Tomb figure of a seated woman holding a bird

A young woman sits on a cloth-covered, waisted stool. She turns her head slightly and gazes at a song bird perched on her right hand; in her left hand, which rests upon her knee, she holds a folded cloth (perhaps in a gesture reminescent of Buddhist figures who often hold cloth or grasp the edge of a garment). The figure is glazed except for the head, which was originally painted; traces of pigment remain on the face. Her clothing is colored in a limited, but harmonious palette of lead-glaze colors, primarily amber and green. She wears a short jacket tied at her chest over a tight, long-sleeved robe. The jacket was glazed in a resist pattern that re-creates the effect of popular tie-dyed textiles fashionable in the eighth-century China. The woman’s long skirt, which is amber suffused with touches of green, falls gracefully to the ground and pools around her cloud-tipped shoes–the tall projections of which protrude from beneath her hem. The colors of the sancai glaze on this piece are exceptionally brilliant.

Historical period(s)
Tang dynasty, first half of 8th century
Medium
Earthenware with sancai (three-color) lead-silicate glaze
Dimensions
H x W x D (overall): 40.6 x 17.9 x 15.6 cm (16 x 7 1/16 x 6 1/8 in)
Geography
China
Credit Line
Purchase — funds provided by the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries
Collection
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
F2001.8a-d
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Ceramic, Sculpture
Type

Tomb figure: woman

Keywords
bird, China, earthenware, Tang dynasty (618 - 907), woman, WWII-era provenance
Provenance

1936 to 1948
C. T. Loo & Company, New York from October 1936 [1]

1948 to 1949
C. T. Loo, INC. by transfer from C. T. Loo & Company, NY [2]

From 1949
Miss Morrison purchased from C. T. Loo & Company on February 11, 1949 [3]

Spink & Son, London [4]

In the 1970s
E.C. Christofides, Greece, purchased from Spink & Son, in the early 1970s [3]
Kochukyo Co., Tokyo [5]

To 1995
Anthony J. Hardy, London and Hong Kong, to September 1995 [6]

1995
Sale, New York, Christie's, The Hardy Collection of Early Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art from the Sze Yuan Tang, September 21, 1995, lot 77 (ill. on the cover): "A Fine Sancai-glazed Pottery Figure of a Court Lady" [7]

From 1995 to 2001
Eskenazi Ltd. (Giuseppe Eskenazi), London, purchased at Christie’s Sale on September 21, 1995 [8]

From 2001
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from Eskenazi Ltd. on July 27 2001 [9]

Notes:

[1] See C. T. Loo's stockcard no. MT 29: "Lady seated on a stool holding a bird in her right hand. Pottery three color glaze on the robe, the head unglazed. TANG Dynasty (618-907 A. D.)," Frank Caro Archive, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, copy in object file. According to an annotation on the stockcard, the object was inventoried in October 1936. The object was included in C. T. Loo & Co., Exhibition of Chinese Arts: Special Sale (November 1, 1941-April 30, 1942), no. 470 (ill.) and C. T. Loo & Co., An Exhibition of Figures in Chinese Art (New York, April 1946), cat. 10, pl. 2.

[2] In 1948, when C. T. Loo lost direct trade in mainland China, he formed C. T. Loo, INC. The company sold this object, inventoried as M.T. 26 to “Miss Morrison,” see stock card M.T. 26, copy in object file.

[3] See note 2. Miss Morrison’s identify remains unknown.

[4] According to information provided by Giuseppe Eskenazi, in a letter dated April 4, 2001 and correspondence with Philip Constantinidi, Eskenazi Ltd, January 19, 2012, in object file.

[5] According to information provided by Giuseppe Eskenazi and Philip Constantinidi, see note 2.

[6] According to information provided by Giuseppe Eskenazi, see note 2.

[7] See Christie’s, New York, The Hardy Collection of Early Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art from the Sze Yuan Tang, auction catalogue (Christie’s, New York, September 21, 1995), lot 77.

[8] See Sarah Wong, “Saleroom Report,” Oriental Art 41, 4 (Winter 1995/96), p. 61 (ill.)

[9] See Eskenazi Ltd.’s Invoice, dated July 27, 2001, in object file.

Previous Owner(s)

Miss Morrison
E. C. Christofides
Spink & Son Ltd.
C.T. Loo & Company 1914-1948
Eskenazi Ltd. Founded 1923
Kochukyo Co. Ltd. established 1924
Anthony J. Hardy born ca. 1939

Description

A young woman sits on a cloth-covered, waisted stool. She turns her head slightly and gazes at a song bird perched on her right hand; in her left hand, which rests upon her knee, she holds a folded cloth (perhaps in a gesture reminescent of Buddhist figures who often hold cloth or grasp the edge of a garment). The figure is glazed except for the head, which was originally painted; traces of pigment remain on the face. Her clothing is colored in a limited, but harmonious palette of lead-glaze colors, primarily amber and green. She wears a short jacket tied at her chest over a tight, long-sleeved robe. The jacket was glazed in a resist pattern that re-creates the effect of popular tie-dyed textiles fashionable in the eighth-century China. The woman's long skirt, which is amber suffused with touches of green, falls gracefully to the ground and pools around her cloud-tipped shoes--the tall projections of which protrude from beneath her hem. The colors of the sancai glaze on this piece are exceptionally brilliant.

Label

This sensitively observed figure of a court woman offers insights into the cosmopolitan, wealthy lifestyle of the Tang dynasty (618-907) elite in the first half of the eighth century. Made as a burial good, this sculpture reflects competition among the Tang aristocracy to display numerous expensively crafted earthenware figures in funerary processions--grander objects indicated higher family status.

Early eighth-century potters achieved a high point by imbuing ceramic figures with considerable naturalism and fidelity, despite using molds. Here, the double topknot and tie-dyed pattern on the woman's jacket realistically illustrate Tang fashion. The songbird she gazes upon alludes to Tang fascination with birds imported from India and the tropics.



Published References
  • Ideals of Beauty: Asian and American Art in the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Thames and Hudson World of Art London and Washington, 2010. pp. 72-73.
  • BuYun Chen. Empire of Style: Silk and Fashion in Tang China. Seattle, Washington. p. 90, fig. 3.9.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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