VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Terra cotta figures
ME1903.11.2, 24, 57, 58, 69, 73, 87, 89
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

These kinds of objects, which are found in a small number of museums in the world, have aroused a lot of attention because of their enigmatic nature, their naive but at the same time, explicit character, and because they point to the fact that cultural transfers from India to China did not only contain Buddhist texts and Gandharan art but also elements of what might be “folk-culture”.

History of the Object
The early history of these objects, before they were covered by sediments later to be exposed by Spring floods is not known. Sven Hedin acquired them in 1895 and donated the collection the Museum of Ethnography in 1903.

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Type
Sculpture 
Materials
Terra cotta 
Measurements
Width 2-4 cm Height 2-4 cm  
Creator name
Unknown 
Creator date
Unknown 
Where it was made
China; Xinjiang; Khotan (Yotkan/Borasan) 
Geography
China 
Time period
AD 3rd century ~ AD 9th century 
Creation date
3rd Century - 9th century; Probably 
Function
The function of these small enigmatic terra-cotta figures is not ascertained. They are archaeological in nature and no written or other documentation seem to have survived as to their role. Normal suggestions that they are toys can be ruled out, at least for the ones which show monkeys engaged in explicit sexual games, but perhaps not for the small figures depicting camels and other animals. There are also small figures which play instruments. The next suggestion is normally then that they have some kind of ritual use, which is however not ascertained. The interesting thing is that they have only been found in Khotan in the South-western corner of the Taklimakan desert, Xinjiang, China. Then associated to archaeological layers from the period from the 1st to 10th century AD when Khotan (or then Yotkan/Bhorasan) was an early and important, even flourishing, entry point for Buddhism from India. In many respects they are directly related to Kashmir (Gandhara) south of Karakorum. Monkeys are not found in Xinjiang and there are many ornamental traits in these small figures which have their direct correspondence in Gandharan art. 
Acquisition
They were acquired in 1895 by Sven Hedin during his first expedition (1893-97). He visited Yotkan, but the acquisitions were made from local peddlers in the bazaar. Every year the Spring-floods exposed objects of this kind from the archaeological layers of what had once been Yotkan. 
Copyright
© Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm 
Acknowledgements
Tony Sandin, Ann Olsén and Ulla Edberg of the Museum of Ethnography for providing and adjusting photographs and for assisting in transferring the material to the ASEMUS web site. 
Owner
Museum of Ethnography 
Museum
Virtual Museum of the Chinese masterpieces 
Credit line
Text and translation Håkan Wahlquist 

Other
Masterpieces

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OF THIS MUSEUM

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    China
    AD 18th century ~ AD 18th century
  • Vase
    China
    AD 14th century ~ AD 14th century
  • Mask, Atsara
    China
    AD 19th century ~ AD 19th century
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