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Five Attendants


Artwork Details

Five Attendants
earthenware with glaze and mineral pigment
12 1/2 in (31.75 cm)
Gift of Jiu-Hwa Lo Upshur

On Display

Not currently on display


Subject Matter:

Sancai  (三彩) ("three-color ware") mingqi (冥器) ("funerary goods") attendant figures of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).  They are symbolically carrying the deceased in the sedan chair.  

This type of earthenware figure was mass produced in low-temperature fired kilns to be buried with the deceased as a type mingqi, or “bright object.”  Mingqi were made to supply the tomb occupant with everything they would need for the afterlife; they reflect the lifestyle and time in which the deceased lived.  During the Ming dynasty, these were manufactured with a three-color glaze palette similar to sancai ware of the Tang dynasty, but could include new colors such as aubergine and turquoise in addition to the green, amber, cream, and cobalt typically associated with sancai.

Since the Qin dynasty (221 - 206 BCE), ceramic figures have been used to replace human sacrifice in burial practices as mingqi as a way to provide for the deceased.  Mingqi could include houses, towers, gates, granaries, livestock pens, chicken coops, wells, cooking stoves, storage vessels, dishes, incense burners, and lamps.  Figures could include horses, dogs, anthropomorphic animals and people, such as officials, guardians, servants, and entertainers. By the Han dynasty, they also included representations of common people engaged in the activities that consumed their daily lives, such a cooking. The tombs in southern provinces of Sichuan and Shaanxi have revealed a vast array of figures in playful and humorous poses.  As grave goods, these mingqi included everything one would need to ensure a comfortable transition into the afterlife. The number of ceramic mingqi items in a tomb could reach numbers of a few to several hundred objects.

Physical Description:

A set of five polychrome glazed male attendants carrying a sedan chair (2001/2.276).  One leads the procession while four carry the chair, all are on a platform. The leader is dressed in long green robes, and is carrying a rectangular box in front of him.  His hands are covered with a tassled scarf, and he is wearing a tall black hat.  His face is painted in polychrome mineral pigments.  The four attendants mirror each other: two on each side, their inside hands holding the sedan, outside hands at their sides, wearing long green robes and tall conical black hats. Their faces are painted with mineral pigments.

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