Cool Finds: A look at some 2000 year old, Han Dynasty earthenwares

Han hu jar with swirling cloud patterns
A 2000 year old, Han dynasty earthenware jar with swirling cloud patterns

A et of han earthenware painted jugs
A set of Han earthenware painted jugs

Note: All images are clickable.

During our treks and travels, we come across all sorts of rare, unusual and interesting things. Like this 300 year old temple table we stumbled across this past summer. Or this Chinese ancestor painting which eventually wound up permanently wall-mounted in a friends living room. But this cache of Han Dynasty earthenware, which we recently found surely deserves a mention. Now, normally our blog is encompassing of all topics pertaining to antiques, but in this case, these Han dynasty burial items are best described in terms of antiquities and archeology. And though by no means, am I an archeologist,  I must say I understand that there just something really cool about holding an object in your hands made over 2000 years ago (Or for that matter, owning something that can found in museums or at Christies Auction house).

First, a quick lesson in history. Lasting almost 400 years, the Han dynasty (Han Dynasty, 206 B.C- 220 A.D) consisted of two main periods referred to as “Western Han” (Chang’ an) and  “Eastern Han” (Luo yang) which is why you will see Han burial items often referred to in this manner ( Its worthy to note that there does indeed  exist a third and very short in between dynasty named “xin” or “Wang Man”). To put that much time into perspective, lets just say, this was during the same period as the Roman Empire, the silk road and the birth and death of Christ.

Coccon shaped han dynasty hu jar
Coccon shaped Han dynasty "hu" jar similar to the one in the Kimbell Art Museam

A closer look at the mouth of a han dynasty jug
A closer look at the mouth of the above Han dynasty jug

So what are they? Since the afterlife was considered an extension of life for the people of Han, Ming Qi or “brilliant artifacts,”  like these funerary jars and other  grave furnishings were buried along side the deceased and were intended to provide the departed with all the necessary daily objects needed for the after life. Not only vases, pots and animal figurines, but water wells, cooking ovens and even entire models of  farms where known to been buried with the deceased.  The unusual Cocoon shaped jars are called  “Hu” which basically means wine vessel or water container and this design is most commonly found in tombs from the Western Han periods.

Items from this period, were typically un-glazed black, gray or painted earthenware as glazing did not exist yet in early Han and/or was in its earliest  experimental phases.

Pair of Han earthenware ding vessels
Han earthenware "ding" vessels

Large han dynasty wine "hu" jug
Large Han dynasty wine "hu" jug

If you want to learn a bit more about Ming Qi there are a few good sources of information I can recommend:

a closer look at the rich painted colors
a closer look at the rich painted colors

Examples in Museums:

A few amazing examples from Museums around the world…

Chinese Cocoon-Shaped Jar
Kimbell Art Museam:

Chinese Cocoon-Shaped Jar with Cloud-Scroll Design


Late 2nd or early 1st century B.C.
China, possibly Luoyang, Henan province, Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 9)
Earthenware with painted polychrome decoration
11-1/2 x 13-1/8 x 9-1/4 in. (29.2 x 33.3 x 23.5 cm)


Han-dynasty-hu-jar The National Palace Museum, Taipei

Pottery cocoon-shaped Hu vessel

Creation Date:
Warring States Period to Western Han Dynasty
Start Year Date:
B.C.481
End Year Date:
A.D.9

Hu vessel Krannert Art Museum – University of Illinois

Hu vessel (2nd century CE)


Chinese, Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE)
Ceramic: earthenware with red, black and white slip
diam: 8″ x 5 1/2″

Collection:
National Palace English
Work ID:
M01D00015
Title:
Pottery cocoon-shaped Hu vessel
Creation Date:
Warring States Period to Western Han Dynasty
Start Year Date:
B.C.481
End Year Date:
A.D.9

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