735
735

SOLD BY THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO

A LARGE AND RARE PAIR OF PAINTED GRAY POTTERY FIGURES
NORTHERN WEI DYNASTY 
Estimate
50,00070,000
LOT SOLD. 43,750 USD
JUMP TO LOT
735

SOLD BY THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO

A LARGE AND RARE PAIR OF PAINTED GRAY POTTERY FIGURES
NORTHERN WEI DYNASTY 
Estimate
50,00070,000
LOT SOLD. 43,750 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Important Chinese Art

|
New York

A LARGE AND RARE PAIR OF PAINTED GRAY POTTERY FIGURES
NORTHERN WEI DYNASTY 
each slender figure modeled in high relief, standing with hands clasped, wearing a full jacket with wide sleeves terminating in elegantly undulating folds, a breastplate with buckled fasteners at the shoulders, voluminous trousers falling in rhythmic pleats puddling at the base revealing the pointed tips of shoes, the head gently bowed and the face sensitively modeled, the benign expression articulated with finely incised features, one figure with a small frontal cap, the other with a tall hat textured simulating stiff gauze, the reverse flat-backed, traces of pigment (2)
Height of taller 25 1/2  in., 64.8 cm
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Provenance

Collection of Russell M. Tyson (1867-1963).
Gifted to the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, in 1943 (acc. nos 1943.1137 and 1943.1138).

Catalogue Note

The present pair of rare flat-backed figures exemplify the elegant artistry that marked the latter period of the Northern Wei dynasty, when the capital city moved from Datong to Luoyang in 494. Figural sculpture of the late 5th and early 6th century shifted from a somewhat static, simplified aesthetic to one imbued with more Central Asian influence manifesting fuller three-dimensionality of form, starkly different use of proportion, and greater overall attention to detail. There is an emphasis on frontal articulation which seems to be inspired by stone and metalwork Buddhist imagery of the period. Additionally, these figures feature a wide range of extravagant apparel resulting in a distinctive mix of Xianbei Tuoba and traditional Han-style clothing, hairstyles and headwear. A variety of new headdresses are featured during this period. For instance, the tall hat with visor and 'ear muffs' seen on one of the present figures is discussed in Ezekiel Schloss, Ancient Chinese Ceramic Sculpture, vol. I, Stamford, 1977, p. 155, who notes that this style of hat was worn by both male and female members of the aristocracy. It is also possible that it denotes military officers, as suggested in the catalogue to the exhibition China. Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2004, p. 234, where a ceramic head with a similar hat, recovered from the Yongning temple, Luoyang, is published, cat. no. 130d.  Whereas the smaller forward-tilting cap or guan, is traditional Chinese court attire, prominently poised atop and secured to a topknot, and only used by men.  

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. 

Important Chinese Art

|
New York