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China

Warrior on Horseback

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Object Details

Culture

China

Date

Sui Dynasty (581-618)

Medium

Earthenware, pigment, glaze

Dimensions

9 1/8 x 7 9/16 x 3 1/4 inches (23.1 x 19.2 x 8.3 cm)

Credit Line

George and Mary Rockwell Collection

Object
Number

90.061.005

BRIEF DESCRIPTIONThis is a figure of a warrior mounted on a horse that once furnished a Chinese tomb(…)

BRIEF DESCRIPTIONThis is a figure of a warrior mounted on a horse that once furnished a Chinese tomb in order to protect the soul of the deceased.WHEN WAS IT MADE?This tomb figure was made during the reign of the Sui dynasty (581-618). Though short-lived, this period was important for the re-unification of north and south China, for centralizing the government, re-introducing the civil service system (including the creation of the jinshi degree) and for adopting a new code of law that served as a prototype for the subsequent Tang dynasty. The period was one of economic prosperity and tolerance for Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism, with the capital at Chang’an, the largest city in the world and terminus of the Silk Road. Other notable accomplishments include reconstruction of the Great Wall and improvements to the canal system that facilitated commercial transport, as well as expansion of Chinese influence into Southeast Asia.HOW WAS IT MADE?During the Sui dynasty, tomb figures were usually made of earthenware in two-part molds, although some stoneware examples survive from this period. Then the figures were either glazed and fired, or painted with cold pigments after firing. This figure features a combination of a straw-colored glaze coating over which details in cold pigments have been painted.HOW WAS IT USED?From earliest times, ceramics were buried in tombs to reflect the status of the deceased and to provide for the needs of the soul in the afterlife. Ceramic sculptures known as mingqi, along with objects used in everyday life, were placed in the tomb to provide everything necessary for a comfortable afterlife and to show the respect of surviving family members for their ancestors.During the Sui dynasty, tomb figures played an important role in funerary rites and served as public displays of a family’s wealth and filial piety. The tomb sculptures were carried in procession ahead of the coffin as the funeral made its way to the burial site, then lined up along the spirit path leading to the tomb. There the figures assisted in paying respect to the deceased as the coffin was interred. Finally, the tomb figures were placed inside the tomb, usually in niches recessed in the corridor walls, to serve the soul in the afterlife.WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?This well-armored military official served a protective function for the tomb. Military tomb figures reflected a concern for protection during periods of war, especially during the previous Six Dynasties period when numerous states vied for power and were susceptible to invading armies. It is not surprising then that these concerns continued into the Sui period until there was confidence that unification and political stability were assured. The fully armored horse and soldier reflect innovations in combat protection introduced to China from Central Asia that ultimately were based on Persian models. The slender, elongated figures of the previous Six Dynasties period were replaced in the Sui period with fuller, more columnar figures that appear more lifelike. To see other Sui dynasty tomb figures in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object numbers 80.117 and 84.119.021 in the keyword search box.

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