This exhibition reveals the ceramic riches of China at the time of the Han and Tang dynasties (206 B.C. - 906 A.D.). Drawing on the collections of the Groninger Museum, the Princessehof Museum in Leeuwarden, the Rijksmuseum and – of course – the Gemeentemuseum itself, it will show the kind of gifts that accompanied the (wealthy) dead of ancient China on their journey into the afterworld. These included not only household goods and foodstuffs, but also ceramic figures of humans and animals, intended to serve the deceased. In the early 20th century, the Gemeentemuseum was one of the first museums in the Netherlands to begin collecting ceramic grave goods, a fascinating tradition still being observed today.
The custom of filling tombs with objects which the deceased had needed when alive has its roots in the cult of the dead in feudal China, when it was usual for important people to be accompanied into the grave by their entire households. Spouses, staff and domestic animals were all killed and buried in the same tomb. Around 500 B.C., this barbarous custom was replaced by the burial of wooden (or, later, earthenware) sculptures representing members of the household. Innumerable tomb figures survive to bear silent witness to these funerary rituals. They include officials, servants, dancing girls, musicians and many kinds of domesticated animals or pets, such as horses, camels, pigs and dogs. Needless to say, the contents of the grave reflected the status of the occupant.
The camels shown here were purchased by the Gemeentemuseum some years ago. They are an example of the approx. fifty ceramic tomb sculptures to be seen in this exhibition. The elegant creatures, made of cold-painted earthenware, were produced during the Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D.). Remnants of the cold painting can still be seen on their saddlebags and rear legs.