This massive and exceptionally handsome camel is a particularly fine example of the type of figure that was made to go into the tombs of the Tang elite in the first half of the 8th century. Such models, which would have been very expensive to purchase, provided an obvious indication of the wealth of a family who could afford to inter such costly goods with their deceased relative. Not surprisingly, camels have been found among the burial items in a number of the Tang Imperial tombs, as well as some of those belonging to other members of the Tang nobility. However, these models were not simply symbols of wealth, they were also symbols of the way that wealth might have been acquired through trade and tribute along the Silk Route. In the Tang dynasty camels really did live up to the description of them as 'ships of the desert' and were used to transport Chinese goods, including silk across the difficult terrain of the Silk Route to the eager markets of Central Asia, Samarkand, Persia and Syria. Camels are reported to have routinely carried up to 250 kg. in their packs. They may also be seen as symbolic of the cosmopolitanism of the Tang capital at Chang'an. They carried, on their return journeys, many of the exotic luxuries from the west that were desired by the sophisticated Tang court.
The two-humped Bactrian camel was known in China as early as the Han dynasty, having been brought from Central Asia and Eastern Turkestan as tribute. Its amazing ability to survive the hardships of travel across the Asian deserts was soon recognized and Imperial camel herds were established under the administration of a special Bureau. These Imperial camel herds, numbering several thousand, were used for a range of state duties, including the provision of a military courier service for the Northern Frontier. Camels were not only prized as resilient beasts of burden, their hair was also used to produce a cloth, which, then as now, was admired for its lightness and warmth. Even camel meat was regarded as a delicacy, with the hump being noted as particularly flavorsome.
Compare the similar large brown and cream-glazed camel exhibited at the Tokyo National Museum and illustrated in the catalogue Chugoku no Toji, Tokyo National Museum, 12 October-November 23, 1994, p. 87, no. 122.
The result of Oxford Authentication Ltd. thermoluminescence test no. C108d25 is consistent with the dating of this lot.