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Jonathan Tucker Antonia Tozer Asian Art

UNGLAZED POTTERY MODEL OF A CAMEL
CHINA
TANG DYNASTY
618 - 907 AD
L: 59 CMS, 23 INS.
H: 74 CMS, 29 INS.

A magnificent pottery model of a Bactrian camel with a foreign rider, probably a Sogdian groom, seated with his arms raised as if grappling with the reins, dressed in characteristic full length Central Asian jacket with wide lapels and long boots, his bearded face with large eyes under bushy brows, a large beaked nose and a thick curling moustache, astride a large detachable saddle bag slung between the camel’s humps, rendered in accurate detail with various attachments including a flask and rabbit skin to each side, the animal superbly modelled as if striding forwards with beautifully sculpted head, the braying mouth wide open to reveal realistically rendered teeth, palate and tongue, with wide eyes and flaring nostrils, the upturned neck with bushy mane, the strong slender legs with well delineated tendons and padded feet, the dark grey earthenware body with traces of white slip remaining.

For travellers and merchants along the Silk Road, camels provided the most dependable means of transportation, as they were able to carry heavy loads and survive the rigours of thirst, heat and cold. They have often been described as ‘Ships of the Desert’. Heading west, camel cargoes contained silk, but also ceramics, spices and tea. On the return trips they were loaded with treasures from the western world including gold, coloured glass, pigments for glazes and exotic furs.

For a comparable figure of a camel with a Central Asian rider, see fig. 241 in Hao Qian et al, Out of China’s Earth: Archeological Discoveries in the People’s Republic of China. London: Frederick Muller; Beijing : China Pictorial, 1981. A remarkable example of a unglazed camel with rider holding an owl was sold at Sotheby’s in New York, March 2002, for US$412,750, Lot no 55, sale no N07771. For a detailed history of pottery figures of camels, see E. R. Knauer, The Camel’s Load in Life and Death, Zurich: Akanthus, 1998.

Age verified by four point Oxford Thermoluminescence Test C106j52.

PROVENANCE: Private French collection.

all text & images Jonathan Tucker Antonia Tozer Asian Art

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