A Sancai-glazed terracotta lady riding horse ("Three Colors"), Tang Dynasty (618-907).
Provenance: Former English private collection then Bonhams London sale.
Patriarchal and masculine in essence, ancient Chinese civilization nevertheless by convention accorded a privileged place to women at least once in its history, under the Tang Dynasty, which was, in fact, more oriental than truly Chinese in its fashion. of life and its customs. It was indeed under the Tang, between the 7th century and the 10th century, that women enjoyed greater freedom and one of them even became Empress of China, Wu Zetian, in the 7th century. The women then mount horses, from the top of which they even practice an equivalent of polo, they write poems like the famous poet Xue Tao, admire paintings and paint them since the painter and poet Cai Wenji was first emboldened. to do so under the Han dynasty.
Ceramic art and painting bear witness to this golden age of women in many works which, strangely, are often later, since dating from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912), which led to modern historians to put a damper on this image of Épinal. Indeed, if they took pleasure in representing the Tang woman under the guise of proud horsewomen or accomplished literati - an overwhelming cliché on certain Chinese vases - the Chinese of the Ancien Régime, however, continued to to enclose more and more those who lived in their time - that of the Ming and Qing - in the gardens and harems of their palaces, even going so far as to atrophy their feet with bandages to prevent them from running. and therefore ... to escape from their condition of eternal confinement: a classic paradox, it will be said, between (dreamed) representations of art and lived reality.
Truly and much more free were probably in fact the women of the Mongol Yuan, who later ruled China between the 13th and 14th centuries, but, hated by the Chinese, they are not mentioned for this good point, and on the contrary, it is the Chinese who attribute to themselves a female emancipation that in reality they hardly practiced subsequently.
The present rider nevertheless remains an indisputable testimony to this real or embellished feminist parenthesis in the history of ancient China, since she represents a Lady of the Court with her high bun and her dress with heavy and elegant drapes over her proud steed, the typical Ferghana horse, massively imported by the Tangs of Asia Minor, with its stocky legs, ample rump and small head. On the other hand, the face of his date is left unbleached as the Tang potters liked to do to better emboss the expressions of the face with finesse.
Traces of cold pigments can still be seen on the top bun of this elegant woman who prance over 1000 years ago, in a deliberately virtual way since the mingqi terracotta of this type executed in the Tang dynasty was intended to adorn the graves of the deceased of the Chinese nobility and bourgeoisie and to accompany or distract them in the afterlife. Funeral does not rhyme, in China, with funeral, this rider stands out for her expressiveness, the haughty bearing of her mount and the warm colors of their respective dresses enhanced with very well preserved magnificent glazes.
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