This endearing character leapt out of his glass case to grab my attention the day we spent 4-5 hours cramming in as much as we could of the Art Institute of Chicago on a perhaps once-in-a-lifetime visit.
It was the custom in ancient China to bury clay figurines in tombs in order to provide entertainment or other forms of care to the defunct. These are often winning in their stance and activities and make you wish you had lived, if not died, as a member of the wealthier classes in early China.
This figure dates from the 6th century and his dress style and pronounced profile suggests someone of non-Chinese origins; the Art Institute suggests possibly Central Asian. It is thought he was originally balancing something on his forehead where a hole is pierced which would have held a stick.
I concur with the Institute’s comment that his ’round-eyed, bulbous-nosed face expresses keen concentration’.
Credit: Entertainer (tomb figure), Northern dynasties, 6th century, buff earthenware with pigment; gift of Stanley Herzman in memory of Gladys Wolfson Herzman, Asian Art Gallery 105, Art Institute of Chicago, public domain.