Camel tomb figurine (yong), 618-906 CE (Tang Dynasty, 618-906)
Ceramic; earthenware with amber and cream glazes (sancai ware)
Overall: 21 1/2 in x 6 1/4 in x 15 in; 54.6 cm x 15.9 cm x 38.1 cm
Gift of the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation
This camel was produced as a yong, a figurine to be placed in a tomb that would serve the deceased in the afterlife — simultaneously acting as a sign of its owner’s wealth and high status. Camels, especially the Bactrian variety shown here, were highly valued as important transportation animals for international trade along the Silk Routes. Called the “ships of the desert,” these animals carried heavy loads of goods and withstood long travels across the vast expanses of sand. As a result, when the demand for exotic luxury goods increased during the Tang dynasty, these imported Bactrian camels became popular subjects for ceramic art.
Though mass-produced in molds, these types of figures are remarkably realistic, reflecting a growing interest in naturalism during the Tang period. Standing on a rectangular base, the camel throws its head back and opens its mouth wide — a stance associated with a camel’s reaction to an approaching sandstorm. The amber glazes run freely down its sides, merging with the cream glazes on its legs. This glazing technique is known as sancai (three-color), and was popular during the Tang dynasty.
-Kendra Weisbin, Associate Curator of Education, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum (Sept. 2016)