Marble Portrait Bust of a Woman with a Scroll in early Byzantine Empire and Figure of a Seated Court Lady in Tang Dynasty of China are two female statues presenting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although they come from different cultures and time periods, use different materials and manufacture techniques, they share some of the similarities. The most obvious, the intentions of their artists seem the same – to reflect the status of women in the society at their time.
Both realistic and nonspecific figures, and were made in the golden age of arts, politics and economics, these two statues represent the highest level of craft making of each period. Marble Portrait Bust of a Woman with a Scroll (Bust below) was created in Constantinople, late 4th-early 5th century, the first golden age of Byzantine Empire. It was only a few decades after Constantine the great constructing his new capital splitting from the Eastern Roman Empire, the society and the culture was pushed up into a new stage, especially in religion. Eastern Orthodox, as a main faction of the Christianity and the main religion of the empire, influenced massively in every aspect of the society, especially in the arts of architectures, sculptures and paintings. But against the major trend that almost all the female sculptures are religious (Virgin) or deities, the Bust depicts a secular figure – which is suggested in the description that “Perhaps as the funerary monument of a leading member of the imperial aristocracy.”
As same as the bust, Figure of a Seated Court Lady (Court Lady below) also came from a heyday of arts and religion. It was created in 8th century, the Kai Yuan prosperous period of Tang Dynasty. The major trend for the form of art at that time was Buddhism, which was first introduced into China around Han Dynasty and reached its peak in Tang, combined ideas of Confucianism along with the thriving development of the society. But likewise, Court Lady is also a nonreligious work.
Compared with the Christianity and Buddhism statues at the MET, nonreligious works are very few. And all the secular works are related to the court but no ordinary people. Why? The possibly answer would be related to the social institutions. Despite Women in Tang Dynasty and Byzantine period gradually gained powers, rights, opportunities to be educated and connected to the society, the societies were still in the patriarchy...