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Today Open today 11–5

Figure of a Youth

A work made of earthenware with brown lead glaze.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of earthenware with brown lead glaze.


Tang dynasty (A.D. 618–907), first half of 8th century



About this artwork

Tang artisans delighted in observing and depicting traders and travelers from around the world who flocked to China’s major cities. Wearing a toga-like robe and knee-length pantaloons, the figurine of a dark-skinned, curly-haired young boy evokes Tang descriptions of people from “Kunlun,” – a term derived from the remote and mysterious Kunlun Mountains mentioned in ancient mythology. However, it had come to refer to people of non-Chinese origin – especially those from the southern maritime countries in Asia – during the Tang Dynasty.

Clay figures similar to this one were interred in Tang tombs to serve the deceased. With raised hands and a tilted body, the figure exudes a strong sense of movement. It likely portrays a rowing scene: the small holes on the hands might have been used to attach a wooden paddle. Enslaved people of Kunlun (kunlun nu) played a significant role in various maritime operations. They provided the essential labor needed to propel ships engaged in long-distance trade.


Currently Off View


Arts of Asia


Figure of a Youth


China (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

Artist's working dates 618 CE–906 CE


Earthenware with brown lead glaze


30.2 × 10.5 × 8.1 cm (11 7/8 × 4 1/8 × 3 3/16 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Emily Crane Chadbourne

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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