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HOME : Chinese Art : Song Dynasty : Painted Relief Panel Depicting a Chef
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Painted Relief Panel Depicting a Chef - H.661
Origin: China
Circa: 960 AD to 1279 AD
Dimensions: 21" (53.3cm) high
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Stone

Location: United States
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The Sung (Song) Dynasty partially reunified China after a period of chaotic turmoil following the fall of the T’ang. Historically, the Sung are noted for their revival of the ancient Confucian beliefs, ushering a period known as Neo-Confusianism that would dominate Chinese (and later on Japanese) thought for the next several centuries. Although best known for their philosophical contributions, this relief panel attests to the rich artistic tradition that flourished under the enlightened rulers of the Sung Dynasty. Discovered buried inside a tomb, this gorgeous rectangular panel, sculpted in low relief, depicts an elegantly dressed chef bringing out his latest dish from the kitchen. The culinary arts of China are the oldest and most sophisticated in the world. Cooking was considered an art form as early as the 5th century B.C. when the first etiquette texts were written. The noble dress of this chef, including the black headdress and red cloak with white spots, reflects his honored position within the courtly entourage. He appears to step forward, as if caught in the act of delivering this meal to the table. We can imagine him pulling off the lid as the steamy aromas tantalize our nose and the colors tease our eyes. Although we cannot know who this chef was, we can assume that he worked on the staff of the noble elite, for only such high-ranking members of society could command such an extravagant burial. Most likely, this stone panel was specifically commissioned for the sole purpose of accompanying the deceased into the afterlife, thereby reflecting both the wealth of the deceased as well as the familial piety of his ancestors. Thus, this divine meal was not meant for human consumption, but spiritual. - (H.661)


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