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Central Asian Groom
Central Asian Groom, 8th century
Earthenware with sancai (tricolor) glaze and traces of painted decoration on head
Height: 17 inches (43.2 cm)
Gift of Charles H. Ludington from the George Crofts Collection, 1923
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Tomb Figures: Bactrian Camel and Central Asian Groom

These ceramic figures of a Bactrian camel and groom (see images below) were made over one thousand years ago in China for the tombs of wealthy aristocrats or merchants. Objects such as these, along with figures of guardians, soldiers, and entertainers, were placed in tombs so that the spirit of the deceased person might have a rich and full afterlife similar to the life he or she had lived on earth.

China was the eastern end of the Silk Route (also called the Silk Road), some five thousand miles of roads linking Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, along which traders exchanged not only goods and services but also customs and languages. Two-humped Bactrian camels were ideal for carrying the trade goods. Standing seven feet tall at the hump, they can carry great weight, walk on varied terrain with their large feet, and store fat in their humps, converting it to energy or water on long journeys.

The unknown artists who made these sculptures filled them with a lively spirit. The camel twists its neck and opens its mouth to bray loudly. The groom raises his arm as if to control a stubborn camel with invisible reins. Attached to the camel’s saddle you can see a water flask, a slab of smoked meat, and a saddlebag with a fanged guardian face.

The figures were coated with cream, amber, and green glazes, which still shine brightly after a thousand years. The groom’s face and legs were not glazed, but instead were originally painted with watercolors, which have faded away over time.

Tomb Figure of a Bactrian Camel
Tang Dynasty (618–907), 618–907, China
Gift of Mrs. John Wintersteen, 1964-9-1
[ Camel Details ]

Let's Look

  • Describe the poses and expressions of the camel and the man.
  • What do they tell you about each?
  • How would you describe the camel’s behavior?
  • What textures and colors do you see on each figure?

Let's Look Again

  • What material was used to make these sculptures? How can you tell?
  • These figures were found in ancient tombs in China. Why might tombs have been filled with such things?

This object is included in Looking to Write, Writing to Look, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and is generously supported by the Sherman Fairchild Foundation Inc.


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