Dancing female tomb figure
Three similar figures of dancing girls are shown swaying to music, their long sleeves flopping over their hands. They can be differentiated by their hair styles: no. 142 has her hair arranged in a series of parallel shells from front to back, no. 143 has her hair drawn into two widely separated peaks, and no. 144 has two smaller top-knots. All three wear high-waisted dresses in an apparently lightweight material which falls in soft folds to outline a square at the base; toes of shoes peep beneath the dresses at the corners.
Entertainers, musicians, acrobats and especially dancers were popular subjects for the numerous pottery figures buried in tombs. The Tang capital at Chang’an (present-day Xi’an) was cosmopolitan in character, with merchants from most parts of Asia trading there. Dancers and musicians were brought to the capital from central and southern Asia, and especially from the city states along the Silk Route. There was probably competition among the élite as to who had the more exotic musicians and dancers at any one time performing in their households. These ladies may not, however, represent foreigners, as their hair is dressed in Chinese fashion in the mode of the early eighth century, as seen in the wall paintings of the tomb of the Princess Yongtai (Akiyama et al., 1968: no. 230;Wenwu, 1964.1: 7-33, fig. 10).
Although red earthenware, used here, was less common than grey, it is seen in a number of tomb figure groups, as in the figures from the tomb of Cui Chen (d. 706) in Yanshi Xian in Henan province (Wenwu cankao ziliao, 1958.8: 64-6). Most of the pigment with which these figures were originally painted has worn away. They have been broken and repaired at the arms. Thermoluminescence tests on nos. 142-3, conducted in 1973 at the Oxford Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, gave dates for the last firing of these objects at between 700 and 1360 years ago, consistent with a Tang attribution.
Entry taken from Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection 3 volume catalogue, edited by Steven Hooper (Yale University Press, 1997).
Acquired by the Sainsbury Family in 1933. Donated to the Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia in 1973 as part of the original gift.
Title/Description: Dancing female tomb figure
Born: 0618 c - 0906 c
Object Type: Figure
Measurements: h. 244 x w. 120 x d. 90 mm
Accession Number: 407a
Historic Period: Tang Dynasty (618-906), 7th Century, 10th century
Credit Line: Donated by Robert and Lisa Sainsbury, 1973
Chinese Classic Dance in the Tang Dynasty
Chinese Court dances date back to the Qin Dynasty (220 B.C.) and were performed in the palace of the Emperor. Court dancing reached its height of sophistication during the Tang dynasty as evidence by its depictions in the poetry, paintings and sculptures of that period. There are two kinds of court dances: those based on various martial art fighting forms, and those based on Confucian etiquette and ritual codes. The dance in this video was performed by the group "Beautiful People" with leader Hao Ruoqi. It was based on the long narrative poem with the same name by Du Fu, a poet and politician of the Tang dynasty.