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Chinese Pottery FigurinesAuthor: France Hamilton
Chinese figurines are enjoyable for their animation and variety. The number of types which belong to this class is practically endless. There are court ladies, dancers, lady musicians, men and women servants, grooms, soldiers, officials of the court, tradesmen with their wares, financial figures of supernatural guardians, animals both naturalistic and imaginary.
These little figures have an interesting origin, far back in the dim past. In prehistoric times at the funeral of an emperor or great leader, his family and servants, his animals and all that he had were placed in the tomb with him. This gruesome practice was supplanted later by making images to place in the tomb with the dead. The idea is very similar to the Egyptian, where little pottery figures were used. These were supposed to accompany the spirit to the other world. In the Chinese tombs have been found evi• dences that a duplication of his worldly environment was put at the disposal of the deceased. Clothing, earthenware, food, musical instruments, shields and plumes, models of granaries, wells and stoves, mirrors, fans, even money, are some of the objects discovered in ancient graves, some real, some in the form of models.
Of the tomb figures the best we know are of the Wei dynasty (386 to 557 A.D.) and of the T'ang dynasty (618 to 906 A.D.). They are more graceful, not so crude, and show a remarkable gift for defining certain types.
In the group shown here is a musician on horseback and a seated lady musician who is one of a group, each with a different musical instrument. The tall figure with the imposing head dress is a socalled guardian, a figure of a friendly deity whose function it was to keep off evil spirits. The horse is a typical T'ang type, which for the first time a representation of a Arabian horse is common in Chinese art in place of the sturdy little Mongolian pony which had the chief place until the western horses were introduced about the fourth century of our era. In animal sculpture the Chinese have always excelled in giving vitality and power to forms which are almost crude and appear to be casually modelled, as in the figure of the dog illustrated. The Chinese have always preserved their earlier styles from generation to generation, whether in painting, pottery or sculpture, so we find the Wei and T'ang styles repeated and imitated in later times. Actual Wei and T'ang figures of this kind are to be seen in most museum collections. These later pieces in the early styles, however, make pleasing decorations for the modern room.