5. A rare set of six pottery figures of female musicians

The figures are well modelled from a light orange-buff coloured clay. Each represents a seated or kneeling female musician. The faces of all the figures are similarly fashioned, with broad narrow eyes, a roughly triangular nose, and slight smile on the protruding lips. The styles of coiffure, too, are similar, with the hair either drawn up into a series of looped cross-shaped knots, or into a single looped knot on the top of the head, with braids sweeping around the sides. Each figure wears a robe with lapels crossing at the chest, and with piecrust-like frills running over the shoulders, around the elbows, and around the circumference of the trailing skirt. The figures are each depicted playing a different instrument, comprising an ocarina, a vertical flute, panpipes, a zither, a pipa and a tambourine.

During the centuries following the fall of the Eastern Han dynasty, the north of China was governed by a non-Han people called the Xianbei, whose dynasty was called the Northern Wei. Aristocrats of the time maintained large retinues, and this orchestra of ladies would almost certainly have been of this type, attached to a rich household.

The physiognomy of the figures is distinctive, and resembles fairly closely that found on figures of the Sixteen Kingdoms period, such as the standing warrior sold by Priestley & Ferraro, illustrated in Out of Wind and Dust, cat. no. 3. This suggests a date for the present set of figures fairly early in the Northern Wei period.

For a set of larger musicians excavated in 2001 from a tomb in Pingling Town, Qindu District and dated to the Early Northern Dynasties (386-581), see 咸阳文物精华 “The Cream of Xianyang Relics”, p. 82.

Dimensions: Heights: approx. 19 cm, 7 ½ inches

Date: Northern Wei dynasty (386-535)

Stock No. 666

Price: On Request