China, probably Shaanxi province
Tang dynasty (618–907)
First half of the 8th century
Gray earthenware with painted polychrome decoration
16 5/16 x 7 1/16 x 6 3/8 in. (41.5 x 18 x 16.2 cm)
Currently Not On View
One of the most engaging and distinctive groups of Tang funerary sculpture is the one representing ladies of the court. This animated and charming example stands in a gracefully swayed pose, her petite hands held in a conversational gesture in front of her swelling form. She wears a white long-sleeved jacket tucked into a full-length red robe that falls in looping folds to her feet, leaving her upturned, ruyi-shaped, triple-cloud shoes visible. Her hairstyle, known as a gaoji (upswept topknot), is stiffly lacquered and folded, with a clump of hair separated and bound into a fan shape in the front, all held in place by two crescent-shaped combs. Her plump, heavily made-up cheeks are offset by exquisitely delicate eyes, nose, and slightly parted lips, reflecting the contemporary ideal of voluptuous beauty. The Tang sculptors’ careful attention to details of fashion and physiognomy allows us to trace in their works the changing fashions of ladies at court during this period. In the early eighth century a new aesthetic favored a fuller and more rotund physique and loose, billowing robes. This fashion for ladies of ample form was probably set by Yang Guifei, the imperial consort of the emperor Xuanzong (reigned A.D. 712–56). Dressed in elegant clothes with their hair arranged in elaborate coiffures and their faces beautified with cosmetics, these figures of aristocratic Tang women possess a singular grace and charm.