Rare Northern Zhou Terracotta Court Attendant


A rare moulded grey earthenware figurine of a male court attendant dating to the Northern Zhou Dynasty. The attendant is portrayed in the standard position of Northern Zhou statuettes: facing forward with a slightly arched back. He wears the traditional court attire, the Shenyi, consisting of a short vest tied to the waist and long sleeves with fragments of the original paint pigment in which the figure was originally adorned with. The attendant stands in a reverent pose, with his hands held together at the front below his chest, though concealed by the vest’s sleeves, as was customary for members of domestic staff. Two holes are pierced above them, possibly to hold an offering of incense. A simple headpiece sits high on the man’s head covering his tied hair and leaving visible his facial features, rendered slightly in relief and portraying a solemn expression.

Date: AD 557 - 581
Period: Northern Zhou Dynasty
Condition: Fine condition; signs of ageing to the surface.

In stock

Terracotta moulded figures of people and animals were meant to be grave goods placed in tombs. It was believed that these figures would serve and assist the deceased in the afterlife. Figures of this type are called mingqi (冥器) in Chinese and usually depict servants and court attendants, soldiers, musicians and dancers, and different animals. As in life, attendant figures were supposed to stay nearby their master, waiting to fulfil the desires and needs of the deceased. They were lined outside the tomb before the coffin was taken inside and then placed and arranged inside the tomb. The size and number of the figures in a grave depended on the rank of the deceased. Funerary figures from the Zhou Dynasty are extremely rare, and so there are few comparable examples. The uncovering of the tomb of the Northern Zhou general Li Xian (c. AD 569) allowed us a few examples of terracotta tomb attendants, the majority of which are conserved at the Guyan Museum in China.

The period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (AD 386-581) was a period of great turmoil in Chinese history which signed the end of the Six Dynasties and 16 Kingdoms (AD 220-589). The Northern Zhou (北周, Bĕi Zhōu) ruled northern China from 557 to 581 AD, when Yang Jian, father of the Xuandi’s empress of the Northern Zhou, defeated local usurpers in the north and south and seized the throne, establishing a system of central government which gave rise to the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618).

Weight 139.4 g
Dimensions L 3.3 x W 4.8 x H 14.1 cm


Pottery and Porcelain

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