The Ming Dynasty played host to some of China’s most renowned artistic achievements. The culture’s artistic explosion can be in part explained by the Ming dynasty’s economic success. Terracotta heads, such as these fine examples, originally belonged to larger statuettes of soldiers, musicians or court attendants. Figures of this type are called mingqi in Chinese, meaning ‘spirit utensils’ or ‘vessels for ghosts’, and were an important status symbol in ancient China, so the affluent and important would be accompanied in their travels through the afterlife with numerous depictions of people, items and animals. Mingqi statuettes would have been lined outside the tomb before the coffin was taken inside, and then placed and arranged inside the tomb. The size and number of the figures in a grave depended on the rank of the deceased.
The use of mingqi statuettes reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty, discover more here: Terracotta Tomb Attendants.