Grave goods were an important status symbol in ancient China, so the affluent and important would be accompanied in their travels through the afterlife with numerous depictions of people, items and animals. Such terracotta figures were made for the service and entertainment of the owner, ensuring that their journey in the underworld was a happy one. 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, officials, soldiers, musicians, court attendants, dancers and, in the case of animals, horses and Bactrian camels. As in life, attendant figures are depicted standing nearby, waiting to fulfil the desires and needs of the deceased. A soldier figurine, such as this, accompanying the deceased in the afterlife was believed to act as protection.
Ming Dynasty Sancai Glazed Archer on Horse
A Ming Dynasty glazed ceramic figurine of a soldier, shown riding a horse, which stands erect on a raised rectangular base. The animal is portrayed in a stylised manner, with its head turned slightly to the left and ears pricked forward. Its sweeping mane is neatly groomed and emphasised by the original black pigmentation. The horse’s rider sits on a long saddle blanket, adorned by trappings executed in vibrant green glaze. The man is portrayed wearing a green ‘changshang’ (長衫), a traditional Manchu tunic worn by men, and a yellow ‘magua’ (马褂), a waist-length jacket with wide short sleeves. He wears a conical helmet, painted with red pigment, under which his long braid, the traditional Manchu male hairstyle, has been drawn up in a bun. His facial features have been sensitively executed and outlined by gentle brush strokes. As he outstretches his arms, he uncovers the quiver and bow-case to his sides, which are enriched by fine detailing. The statuette is rendered in sancai ‘tree-colour’ technique, displaying a brilliant green, ochre and red glaze.
Period: Ming Dynasty
Condition: Fine condition, with original glaze and pigments still visible. A fine crack runs across the horse's chest. Two fine cracks on the rider's back. The head is detachable and unglazed.