THE BUFFALO SOCIETY OF NATURAL SCIENCES
TANG DYNASTY RETINUE
OF TEN MASSIVE
SANCAI-GLAZED POTTERY FIGURES
Included in the
Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Sale
December 3, 1992
THE PROPERTY OF THE BUFFALO SOCIETY OF NATURAL SCIENCES,
BUFFALO, NEW YORK
*A RARE GROUP OF TEN TANG DYNASTY MASSIVE SANCAI-GLAZED POTTERY FIGURES
Exhibited since the 1950's at the Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo, New York, the 'Tang Retinue' is being sold by the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences. The group of ten massive (the largest is 44 inches high), dramatically portrayed and brilliantly glazed pottery tomb sculptures is in the Chinese tradition of mingqi, or 'spirit accoutrements', which were buried in tombs to accompany and protect the dead in the afterlife.
This custom originated in the earlier practice of interring funerary sacrifices of slaves, servants, soldiers and animals with the deceased, a practice that was modified by the time of the Zhou Dynasty (1027 B.C. -256 B.C.) with their replacements by surrogates of wood and pottery (Kuwayama, G., "The Sculptural Development of Ceramic Funerary Figures iÿn China"inr The Quest for Eternity, Los Angeles County Museum of Art/Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1987, pp. 63-93). Perhaps the best-known mingqi is the army of life-size terracotta figures of soldiers and horses found near the tumulus of the Qin emperor Shihuangdi (reigned 246-221 B.C.). (Fong, Mary H., "Antecedents of Sui-Tang Burial Practices in Shaanxi", Artibus Asiae, vol. LI, 3/4, 1991, pp. 147-198)
In the Tang Dynasty, the practice developed into a form of conspicuous consumption, and wealthy families vied with each other in extravagance of funerary ritual and tomb articles. Mingqi were as elaborate as possible and were displayed prominently on the route to the tomb before being buried with the deceased. The court passed several sumptuary edicts, including one in 712, warning that the extravagant burial rites and articles would lead to a "squandering of wealth". However, the practice continued well into the middle of the 8th century, as evidenced by the impressiveness of the mingqi that survive, including retinues such as the present group (Prodan, M., The Art of the T'ang Potter, New York, 1960, pp. 65-66).
The Buffalo Museum group comprises pairs of caparisoned Fereghan horses, double-humped Bactrian camels, long-robed officials, ferocious lokapala, or mythical guardians, and fanciful qitou, or winged leonine 'earth spirits'. The group was reportedly excavated in 1926 from a single important tomb near Luoyang in Henan province and came into the possession of the well-known dealer in Chinese art, C. T. Loo in Paris. It was purchased in 1927 by the Buffalo, New York industrialist and art collector, General A. Conger Goodyear who deeded it to the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences in l955.
The figures are excellent examples of Tang realism. The officials are quiet and dignified, with individually characterized faces. The animals are well-observed and lifelike, with fluent depiction of musculature, fur and accessories. Even the mythical lokapala are really no more than foreign warriors with intensely fierce aspect. The earth spirits are fantastic leonine creatures.
This dramatic quality is evident in the postures of the figures. All except the earth spirits are depicted standing and as if ready to stride forward. The earth spirits are seated on their haunches but their silhouettes, enlivened with complicated horns and antlers and flared wings and manes, are anything but static. Their mouths are open in a roar and they are joined in the implied cacophony by the lokapala and camels.
Although it cannot be proved that the ten figures were excavated from the same tomb, they make an impressive and visually cohesive set. Both horses are well caparisoned, one wearing fittings applied with apricot leaf-shaped plaques and the other with tassels. One has a straw-glazed body and its head is bent as if looking down. The horse with the dark brown body looks straight ahead and draped with a saddlecloth is noteworthy for its impressed flowerheads and sprigs of leafy stems similar to patterns found in textiles of the period.
The camels, also, complement each other. Both are amber glazed, but one is draped with a saddlecloth spotted in green, amber and straw-colored glazes and the other has a plain straw-glazed saddlecloth. The latter has saddlebags formed as monster masks slung between its humps, the former does not. The earth spirits, too, are similar but not identical: one has crescent-shaped wings and a mane of webbed spines, contrasting with the serrated wings and mane of its pair.
