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Tang dynasty (618-907) China
Camel 8th-9th century Place made: Shaanxi or Henan province, China
Materials & Technique: sculptures, earthenware, earthenware with three colour [sancai] glaze
Dimensions: 54.6 h x 45.0 w x 18.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of TT Tsui, Hong Kong, through the National Gallery of Australia Foundation 1995
Accession No: NGA 95.584

It was only in the Tang dynasty that ceramic camels became an essential funerary item, reflecting the increasing importance of the animals in transporting goods along the great trading route now known as the Silk Road. Camels came to be closely associated with the exotic goods they carried and with the great wealth generated by trade. In tombs, camels ensured access to wealth and trade goods in the afterlife.

The impressive size of this camel indicates it was intended for the tomb of an aristocrat. Crafted in the realistic manner typical of Tang-dynasty funerary ware, the humps are tilted to opposite sides, in representation of a Bactrian camel with exhausted fat stores after the arduous journey across Asia. The camel’s head rears up and the mouth is wide open, giving the animal a lively appearance. It has been decorated in what is referred to as sancai, or three-colour glaze, although frequently more colours were used—green, brown, cream and amber being most common, with blue and black also appearing. Here the cream glaze highlights the fur on the front and back of the neck of the camel, and the green, cream and brown blotches define the saddle blanket.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

During the Tang dynasty the Bactrian camel, a native of the central highlands of Asia, was prized as a beast of burden, able to carry as much as two hundred kilograms of cargo and provisions for travellers over great expanses of desert. Caravans of these camels plied the trade routes along the Silk Road. Camels also formed an important part of the retinue accompanying the dead in the afterlife, as they were closely associated with the exotic goods they carried and with the great wealth generated by trade.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
From: Asian gallery extended display label