A rare, largely unrestored Chinese Tang Dynasty Pottery Court Lady: this lead-glazed figurine was created sometime during the 7th and 8th centuries. Of exhibition quality, remarkably, despite her age, she’s survived virtually untouched. By contrast, most Tang Dynasty pottery Court Ladies available on the open market have been overpainted and heavily restored. It’s rare to find such an elegant example in an unembellished original state.
Widely considered the greatest of all Chinese dynasties, the Tang dynasty (618-907) witnessed remarkable progress across the creative arts. Ceramics especially came to the fore, with Tang sancai — moulded, tri-color glazed pottery — particularly prized.
Sancai means three color, and Tang sancai works were typically decorated in varying shades of amber, cream and green, although black, brown, and blue glazes also featured. Working with the viscous colored glazes required a high degree of skill as they tended to run and blend into each other. This merging of colors, combined with an often ‘loose’ decorative style, gave each piece its unique character.
Tang sancai earthenware (often in the form of horses, camels or, as here, court ladies) remains highly sought after today. Indeed, every important private or public collection of Chinese decorative arts — from Geneva’s Baur Foundation to New York’s The Met — contains Tang sancai works. The Janus Arts’ lady is an exceptionally charming example of this ancient decorative craft. Easily curated, she will happily adorn all manner of interiors.
The figurine is standing in a relaxed pose with her head tilted demurely. Her hands are raised to her chest and obscured by her long sleeves. Finely modelled, she has delicate features with full lips and elongated eyes. Traces of the original white slip and pink pigment remain on her softly rounded face, while her long hair — styled into two elaborate side buns — retains traces of authentic black pigment. Her voluminous, flowered robe secures at the waist with a sash; falling in soft pleats, it skims the floor to reveal the tips of her slippers.
During the Tang dynasty, it became fashionable for noble ladies to sport a fuller figure: a style set apparently by Yang Guifei, the curvaceous consort of Emperor Xuanzong (712-756). As high society’s waistlines expanded, so fashion did, too. Loose robes and high necklines — all the better to accommodate those ample physiques — became the height of chic. Reflecting the style of the day, Tang Dynasty pottery court ladies — or ‘fat ladies’ as they’re also known — are typically ‘double dumpling plump’. Unusually svelte by comparison, the Janus Arts’ figure (although well-fed and well-dressed to reflect her social status) probably depicts a younger, more nubile member of the gentry!
The hugely innovative Tang potters laid the foundations for what would become China’s world-dominating ceramics industry. As demand for porcelain increased, so great pottery hubs grew up. The most important was Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, known to this day as China’s porcelain capital. At its peak, Jingdezhen produced the finest porcelain ever seen, including blue and white porcelain, Linglong porcelain, Chinese Cloisonné, and monochrome works in unwavering shades of deep cobalt or copper-red.
China remained the ceramics’ centre of the world until the 18th century. Today, Jingdezhen’s ancient Imperial Kiln Sites are an Unesco World Heritage site.
During the Ming and (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911), potters used Imperial reign marks to hallmark Chinese porcelain explicitly created for the Emperor or his household.
Each Imperial reign mark consisted of four or six characters, usually applied in underglaze blue to a work’s base. Four-character marks stated the ruling Emperor of the time, while six-character marks also recorded the dynasty.
Imperial reign marks were intended just for Guan yao (Imperial ware). However, Min yao (people’s ware) porcelain from this time was often reign marked, too. By contrast, porcelain produced for export was seldom marked.
Reign marks were typically handwritten, scored or stamped in either ‘kaishu’ regular script or ‘zhuanshu’ seal script (seal marks). But that’s about as consistent as things got. Underglazed, overglazed, enamelled: reign marks were far from uniform. For example, the Qianlong period saw iron-red seal marks commonly applied to the famille rose porcelain created for the Qianlong Emperor. But Qianlong marks in underglaze blue or gilt were used, too.
Even experts find it incredibly challenging to authenticate Chinese porcelain reliably. Forgeries abound, and yet not every falsely marked work should be seen as deliberately deceitful or worthless. Confusingly, artisans would often copy and use centuries’ old reign marks out of respect for their ancestors. So, it’s not unusual to find ‘Ming dynasty’ reign marks on what is highly valuable Qing dynasty, Kangxi mark porcelain! These ‘reverential’ marks are called apocryphal marks.
It’s vital that a work’s appearance and quality conforms to both its mark AND its period. Essentially, it must fit all the criteria for authenticated works of its specific style and age. If there’s any doubt, always seek expert advice. Additionally, Oxford Authentication ® Ltd’s thermoluminescence testing will calculate and authenticate a fired ceramic antiquity’s age.
To find out more about this rare Chinese Tang Dynasty Pottery Court Lady, contact us today. From Tang Sancai to Chinese Cloisonné, we’ll help you navigate the fascinating world of Chinese decorative arts. So, whether you’re interested in buying or selling, do get in touch for a free, no-obligation chat.