Western China or Central Asia
Earthenware with pigment
H. 11 in. (27.9 cm)
Rogers Fund, 2000 (2000.8)
This pottery model of a Bactrian camel may be a rare example of a Chinese-style tomb figure produced in Central Asia. The camel carries packboards that are loaded on either side with raised decorations of three figures under an arch supported by fluted columns with acanthus leaves above the capitals. The central figure wears a halo and full beard but no headgear. He is naked except for a loincloth. His bent knees suggest that he is in a weakened or inebriate state and requires support on either side by two women; the woman at the left wears a short coat over a long skirt and carries a Persian-type ewer. At the lower edge of the bags are a rhyton and another ewer.
The identity of the central figure is uncertain. He may represent Kubera, king of the Yakshas, who is portrayed in the Gandharan art of northwest India as nearly naked and potbellied in drinking scenes, in which he is waited on by women. Such scenes were to some degree inspired by Dionysiac imagery from the Mediterranean world. In this version, the rhyton and ewers imply drinking; however, the full beard and absence of headgear is atypical of Gandharan representations of Kubera, suggesting other interpretations. One remote prospect is that the three figures in the main scene were somehow inspired by representations of the Descent from the Cross, an important theme in early Christian iconography. Although rare, Nestorian beliefs were known in China by the seventh century, and it is not impossible that images derived from this religious system had been transported to the East as well.