N° 20
Foreign caravaneer

North China
Tang Dynasty, 7th century
Polychrome earthenware
H : 52 cm.
J. Polain Collection
(Inv. MA 6107)
Paris, National Museum of Asian Arts - Guimet

This figurine moulded in a buff-coloured clay was reworked with a knife to smooth out certain parts such as the ankles, or to intensify details such as the folds of the headgear. The sturdy, still slim figure of the individual and the length of his legs attest to a non-Chinese body type.

The stiff, oversimplified handling of the lower part of the body contrasts with the careful, supple treatment of the upper part. The legs aligned with the axis of the base, the chest turned toward the right, the slanting shoulders, the right arm bent at the elbow and turned upward, and the lowered left arm are all typical of the movements of a caravaneer bridling his mount. His arm muscles tense and his wrists contract with the effort, while his hands close on a rein which has since disappeared. Is he trying to restrain the animal? In any case, he is seeking to spare himself its unpredictable moods.

This objective, three-dimensional representation, in which each element works smoothly with every other, is combined with an insatiable curiosity concerning both the foreigner's features and his garments. He would seem to have dark-coloured leggings attached to his boots. His orange-ochre tunic, with its prominent shoulders, narrow sleeves, and fitted waist, follows the curves of his body. This garment with its large triangular green bands corresponds to the classic hufu. It is worn with a high, pointed, somewhat exaggerated coiffure which the artist lengthens at will. It is in the depiction of the face, however, that the artist shows the true measure of his talent. In the middle of a round, pink, and jovial face, between two eyes whose pupils are dilated, he has placed a nose which is singularly long, even caricatured -- a mischievous, gently mocking note intended to contribute to a vivid portrait.

Jean -Paul Desroches