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HOME : Chinese Art : Han Dynasty : Han Dynasty Terracotta Figurine
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Han Dynasty Terracotta Figurine - SP.569
Origin: China
Circa: 206 BC to 220 AD
Dimensions: 3" (7.6cm) high
Collection: Chinese Art
Medium: Terracotta

Additional Information: K
Location: Great Britain
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The Han era was one of the greatest artistic moments in Chinese history easily on par with the glories of Western contemporaries in Greece and Rome. Wealth poured into China from trade along the Silk Road and initiated a period of unprecedented luxury. Stunning bronze vessels were created and decorated with elegant inlaid gold and silver motifs. Jade carvings reached a new level of technical brilliance. Yet the artistic revival of the Han Dynasty is nowhere better represented than by the sculptures and vessels that were interred with deceased nobles. Called Mingqi, literally meaning “spirit articles,” these works depicted a vast array of subjects from warriors and horses to ovens and livestock that were buried alongside the dead for use in the next life. Such actions reflect the Chinese belief that the afterlife is an extension of our earthy existence. Thus, the material goods that we require to sustain and nurture our bodies in this life are just as necessary in the next life.

This sculpture was commissioned by the family of the deceased to be buried alongside their departed relative. It served both as a symbol of their wealth and familial piety. Only elite members of the social hierarchy could afford to be honored with such elaborate burials. The tombs of nobles and high-ranking officials were filled with sculpted renditions of their earthly entourage. Musicians, chefs, attendants, and guardians were placed alongside pots, vessels, cooking utensils, and herds of livestock. Each one of these Mingqi were expected to perform their functions continually throughout the afterlife. The guards would watch over the soul of the deceased while the chef prepared meals utilizing the meats of the livestock and the musicians would perform songs to nourish the spirit throughout eternity.

Though ravaged by time, this particular figurine appears to depict a kneeling attendant, perhaps in votive offering. Hunching over, the attendant’s hugs his left knee with his left arm, while the right knee likely makes contact with the floor beneath him under free-flowing drapery. The attendant’s right arm, now severed by the stresses of time and excavation, motions towards the ground. The low-hanging face appears to look directly at the object that the attendant would have once held in servile commitment. - (SP.569)


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