Seated Female Musicians, Tang dynasty (618–906), late 7th century
H. 5 3/4 in. (14.6 cm), H. 5 3/4 in. (14.6 cm), H. 6 in. (15.2 cm); H. 5 7/8 in. (14.9 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1923 (23.180.4–7)
Ensembles featuring female musicians often served as a musical bridge between elite and popular culture. As expert musicians, they were often musical innovators. Here, a small ensemble is shown clapping and playing the pipa, tongbo (small copper cymbals), and konghou (harp). The pipa is played in its original position, like an Arabic lute; its silk strings are plucked with a triangular plectrum. The construction and playing style resemble those of the biwa, a Japanese lute derived from the pipa. Today, the biwa maintains the use of a triangular plectrum, the West Asian plectrum guard, and the C-shaped sound holes seen on the instrument played by the musician here. The Chinese playing style changed during the chaotic Later Tang period (921–36), when the plectrum was discarded. The angular konghou harp, introduced at the end of the Han dynasty, was in decline at this time and had gone completely out of use by the end of the Tang.
The highest-rated musicians at the Tang court performed seated, while the lower ranks played standing and were also treated less well in other respects. metmuseum
Rubbing detail from Stone Chamber 1 on the West Wall of the Wu Family Shrine in Shandong Province, China, dated 2nd century AD during the Eastern Han Dynasty. This scene is described as thus by Cary Y Liu and Eileen Hsiang-Ling Hsu:
This “battle at the bridge” scene can be divided into three zones: above, on, and below the bridge. Above the bridge chariots with officials’ titles inscribed in cartouches, cavalry, and infantry come form both sides for battle. At the center of the bridge a prominent male figure in a canopied chariot engages with an armed female before and behind him. The left female wields a long sword in one hand and in the other she carries a double-sickle sword (gouxiang) that has become interlocked with the sword of the man in the chariot. All along the bridge are other combatants. At the foot fo the bridge on the right side two horsemen gallop away from the bridge. Under the left horse lies a decapitated body whose head hangs in the stylized tree between the two horsemen. Under the bridge is a large figure who may be the same man seen in the chariot of the bridge. Again, he is beset by two female warriors, one on each side, but here they stand in boats. Fishermen, fish, and cranes and other birds fill the space around the action under the bridge.
Source: ”Brilliant Artifacts” in Recarving China’s Past (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005), by Cary Y. Liu, edited by Naomi Noble Richard, image on page 130, description on page 131.
The story of Jin Midi. Wu Liang Shrine, Jiaxiang, Shandong. 2nd century AD. Ink rubbings derived from stone-carved reliefs as represented in Feng Yunpeng and Feng Yunyuan, Jinshi suo (1824 edition), n.p.
Jin Midi 金日磾 (lived 134–86 BC) was born a prince of the nomadic Xiongnu, a confederation of Central Asian tribes that once dominated the eastern Eurasian Steppe. He was captured by Han-dynasty Chinese forces and made a slave who tended horses in imperial stables. However, he gained the trust of Emperor Wu when he thwarted an assassination attempt against him. When Emperor Wu lay dying at his bedside, he designated Jin Midi, Huo Guang, and Shangguan Jie as regents to rule over his Liu Fuling, then crown prince and later Emperor Zhao of Han. Jin Midi thus became one of the top officials in central government.
Source: Lillian Lan-Ying Tseng’s “Mediums and Messages: The Wu Family Shrines and Cultural Production in Qing China,” in Rethinking Recarving China’s Past: Ideals, Practices and Problems of the “Wu Family Shrines” and Han China (London and New Haven: Yale University Press and Princeton University Art Museum, 2008), page 279.
Standing court lady, Tang dynasty (618–906), mid-7th century
Earthenware with pigment
H. 15 1/8 in. (38.5 cm)
Anonymous Gift, in memory of Louise G. Dillingham, 1978 (1978.345)
This figurine of a woman in stylish dress represents a dancer in the court of the Tang dynasty, a prosperous time when foreign influences on social customs, fashion, and costume were prominent. Musicians, dancers, and other entertainers from the Western Regions (present-day Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region) were invited to perform for the enjoyment of the princes and courtiers.
The dancer wears a tight high-waisted upper garment with stiffened, out-flaring shoulder projections, a long skirt with billowing streamers, and the fashionable “cloud” shoes with exaggerated upturned toes. Her elegantly slender body is echoed by the long sleeves falling to the knees, and her youthfulness is enhanced by the smooth modeling of the face coated with whitish slip. There are traces of polychrome pigments on the garments and gilt on her elaborate headdress. This dancer’s fanciful costume reflects the exuberant material culture of the Tang court.
One of the 6 reliefs designed by Yan Liben showing Taizong’s favorite horses. Apparently these were battle chargers whom the Emperor valued for their courage. Many of these reliefs, like this one, show the horses injured by arrows and attended by grooms.
Photo of Qin Shihuangdi’s bronze chariot. Considered to be China’s first emperor and leader of the Qin dynasty, Qin Shihuangdi is famously known for his extravagant mausoleum. The mausoleum is largely recognized for its the collection of terracotta soldiers unearthed in the 1970s. Another discovery of the mausoleum is the emperor’s bronze chariot, unlike the terracotta soldiers the chariot is 3/4 life size.