Tang Dynasty Clay Monk Tomb Figure
Tomb figures are grave goods, that would be placed in tombs; in belief that they would become available for the device of the deceased in the afterlife. They are often referred to as “spirit objects” or “vessels for ghosts”. This specific one is a Tang Dynasty Clay Monk Tomb Figure.
Tang Dynasty Clay Monk Tomb Figure succumb to the rhythm of their instruments, kicking up their toes and laughing with joy. This delightful naturalism was central to the figures’ purpose of providing the deceased with entertainment, service, and guardianship.
Burial figurines of graceful dancers, mystical beasts, and everyday objects reveal both how people in early China approached death and how they lived. Since people viewed the afterlife as an extension of worldly life, these figurines, called mingqi or “spirit utensils,” disclose details of routine existence and provide insights into belief systems over a thousand-year period. Mingqi were popularized during the formative Tang (618–906) dynasties.
Mingqi in the Sui (589–618) and Tang (618–906) Dynasties
When China was unified again under the long and prosperous Tang, mingqi truly resurged as a part of elaborate tombs. Tang mingqi integrated the guardian figures and pack animals of the Northern and Southern Dynasties, but also incorporated the many international influences that were popular during this time of stability and expansion. As in the Han dynasty, Tang mingqi frequently take the form of musicians, dancers, and servants in clay, but are ornamented with sancai (three-color) glaze, an artistic influence that was transmitted from Central Asia along the Silk Road. Foreigners were also frequently depicted, reflecting a cosmopolitan society that embraced exchanges with other groups and cultures.
As in the Han dynasty, Tang mingqi were part of a complex tomb program, often with stone statuary lining a spirit road. However, their function was firmly rooted in consolidating power in the earthly world. Important funerals were sponsored by the state and were a way for the imperial government to strengthen ties with influential Chinese families and even solidify loyalty with foreign emissaries and the governments they represented. As in the Han dynasty, Tang mingqi and the larger program of funerary practices reflected ties among the living.
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