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The TT Tsui collection of Chinese ceramics

Introduction | History | Burial Rites and Mingqi | Spiritual Beliefs | Ceramics


Ming Dynasty 1368–1644


Head of an Immortal or official - 1368–1644 - earthenware - Gift to the National Collection of Asian Art from Dr TT Tsui LLD JP, of the Tsui Art Foundation, HK, through the National Gallery of Australia Foundation 1995

Head of an Immortal or official
earthenware, glaze and painted decoration

As works were made to order, more unusual wares appeared. This head of a man is made from a fine grey clay which has been under and over glazed to highlight different facial features and to colour the face and hat. The larger range of coloured glazes available enabled the potter to recreate lifelike faces such as this.

The holes at the base of the neck suggest it was attached to a ceramic or wooden body, forming a life-size sculpture. The other small holes strategically placed on the chin and below the ears and nose would have been filled with lengths of hair imitating the Ming fashion. There are also gaps on the side of the cap which would have held separate ceramic wing-like inserts.

The head is very similar to one of a trio of figures representing the gods of Prosperity, Longevity, and in this case, Success, which became popular during this period. The image of Success is characteristically shown with this style of headdress and with a hint of a smile. The trio are often found in temples, with smaller replicas being used in domestic settings. Alternatively, the figure may represent a government official whose appearance in the tomb, alongside other similar figures, attested to the power of the deceased.

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Head of an official
14th–17th century

Originally part of a monumental statue, this head of an official is typical of late Yuan – early Ming dynasty sculpture. With stern features and a piercing gaze, the official wears a hat that bears the faint remains of a cartouche. The figure in the cartouche is possibly a rabbit, suggesting the image was associated with a Daoism. Images of the 12 animal symbols of the zodiac were a popular part of Daoist imagery. Large stone sculptures were either placed in local temples or lined the avenues to the great Ming dynasty tombs.

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Head of an official - moustache

Head of an official
13th–17th century

During the Ming dynasty monumental stone sculptures of animals and court officials lined the avenues to imperial tombs. This carved head of an official was probably part of one of these larger than life sculptures. With a stern countenance, the image depicts a senior court official. His neatly groomed moustache and plump face indicate the trappings of success. As statues of this type were associated with the royal courts it was essential that they appeared to overwhelm and dominate the populace.

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