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HOME : Chinese Art : Han Dynasty : Pair of Western Han Painted Terracotta Attendants
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Pair of Western Han Painted Terracotta Attendants - H.025
Origin: China
Circa: 206 BC to 9 AD
Dimensions: 11.25" (28.6cm) high x 4.25" (10.8cm) wide
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Terracotta

Location: United States
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The overextension of the labor force during the Qin Dynasty would result in a popular uprising against the empire. In 206 B.C., Liu Bang, a Qin official, led an army composed of peasants and some lower nobility to victory and established his own Dynasty in place, the Han. However, unlike the Qin, the Han would unify China and rule virtually uncontested for over four hundred years. It is during this time that much of what is now considered to be Chinese culture was first actualized. The bureaucracy started under the Qin was now firmly established. The vast lands of China were now under the firm grip of a central authority. Confucianism became the state ideology although the worship of Taoist deity remained widespread, both among the peasants and the aristocracy. Ancient histories and texts were analyzed and rewritten to be more objective while new legendary myths and cultural epics were transcribed.

The Han era can also be characterized as one of the greatest artistic outpourings in Chinese history, easily on par with the glories of their Western contemporaries, Greece and Rome. Wealth pouring into China from trade along the Silk Road initiated a period of unprecedented luxury. Stunning bronze vessels were created, decorated with elegant inlaid gold and silver motifs. Jade carvings reached a new level of technical brilliance. But perhaps the artistic revival of the Han Dynasty is nowhere better represented than in their sculptures and vessels that were interred with deceased nobles. Called mingqi, literally meaning “spirit articles,” these works depicted a vast array of subject, from warriors and horses to ovens and livestock, which were buried alongside the dead for use in the next world, reflecting the Chinese belief that the afterlife was an extension of our earthy existence. Thus, quite logically, the things we require to sustain and nurture our bodies in this life would be just as necessary in our next life.

Wearing short, snug caps, the attendants are positioned with their arms forward and body slightly tilted perhaps as a gesture of humility. The face of one man is painted in a reddish, flesh tone while the other is painted white. The cheeks, nose and high brow are delicately impressed as the remaining features are painted on such as the sparse beard, red lips, eyes, and eyebrows of the white faced figurine. This attendant wears a cross-over white robe with contrasting black/blue borders at the collar and sleeves, carrying an object in the left hand that is painted on the robe. Layers of red and white undergarments are shown at the neck and wrist. The other attendant is dressed in similar attire, though the surface has been darkened and faded in areas. Both men are missing the right hand; a hole in the arm indicates that an object was once attached. By the Han Dynasty, the custom of burying objects with the dead had become an established practice among the Chinese people. Representations of the imperial officialdom were often cast in stone, while clay models served the needs of the lower stratum of ruling classes. The clay figurines stood at ground level, depicting scenes and images of ordinary life from a Confucian moralistic point of view. Based on the belief that the spirit and vitality of the subjects were embodied in the figurines, the burial objects served an important role in the ancestral belief system of ancient Chinese society. - (H.025)


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