The officials stand with hands clasped, originally holding tablets of rank (now missing), and, again, they complement each other: the green tunic and 'butterfly' cap of one against the amber tunic and peaked cap decorated with a bird in flight of its companion. The lokapala stand with right arms raised. The left hand of one figure is held up, palm outwards, and the left hand of the other is akimbo.
The figures date from a period between the end of the 7th century and the middle of the 8th century. During this half century of great cultural brilliance called the High Tang, the production of pottery wares and figures that are glazed in the sancai (literally three color) hues of straw, amber and green developed to a very high level, declining only after the havoc caused by the An Lushan rebellion in 756 (Thorp, R. L., Son of Heaven: Imperial Arts of China, Seattle, 1988, p. 199).
The set of figures represent the standard 'core group' of the largest and most important mingqi used for important burials of the period. Recent archaeological excavations substantiate the existence and composition of this 'core group' which recurs from tomb to tomb with little variation in makeup, though often accompanied by many other lesser figures.
For example, the tomb (datable to 718 A.D.) of Crown Prince Yide, excavated at Zhaoling in Shaanxi in 1972, yielded a large group of pottery figures, the largest and best modeled of which include pairs of horses (with grooms!), officials, lokapala, earth spirits and camels. Another retinue, excavated from tomb no. 59 at Guanlin, Luoyang, in 1965, comprised a similar grouping accompanied by less imposing figures. Excavations of other royal tombs further confirm this point (Jacobsen, R. D., "Ceramic Tomb Sets of Early T'ang", The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin, 64, pp. 14, 19).
The 1981 excavation of the intact tomb of the Dingyuan General An Pu and his wife, jointly reburied at Longmen near Luoyang in great style by their son An Jinxiang in 709, uncovered a fine and complete set of massive sancai-glazed retinue figures and gives an indication of their placement within the tomb. The group is made up of pairs of officials, lokapala and earth spirits situated in the entrance corridor. The tomb chamber itself contained pairs of massive camels and horses, with attendant grooms. The chamber also contained smaller figures, such as equestrians and male and female servants (Zhongyuan Wenwu, 1982, no. 3, pp. 21-26; Thorp, op. cit.).
In the West, there are at least four similar 'core groups'. In addition to the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences retinue there are comparable sets at The Royal Ontario Museum, The Minneapolis Institute of Art and The British Museum.
The British Museum group, with the same five pairs of figures as the Buffalo and Minneapolis retinues, is particularly relevant, since it is reported as having been excavated from a single royal tomb of Liu Tingxuan, datable by inscription to 728 A.D. (Jacobsen, op. cit., p. 23; Hentze, Chinese Tomb Figures, London, 1928, pls. 69, 70, 75, 76, 86, 91, 108, 109, 111 and 112).
The Minneapolis group is distinguished by the use of blue glaze, in addition to the more usual straw, amber and green, on its five pairs of figures. This group was reportedly found at An Jiagou near Luoyang in 1948 and purchased by The Minneapolis Institute of Art the following year (Jacobsen, op. cit., p. 4, figs. 1, 5-7).
The Toronto group comprises twelve figures and included two horse grooms and two camel holders, though originally missing earth spirits. The present grouping may be said to be assembled in that the two earth spirits were later added (Jacobsen, ibid., p. 19, fig. 11).
The Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences retinue, reportedly excavated from a single important tomb in Luoyang, was purchased from C. T. Loo in Paris on August 3, 1927, by General A. Conger Goodyear of Buffalo, New York. General Goodyear was a well-known collector of modern art and one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, serving as its president from 1929 to 1939. He gave one horse to his sister, Mrs. Arnold Watson. In 1955 he and the estate of Mrs. Watson donated the ten figures to the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, of which his son, George F. Goodyear, was president. The retinue was later installed at the Buffalo Museum of Science where they have been on exhibition until recently. With the consent of the Goodyear family, the group is now being sold to benefit the society.
