Pottery dwarf with beard

China, Tang dynasty, 618 – 906

Height: 4 1/2 inches, 11.5 cm

Fig. 1   Pottery dwarf, Victoria & Albert Museum

An unglazed pottery figure of a dwarf with a beard and a moustache. He wears a long robe with a belt around his ample waist. His left arm is half raised and the fist, which rests on top of his protruding belly, is clenched. His right arm hangs beside his body. His feet are shod in boots. The head is covered with a tightly fitting hat with twin finials, and the precisely modelled face has a strong expression with deeply defined facial features. Some traces of red pigment are visible on his lips, and black pigment on his beard, moustache and hat.

Foreign dwarves are very rare compared to other types of Tang pottery figures. Dwarves were mostly sent from Africa, Japan or Southeast Asian kingdoms to the Tang court or nobility as tribute gifts, and mainly served as court entertainers.[1] The facial features of this pottery figure are distinctly non-Chinese and have been slightly exaggerated for effect. Six unglazed pottery dwarves, closely comparable in size and style, were excavated from the Zhao Mausoleum of Emperor Taizong (599 – 649) and are in the collection of the Zhaoling Museum in Shaanxi province.[2] Another comparable example, similar in size, gesture, facial expression, costume and also with a beard and a moustache, is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (fig. 1).[3] Two glazed Tang pottery dwarves of comparable style are in the Eugene Fuller Memorial collection at the Seattle Art Museum.[4]

  1. Zhang, Wan-li, ‘Zhao ling bo wu guan can cai hui tao zhu ru yong shang xi (Appreciate the painted pottery dwarfs in the collection of the Zhaoling Museum)’ in World of Antiquity, 2017(05), pp. 58-61
  2. Ibid, pp. 58-9
  3. The Victoria and Albert online collection archive, museum number: C.55-1954
  4. The Seattle Art Museum online collection archive, Eugene Fuller Memorial collection, 48.347 and 49.57