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Ming Ceremonial Processional Set Consisting of Twelve Figures, a Horse, and a Palanquin - X.0416
Origin: China
Circa: 1368 AD to 1644 AD
Dimensions: 12.625" (32.1cm) high
Collection: Chinese
Style: Ming Dynasty
Medium: Glazed Terracotta

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Upon leading a victorious rebellion against the foreign Mongul rulers of the Yuan Dynasty, a peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang seized control of China and founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368. As emperor, he founded his capital at Nanjing and adopted the name Hongwu as his reign title. Hongwu, literally meaning “vast military,” reflects the increased prestige of the army during the Ming Dynasty. Due to the very realistic threat still posed by the Mongols, Hongwu realized that a strong military was essential to Chinese prosperity. Thus, the orthodox Confucian view that the military was an inferior class to be ruled over by an elite class of scholars was reconsidered. During the Ming Dynasty, China proper was reunited after centuries of foreign incursion and occupation. Ming troops controlled Manchuria, and the Korean Yi Dynasty respected the authority of the Ming rulers, at least nominally.

Like the founders of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), Hongwu was extremely suspicious of the educated courtiers that advised him and, fearful that they might attempt to overthrow him, he successfully consolidated control of all aspect of government. The strict authoritarian control Hongwu wielded over the affairs of the country was due in part to the centralized system of government he inherited from the Monguls and largely kept intact. However, Hongwu replaced the Mongul bureaucrats who had ruled the country for nearly a century with native Chinese administrators. He also reinstituted the Confucian examination system that tested would-be civic officials on their knowledge of literature and philosophy. Unlike the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), which received most of its taxes from mercantile commerce, the Ming economy was based primarily on agriculture, reflecting both the peasant roots of its founder as well as the Confucian belief that trade was ignoble and parasitic.

Culturally, the greatest innovation of the Ming Dynasty was the introduction of the novel. Developed from the folk tales of traditional storytellers, these works were transcribed in the everyday vernacular language of the people. Advances in printmaking and the increasing population of urban dwellers largely contributed to the success of these books. Architecturally, the most famous monument of the Ming Dynasty is surely the complex of temples and palaces known as the Forbidden City that was constructed in Beijing after the third ruler of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Yongle, moved the capital there. Today, the Forbidden Palace remains one of the hallmarks of traditional Chinese architecture and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the vast nation.

Ming statuette art reflects the attempt to restore purely “Chinese” artistic genres with a healthy injection of Confucian aesthetic, political, and moral standards. Realistic depictions of daily life became popular themes among artists who were often patronized by the court. Under Xuande's reign (1426-35), the art industry flourished, producing many exquisite porcelain and ceramic pieces. This glazed set is a product of the artistic revival that occurred throughout the Ming. This Ming set of glazed figurines depicts an aspect of Chinese political and social life. Tributary processions were common protocol at this time, the emperor requiring provincial lords to pay tribute and tax on a regular basis. Processions were also held for funerals, marriages, and rituals differing in grandeur depending on the status of the individuals involved and nature of the ceremony. The palanquin served as the primary form of transportation for the elite who often traveled with several attendants.

This miniature procession consists of twelve attendants hauling palanquin, led by a sculpture of a horse and rider. The attendants wear purple-glazed robes with long flowing sleeves capped by turquoise blue cuffs. Their rounded orange caps accentuate their dignified appearance. In addition, some attendants and the rider figure are distinguished by the orange vests they wear on top of their robes. As Chinese statuette art prescribes, the faces are created individually with uniquely painted features, owing to their distinctive expressions. Glazed in the same vibrant purple hue as the figures, the palanquin is elegantly constructed with molded screens on both sides and curved hip roof crowned with a diamond ornament. Here, the emperor would have once sat. However, he is not depicted, since this processional set was intended to usher the soul of the deceased emperor into the afterlife. - (X.0416)

 

 

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