in such a thriving period of musical and artistic creativity.

Cf: Wang Kefen, “The History of Chinese Dance,” Wai Yuyan Chubanshe, Beijing, China, 1985.

Smallest height 10.25 inches

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