Two nearly identical figures to the present pair from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts were exhibited and illustrated in Art of the Six Dynasties, China Institute of America, New York, 1975, cat. no. 23. In the accompanying entry, Annette Juliano suggests that with their flattened backs, the figures were attached to a wall, possibly functioning as guardian figures and flanking an entranceway (ibid., p. 49), similar to figures both painted and in low relief illustrated in Annette Juliano, 'Teng-Hsien: An Important Six Dynasties Tomb', Artibus Asiae, Ascona, 1980, figs 54-56. Whether guardians or civil officials, these figures are high-ranking attendants modeled in a formal pose and of great symbolic importance.
A single figure of this type of the same dimensions wearing the smaller type of courtier cap from the Avery Brundage Collection is in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, illustrated in René-Yvon Lefebvre d’Argencé, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Sculpture: the Avery Brundage Collection, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Tokyo, 1974, pl. 51. Another of this same form from the collection of Earl and Irene Morse, illustrated in Spirit and Ritual, The Morse Collection of Ancient Chinese Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1982, cat. no. 24 was sold in these rooms, 24th March 1998, lot 551. This figure, like the pair in the Minneapolis Museum of Art, grasps a long sword indicating that the present pair also may have once had swords. A related group of flat-backed figures, comprised of two torsos and six heads, excavated at Yongningsi, Luoyang, Henan and exhibited in China Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD, op. cit., cat. nos 129 and 130, is also considered to have originated as wall sculpture and possibly in place as early as 419 when a visit by the temple’s patron, the Dowager Empress Hu, is recorded (ibid., pp 233-234)
Similar pottery figures are more commonly found modeled in the round. While usually of smaller dimension, larger examples of the same size of the present pair are known. A similar pair of this type is in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, and illustrated in Homage to Heaven, Homage to Earth, Chinese Treasures of the Royal Ontario Museum, Hong Kong, 1992, pl. 73. See also a figure wearing the tall style of headdress sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 2nd April 2019, lot 3005 and an example with the smaller cap, illustrated in Mayuyama, Seventy Years, vol. I, Tokyo, 1975, pl. 155, and sold in these rooms 19th March 2013, lot 18.
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