A finely rendered Ming Dynasty moulded terracotta head fragment of a male figure, originally part of a larger composition. The figure is portrayed wearing an elaborate gold gilt hat, further enriched by painted panels, resembling stone inlays. His black-pigmented hair is drawn up in a topknot and fastened with a hairpin. The face is painted in white colour with features picked out in brown, black and red pigments. Despite the fragmentary state of the piece, the head testifies the great skills of Ming artists.
The fragmentary condition of the piece prevents a specific identification of the figure here portrayed. Ming terracotta statuettes were usually meant to be grave goods to be placed in tombs. It was believed that these figures would serve and assist the deceased in the afterlife. Figures of this type are called mingqi in Chinese, and depict servants, officials, soldiers, musicians, court attendants, dancers and, in the case of animals, horses and Bactrian camels. However, some Ming statuettes might have been placed in ancestral shrines, also known as lineage temples, to be adored and worshipped by descendants. Ancestors’ terracotta statues were believed to have embodied the spirits of successful ancestors, enlightening and guiding the descendants to inherit and duplicate the glories and the achievements of their lineage’s past. Before the advent of the Ming Dynasty, the practice of placing large terracotta statues of ancestors in ancestral shrines was reserved exclusive to the royal family. Interestingly, the figure’s elaborate and gilded headpiece might qualify him as a Taoist god, possibly the immortal Caishen, the god of wealth.
Period: Ming Dynasty