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Statuette of a Warrior from Sorçuk

Referenced as Illustration 171, p184 in Tamara Talbot Rice, Ancient Arts of Central Asia, 1965
171 Carved stucco statuette of a warrior wearing armour almost identical to that worn by the knights in Sodgdian and Choresmian paintings.
This comes from the Mingoi caves near Sorçuk, and although dating from the eighth to tenth century, it retains many points that link it to more westerly art of a far earlier date 171 Statuette: a warrior. Carved stucco. H. 12″ (30.5). Mingoi, near Sorçuk, eighth-tenth century. Photo: Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum MAS.1061

Description: Stucco figure of a standing warrior wearing a scale armour and a helmet. The figure was made using a mould and then painted in green, red and yellow. When found, the figure was broken into three pieces that were re-assembled at a later point. For more information see curatorial comment below.
Date: 6thC-7thC
Height: 42.8 centimetres
Curator's comments: The occurrence of more or less identical figures through the use of moulds has enabled this figurine of a warrior in armour to be shown complete with spear and shield, although the three components were found separately in the same shrine at Ming-oi, in the passage (xii) behind the cella (xi). The decoration of the whole shrine consisted mainly of relief friezes along the walls. Stein recovered hundreds of fragments, but owing to damage by fire few had retained the original colouring as this example has. The friezes of relief figures had been fixed to the walls on a wooden framework, square holes for which are clearly seen in one of Stein’s photographs (Serindia, Vol. III, Fig. 291). The holes were in rows, the lowest about sixty centimetres from the ground and the next one and a half metres higher. At one point a projecting, cornice still remained, made of stucco over a wood and reed wattle framework, with rows of holes left by the small pegs which had fastened the figures to it. They had included a striking proportion of warrior figures such as this one. Perhaps they originally represented soldiers of the army of Mara. Their appearance and accoutrements have been excellently described by Stein in his entry for one of the figures (Mi. xi 00109; Serindia, Vol. III, p. 1209). From this we learn the full extent of the colouring. The highly arched eyebrows, drawn down and in at their inner corners to make vertical furrows in the forehead and giving a fierce expression, were originally black, as were the protruding eyeballs, and the small moustache and imperial. The lips were crimson, and the face was coloured red, with a good deal of ochre. The helmet is close-fitting, made up of leather scales and with a boss to receive a crest and a central projecting piece to protect the forehead between the eyebrows. The temples are protected by check pieces, and a gorget fits closely around the chin and protects the neck and upper chest. According to Stein, the whole helmet was painted in one colour, either red or green. Some of these features are very clearly seen in Mi. xii. 009 (Fig. 137), where the gorget was painted green. On his body, the warrior wears a long tunic of scale-armour, with a heavy rolled collar, belted with a double cord in red and divided below the waist. The scales, which might be of iron rather than lacquered leather, are arranged in double rows, red, green or gilded. He carries a spear and a circular shield evidently of leather, with five bosses. A similar warrior, but with armour definitely composed of leather scales rounded at the top as seen in some of the Stein lacquered scales (Pl. 49), was found at Ming-oi by Huang Wenbi and is illustrated by him (Huang Wenbi, 1958, Pl. 42). Many elements, from the projection on the helmet to the single long suit of the main armour, recall Sasanian or Iranian examples. The type appears to have been widespread across Central Asia: similar coats with wide lapels are worn by the aristocratic donors of some of the wall paintings in Buddhist shrines near Kizil. In the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad, are a number of important finds brought from Kucha by Oldenburg. They include both soldiers from Mara’s army, preserved with their colouring largely intact, and a large intact mould for making similar figures. These all have plain tunics rather than scale-armour, but the forms of the rolled collar with its lapels, and of the helmets and gorgets, are the same. Their bright polychrome colouring allows us to imagine the art of the shrines at Ming-oi as it originally appeared and in relation both to the wall paintings of Kizil to the west, and to the later figures found by Kozlov at Karakhoto farther east and now also in the Hermitage Museum.
Additional IDs:
    Mi.xii.0011 (Stein no. (head))
    Mi.xii.0015 (Stein no. (upper body))
    Mi.xii.0017 (Stein no. (lower body))

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