Published: January 30, 2001
Annual Eskenazi Exhibit to Coincide with The International Asian Art Fair
NEW YORK CITY – Fourteen pieces of Tang earthenware sculpture will be featured in the annual exhibition staged by Eskenazi at PaceWildenstein, 32 East 57th Street, from March 19 to March 31. For the fifth year, Eskenazi, a respected dealer in the field of Oriental art, brings Chinese art to New York to coincide with The International Asian Art Fair.
The Tang dynasty, 618-907 AD, was on of the most brilliant periods in Chinese history, when the country flourished as a unified empire and prosperity and patronage created a golden age for all the arts, including ceramics. The skill of the Tang potters were much used for figurative earthenware sculptures to accompany the emperors and other high-born people on their journey to the afterlife.
These figures frequently represent the entourage of a great household: ladies in waiting, guards, grooms, entertainers, huntsmen, and foreigners. One of the fascinations of the figures is the record they preserve of contemporary fashion through the accurate rendering of dress and coiffure. Another is the vivid representation of the many exotic types who played such a central role in Tang China.
A domestic group of two female figures and a baby captures in an unusually tender manner a moment in real life. One matronly figure, her hair scraped up into a tight round topknot, firmly grasps the sturdy legs of the baby who reaches out with his chubby arms and splayed fingers to the other elegantly dressed woman. Her orange long-sleeved robe painted with floral sprigs and the style of her lacquered hair lying at her neck as if in a snood, the front arranged in a neat chignon over her forehead, probably denotes her higher status.
Another group depicts a Western Asiatic woman seated astride a kneeling Bactrian camel between its two humps while nursing a baby at her left breast. This striking and unusual group must come from the far west of China as the woman has pronounced Turkic features and her clothes are ideal for her nomadic life and are not native to China.
Over a roll of tent material are hinged slats of wood, which are apparently accurate models of palings that opened up and were used as animal enclosures by various nomadic tribes along the Silk Route. The slats are covered by a fringed sheepskin blanket and underneath is a fringed saddle blanket. It is rare to see a figure breastfeeding and this example may have been made for the tomb of a woman.
The exhibition features four figures of plump court ladies, including one holding a small black and white terrier, a rarely seen pet which would more usually have been a bird. The three other ladies are particularly fine indicating that they were individually modeled by hand rather than cast from moulds. Each has a different hair style – and each style had specific name. The costumes of each figure are particularly clear depicted with two of the ladies wearing long-sleeved short jackets tucked into their robes – one red, and the other green – and all three with the long scarves which were an essential part of court dress.
For many Western collectors, the portrayal of animals, mainly the horse and the two-humped Bactrian camel, have a particular appeal. The horse figurines advertised the wealth of the owner who could afford to import the animal from the west, and the rich patterns and ornamentation of the saddlery called for great skill from the potter. A rare equestrian figure in the exhibition is of an East Asiatic groom with sharply defined Mongol features sitting on a caparisoned horse, glazed in blue, green, cream and brown.
Also exhibited is a rare unglazed earthenware model of an elephant with a howdah on its back, draped with a red blanket decorated with orange flowers and edged with fringe. Elephants had exotic connotations for the Chinese of the Tang period. They were particularly associated with lands to the South and were regularly given as tribute to the Emperor by princes from these regions.
There are also two fine horses. One, painted in a reddish pigment, probably depicts a performing animal, its highly-strung nature evident in its startled eyes and flared nostrils. The other is unusually exuberant, glazed in various colors including an uncommon reddish-brown slip over which are painted circles and dots creating a richly dappled effect.
The exhibit of Tang ceramic sculpture will be on view Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm. For information, 212/421-3292.
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