The pottery figures of the retinues were molded and then embellished. To begin with, a series of clay molds (as many as sixteen for some of the larger figures) were taken from a prototype or existing sculpture. For example, the camels in the Buffalo Museum retinue probably had a mold for each side of the neck and head, one for each side of the body, one for each side of each leg, one for each hump and, for the more elaborate camel, one for each monster mask saddle bag.
It is thought that the mold pieces were fired before the next stage of the process when slabs of wet clay were pressed into the interior of each of the mold shells. This is quite obvious from the interior of one of the camels in the retinue, where impressions of the potter's knuckles and fingernails remain. The molded pieces were then joined, probably still damp and in their molds. When the outer molds were removed and the molded figure within exposed, the thin rectangular base was attached.
The two camels in the retinue were possibly made from the same series of molds; one camel with additional mold pieces for the monster mask saddlebags. This camel was then embellished with coils of clay representing rolled up rugs or fabrics and four individually formed panniers (Strahan, Donna K. and Boulton, Ann, "Conservation of Far Eastern Art, Chinese Ceramic Quadrupeds: Construction and Restoration", 12th Congress of the International Institute of Conservation of Historic Artistic Works, Kyoto, September 19-23, 1988, pp. 149-152).
In the same way, the bizarre silhouette of the earth spirits was achieved by embellishing the basic leonine figure with manes that are serrated and manes that are ribbed and webbed, wings that are crescent-shaped and wings that are serrated, flame-like crests and large horns. The elbow ruffles and dragon-head epaulets of the lokapala were applied after the figures emerged from their molds. The straps holding apricot leaf-shaped fittings on the straw-glazed horse and tassels on the dark brown-glazed horse were also applied to the basic molded figures, and the textile pattern on the saddle and saddlecloth of the dark brown horse impressed with clay or wooden stamps.
All the glazed pottery figures were double-fired. The unglazed molded and embellished clay figure or vessel was first brought up to about 1000 C in the kiln. Objects of white pottery were then painted with the colored glazes, covered with a transparent lead glaze and fired to about 900 C. Objects of reddish pottery, however, were first covered with a white slip before the color and plain lead glazes were applied. This intermediate step was essential to ensure the brilliance of the glaze applied on the dark body but unnecessary for objects of white pottery.
The glazes took color from the addition of metallic oxides. The amount of iron oxide added determined the result after firing. A small amount became pale yellow (or 'straw'), slightly more gave ochre (as in the bodies of the two camels), a larger quantity became amber-brown (as in the tunic of one of the officials) and even more fired to dark brown (as in the body of one of the horses). Copper oxide produced a leaf green, and cobalt a violet blue.
A particular effect was achieved with the application of wax between the stages of color glazing (Watson, William, Tang Style, Eskenazi Limited, London, 1987, p. 7). This resist technique can be seen in three figures of the Buffalo Museum retinue: daubs of wax after the painting of the straw glaze prevented the later applied amber and green glazes from streaking into the paler areas during the firing. This resulted in a distinct pattern where green and amber swirled around a regular pattern of straw-colored irregular dots. This is evident on the inner area of the wings of one earth spirit (compared to the merged green and amber streaks of its mate), the sleeves of the green-robed official (compared to the dribbling on the sleeves of its amber-robed counterpart) and the armor of the lokapala with left hand on hip (compared to the merged amber and green streaks of the lokapala with both hands held up).
The final stage in the production of the figures was the decoration in cold pigment, usually on unglazed areas, such as the face and hands of the officials and lokapala. These were, after all, areas that required greater control for more naturalistic coloration and facial expression than was possible with the colored glazes (Jacobsen, op. cit., p. 11).
The importance of the Buffalo Museum retinue lies in the unusually good quality and massive scale of the figures, the fact that they represent the core group of mingqi found in important tombs of High Tang China and the array of potting and glazing techniques that they represent. The retinue has an excellent provenance--from a well-known dealer to a private American collector to an established museum. Furthermore, few retinues have survived, either in the West or in China, where recent controlled excavations have expanded our knowledge of mingqi of this quality and confirmed the importance and rarity of the retinues that are extant.
Post Lot Text
*This lot may be exempt from sales tax, as set forth in the Sales Tax Notice at the front of the catalogue.