Daily Art Moment: Bactrian Camel

Sculpture of a camel viewed in profile facing left, its head thrown back, with mouth open, teeth and tongue visible. It has a small ear and round beige colored eye opened wide. All four legs are visible from the side view; the legs behind one step ahead of those closest to the viewer. Its body, neck, and head are smooth and are glazed in medium to light brown tones. In some areas the glazing appears streaky and drippy; a band of dark brown rings the camel’s neck at its base. Deep incising creates longish, shaggy fur in a creamy beige color on the camel’s head, mane, and underside of the neck running down to its torso. A deep green blanket in the shape of a half circle covers the camel’s back. Two furry textured humps protrude through two openings of the blanket. A multitude of creamy beige dots decorate the blanket and appear runny on the green background. It is edged with a fringe alternating between dark brown, creamy beige, and deep green. The camel’s foreleg has tufts of creamy beige, shaggy fur at the top. The camel stands on sturdy looking, knobbly legs ending in large wide hooves that appear rough and unglazed and are attached to an uneven, rough, unglazed, rectangular base resting on a modern wooden platform.

“This expressive camel, with its head thrown back, makes a bellowing cry that seems relevant to these times. Bactrian camels were often part of a larger set of funerary sculptures in Tang dynasty China. As symbols of prosperity manifested through the Silk Road trade routes, camels would have been placed with other ceramic figurines in the tomb of a high-ranking or wealthy person to signify their status and the comforts of luxury goods. The tricolor glazes, pose, and general form of this Bactrian camel are all typical. But this example is especially striking for its powerfully arched neck and expressively sculpted head. Jaws stretched wide, the camel’s upper lip even curls back from its teeth as it brays in discontent. I like to imagine the sound it makes—shrill, honking, ear-piercing? Whatever the sound, the personality and realism infused in this sculpture is a good reminder—we all have our moments of discontent, in these days of radical patience.”

Jeannie Kenmotsu, Japan Foundation Associate Curator of Japanese Art and Interim Head of Asian Art

China, Shaanxi province. Bactrian Camel, 675/750. Molded earthenware with sancai (three-color) glaze. Museum Purchase: Funds provided by Miss Julia Blodgett, Mrs. Sara R. Blodgett, Miss Sarah W. Blodgett, Dr. and Mrs. William Corbin, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Feldenheimer, Mr. Eric Hoffman, Mrs. Joan Irwin Hoffman, Mrs. Lesley S. Miller, Mr. Aubrey Watzek, and Mrs. Donald F. Winter, 65.30, public domain

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