Alice Karle Appraisal

Fine & Decorative Art

Ming Pottery Figures

Ming Pottery Figures
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Ming Pottery Figures

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A pair of Ming pottery figures dating from the 16th to 17th century. The Ming Dynasty was established in 1368, when the foreign rule of the Mongol led Yuan Dynasty was overthrown, and the rule of the Empire by native Chinese returned. It ended when it fell to the invading Manchurians in 1644. Ming means “brilliant” and at least in its beginnings the Ming Dynasty lived up to the name, restoring peace and prosperity, and bringing with it a flowering of the arts.

This pair of Ming pottery figures are modeled in terracotta. Glazes are in yellow, brown, green, white, and aubergine. An authoritative representation of strength, realistic modeling, and fine detailing are hallmarks of the best of the Ming period figures. Portrayed at rest, the figures project a presence that is at once quiet and tranquil, yet powerful.

The sculptures are of relatively large size, and are in remarkable condition, without restoration of any kind. Other than minor glaze wear, the only defect is that the sculpture on the left is missing the lower portion of one of the chair legs. Another characteristic of the later Ming pottery was the introduction of the wucai, or five color palette, in the reign of the Wan Li Emperor (1572–1620). The coloration of these figures is related to the wucai palette, which is comprised of green, yellow, red, white, and underglaze blue. It differs from the earlier decoration of pottery figures in the sancai palette, originating in the Tang Dynasty (618–907). Wares in the Tang sancai tradition featured running glazes in brown, green, and creamy white. Possibly intended as architectural ornament, these Ming pottery figures are related in concept and construction to the figural tiles of animals that were placed in processions along the ridge line of Chinese roofs.