Extremely Rare Set of Female Musicians and Dancer


Superb and Most Rare pottery “mingqi” representing a set of (total 5) female musicians and dancer.

Grey earthenware coated with white slip and remains of white, red, black and brick-red pigment.

High 23 cm., musicians
High 33 cm., dancer
Han dynasty, ca. 206 BCE to 220 CE

Provenance: Old German private collection, acquired back in the 1990’s.

Auction result comparison: Compare with a closely related set of two musicians at Christies New York in Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art part I, 17 – 18 March 2016, lot 1479, sold for USD $27,500. See photo number 56

A fantastic group of five ceramic tomb attendants. One is kneeling and playing a flute; three are kneeling and playing quqin; and one is a dancer. Each wears a robe with a thick collar. The musicians are men, while the dancer is a woman. Remains of pigment are on the grey and red clay bodies.

Tomb attendants like this one are part of a class of artifacts called mingqi – sometimes known as “spirit utensils” or “vessels for ghosts”. They became popular in the Han Dynasty and would persist for several centuries. Alongside figures like this one were soldiers, athletes, animals, structures… Even though they were mass produced, mingqi of the Han Dynasty often show a high level of detail and naturalism. These were designed to assist the po, the part of the soul of the deceased that remained underground with the body while the hun, the other part of the soul, ascended. Caring for the po seems to have taken on a new level of meaning in the Han period, with more elaborate rituals and tomb construction arising.

– Scientific Report for the set of the musicians and dancers:
A thermoluminescence analysis report issued by Laboratory R. Kotalla on April 16th, 2022, based on sample number 04B120422, sets the firing date of all eighth (5) samples taken at 2190 years ago. A copy of the report, issued by Lab. Kotalla, is accompanying this lot. TL test.

– Extra test: Pre-dose test has been done: Pre-dose test confirms old firing without any kind of artificial x-ray treatments!

Condition: All are intact, with scratches and wear commensurate with age. Some remaining pigment on surfaces, with nice deposits.

Qin and Han dynasties (221 BCE – 220 CE)
Han dynasty figurines showing dancers with long sleeves
Han dynasty figurines showing dancers with long sleeves
During the Qin and Han dynasties, the imperial court established the yuefu (literally Music Bureau), which was responsible for collecting folk music and dance for performance at the court. A popular dance of the Han dynasty is the Long Sleeve Dance, which is depicted in many images and sculptures of the period, and this form of traditional dance survives to this day.[19] The sleeve may be long and narrow, long and wide, or similar to the “water sleeves” used in Chinese opera. Historical texts also recorded that dancers danced bending at the waist while moving their sleeves.

Many dances of this period are mentioned in historical texts. In one account, a sword dance was said to have been performed by Xiang Zhuang at a banquet in an attempt to assassinate Liu Bang (the founder of the Han dynasty) at the Feast at Hong Gate.[20] This event forms the basis of the “Gong Mo” Dance (公莫舞) – “Gong Mo”, literally “Sir, Don’t!”, which describes the blocking actions by Xiang Bo during the sword dance to prevent Xiang Zhuang from thrusting his sword towards Liu Bang.[21] The “Gong Mo” Dance was later known as the Scarf Dance (巾舞). The dance is performed with a long scarf held in each hand, and is similar to today’s Long Silk Dance. Liu Bang was also said to be fond of the war dance of the Ba people, called the Bayu (巴渝) dance and known in later eras in various names such as Zhaowu (昭武) in the Eastern Wu period and Xuanwu (宣武) during the Jin dynasty. Large-scale performances of this dance involved brandishing weapons to the accompaniment of drums and songs in the Ba language.[22]

Acrobats and dancers depicted in a tomb chamber in Chengdu dating to the Eastern Han dynasty. The dancer held in each hand long pieces of silk on rod.
Acrobats and dancers depicted in a tomb chamber in Chengdu dating to the Eastern Han dynasty. The dancer held in each hand long pieces of silk on rod.
Other dances of the period included the Drum Dance (鞞舞), Bell Dance (鐸舞), Sabre Dance, and mixed couple dance (對舞).[23] Fu Yi’s (傅毅) Lyric Essay on Dance describes the Seven Tray Dance (七盤舞, also called Tray Drum Dance 盤鼓舞), a fusion of acrobatics and dance in which the dancer leaps gracefully between trays and drums on the trays, which gets faster as the dance progresses.[24][25]

During the Han dynasty, a popular form of entertainment is the variety show called baixi (百戲, or “hundred shows”) that developed from the jiaodi (角抵, originally a form of wrestling game with men wearing horns) of the Qin Dynasty.[26] In such shows, various Chinese variety arts are performed, such as acrobatics, martial art, magic tricks, comic performances, music and dance.[27] Zhang Heng recorded various performances in his Lyric Essay on Western Capital (西京賦), describing dancers dressed as beasts, fish and dragons.[28]

One famous Han dynasty dancer is Zhao Feiyan, a great beauty who rose from a humble beginning to become an Empress. She was named Feiyan or “Flying Swallow” after her slender figure and lithe dance steps, so light that she appeared to be quivering like a flower in the hand.[29][30] Professional dancers of the period were of low social status and many entered the profession through poverty, although some such as Zhao Feiyan achieved higher status by becoming concubines. Another dancer was Wang Wengxu (王翁須) who was forced to become a domestic singer-dancer but who later bore the future Emperor Xuan of Han.

From Wikiwand

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