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Lot 73, Auction 7/11/2017: Rare Set of 12 Chinese Ming Pottery Zodiac Figures

East Asia, China, Ming Dynasty, ca. 1368 to 1644 CE. A fabulous set of twelve mold-made, glazed ceramic zodiac figures, each standing human tomb attendant wearing long draping gowns of rich cobalt blue, sky blue, and scarlet red hues, each figure holding a different animal of the Chinese zodiac - rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig/boar - in his hands. These zodiacs corresponded to the twelve earthly branches and are traditionally found in tombs of the wealth and elite. Interestingly, the term zodiac derives from the term zodiacus, a Latin form of the Greek word meaning "circle of little animals", hence the significance of animals among the signs. The figures are skillfully detailed and retain much original hand applied glaze and pigment. Zodiac figures were usually placed in a north-south direction in coffin chambers to represent the progression of time. The ancients believed that this arrangement would encourage the deities to guard and protect the tomb. Size: each figure measures 7.625" H (19.4 cm)

The earliest pottery zodiac figures were quite veristic in appearance, as seen in examples from the Northern dynasty (386 to 581 CE). As time progressed, they became more stylized, and took on a combination of animal and human features as we see in this example. Difficult to come by, a complete set of Ming Dynasty zodiac figures, each one holding a different revered animal of the zodiac.

Condition: Expected wear commensurate with age showing areas of glaze loss, nice craquelure to some remaining glazed areas, a few nicks and scuffs here and there, but overall very good.

Provenance: Ex-private British collection

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