This catalogue presents to your discerning attention a selection of grave goods, also known as mingqi, from the Han (c. 206 BC to 220 AD) and Tang (c. 618 to 906 AD) Dynasties. The Chinese were not of course the only civilisation to produce a specific and peculiar material culture associated with burial, quite the contrary. Most ancient civilisations developed complex rituals and practices related to death, most often involving the deposition of specific typologies of grave goods. This commonality of practice, declined into a multiform variety of rituals and artefacts across different cultures, clearly illustrates the universal fascination before the mystery of death, and the most profound need to bridge the detachment from this earthly life with objects reminding of the worldly experience which had come to an end.
The fashion for terracotta grave goods was undoubtedly stimulated by the example of the first
emperor of the Qin Dynasty whose terracotta army is now legendary. Terracotta replicas of attendants, entertainers and domesticated animals – which replaced their sentient counterparts sacrificed in earlier dynasties – were among the items interred to ensure the material comfort of 11 the deceased in the afterlife. This practice continued to flourish until the fall of the Tang dynasty
in the early tenth century, after which it became more common to burn the items intended to accompany the deceased.
These objects provide us with a veritable gateway into the daily lives and beliefs of two of the most important Dynasties in Chinese history. Reading this catalogue and looking at the exhibition, the visitor will be able to witness the development and evolution of artistic languages and practices over the span of a millennium, and in particular the changes and trends in the production of glazed and unglazed wares.
I hope that these artefacts will be of interest to you as they have been to me.