Spirited Ceramics: Tang Dynasty Sancai Pottery

We've all heard the saying "You can't take it with you." But what if you could?

Death in pre-modern Chinese culture was of tremendous importance, and it was crucial that when one left this life for the next, the departed were given everything needed to enjoy the next chapter of their eternal life. This included everything from representations of houses, horses, guardians, camels and even young hand maidens, that stood as reminders of events that shaped the existence they left behind. The ceramic wares produced during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.) for this purpose are considered the most beautiful of these astonishing antiquities.

Known as "sancai" or "three color" pottery, these extraordinary artifacts are regarded by many as the greatest artistic contribution of the Tang period. From the Ferghana Horse that was representative of a great warrior, to the intimidating Earth Spirits that assured safe passage to the afterlife, M.S. Rau Antiques' collection of Tang Dynasty sancai pottery illustrates the beauty and intrigue of ancient Chinese folklore. These monumental Earth Spirits, in particular, are incredible examples from this "golden age" of pottery. Known as ch'i-t'ou, these creatures were placed in tombs and were intended to deter anyone, or anything, aiming to do harm to the departed. These fantastical creatures were crafted with ferocious characteristics, including monstrous masks, sharp fangs and flaring wings that, simply put, would make anyone think twice about disturbing their owner.

These extraordinary sancai pottery figures illustrate the desire to honor those who have gone before. The ancient Chinese may not have been able to "take it with them," but they did leave behind incredible works of art that open an entire world of absolutely fascinating Chinese history.

 

 

These Earth Spirits ensured safety in the afterlife. With fearsome features, no one would dare disturb their owner.

These Earth Spirits ensured safety in the afterlife. With fearsome features, no one would dare disturb their owner.

A high-ranking warrior would have had this outstanding Ferghana House in their tomb.

A high-ranking warrior would have had this outstanding Ferghana House in their tomb.