A painted pottery figure of a court lady holding a dish of fruit

唐   彩繪陶捧盤仕女俑

The plumply elegant figure stands on a shaped base with the body swaying slightly forward. She wears a long dark robe belted below the waist and falling in long folds to the base. Her arms, hidden by capacious sleeves, are raised in front, holding on the open palms a lobed dish set with two fruit, one melon-like and one more elongated, both with their original pigment. Her head is held cocked slightly to one side, with a double-winged chignon above crisply-cut features still retaining substantial traces of pink and black pigment.

Private Hong Kong collection to 1999
Private New York collection
Christie’s New York, 14th-15th September 2017, lot 1109

Priestley & Ferraro, ‘Paint, Patina, Polish and Glaze’, London, 2000, no. 10

The great majority of figures of court ladies from this period are simply modelled standing and are not engaged in any activity. The present figure, who proffers fruit on a small tray, is a great rarity. A larger figure in the same attitude, but lacking the tray, is in the Xi’an Museum, often displayed as one of the impressive set of court ladies in the museum’s collection.

Pottery figures of plump court ladies like the present example, perhaps more than any other, bring home to us the sense of plenty that permeated the upper echelons of Tang society. The archetype for the court lady is Yang Guifei, the beguiling consort of the emperor Xuanzong (r. 712-756).  According to the story, the emperor was almost sixty when he fell in love with the young Yang Guifei, previously the wife of one of his sons. She was witty, charming, and enjoyed music and dance. Forgetting matters of state, he heaped gifts on her: one statistic is that seven hundred weavers were employed making damasks and gauzes for her. Her family, from Sichuan,
however, took advantage of her rise to favour, and she herself made an unwise friendship with a certain uncouth border general, An Lushan, even going so far as to adopt him as her son. In 755 An Lushan raised the standard of revolt, and prosecuted his rebellion so successfully that in 756 the emperor was forced to slip out of the capital, Chang’an, during the night.
A little way outside the city, at Mawei, his soldiers mutinied and demanded the death of Yang Guifei. Helpless, the emperor ordered her to be strangled with a silk cord. The capital was later recovered, and Xuanzong was able to return as ‘retired emperor’, but life at court was never again to reach the same level of brilliance.

Dimensions: Height: 46 cm, 18 inches

Date: Tang dynasty (618-906), first half 8th century

Stock No. 2224

Price: On Request