Pair of Tang Pottery Bulls

SKU LA.524
Circa

618 AD to 906 AD

Dimensions

9″ (22.9cm) high

Medium

Terracotta

Origin

China

Gallery Location

UK


 

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.

As new philosophical and religious strands penetrated the thought system of early China, the subject matter of tomb objects and tomb patterns changed. The past practice of entombing elite members of society with earthenware objects continued throughout the early and middle Tang period, but the earlier emphasis placed on recreating daily life shifted to flaunting status and excess. Tombs were no longer “underground houses,” but became a landscape with murals depicting the palaces, gardens, and open countryside in which the nobles passed their lives. 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 have been excavated. Entire retinues of ceramic figures – animals, entertainers, musicians, guardians – were buried with the dead.

During the T’ang Dynasty, sculptural effigies of domesticated animals were often interred in the tombs of nobility and elite members of the social hierarchy. Created in all media, these sculptures accompanied the spirit of the deceased into the afterlife. While similar examples exist, most were found harnessed to wagons and carts and were meant to function as beasts of burden. However, this pair of sculptures was discovered buried as part of a herd, contained inside a sculpted miniature pen with other domesticated animals, suggesting that these oxes served as nourishment. During the T’ang Dynasty, the Chinese believed that the afterlife was a continuation of our earthly existence. Thus, logically, as we require food to nourish our bodies on earth, so too will we require food to nourish our souls in the afterlife. Created to serve as food for the afterlife, these works are more than mere sculptures; they are a gorgeous memorial to the religious and philosophical beliefs of the T’ang Dynasty. These effigies have served their eternal purpose well. Today, they continue to nourish our souls with their beauty and grace

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