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.
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 more often 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.
If you want to learn a bit more about Ming Qi there are a few good sources of information I can recommend:
- The Vibrant Role of Mingqi in Early Chinese Burial (This is a short but very good introduction from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
- The forums (here and here) on the Asian Art website have some lively discussions and though mostly centered on jade and porcelain authentication there are discussions on pottery and earthenware as well.
- Ancient China From the Neolithic Period to the Han Dynasty: This is a PDF file which I have included here, from the Asian Art Museum Education Department and includes quite a lot of info not only on Han but also other dynasties and covers bronze and jade as well. The additional Powerpoint slides are here (includes the color images).
Examples in Museums:
A few amazing examples from Museums around the world…
Kimbell Art Museam:
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)
The National Palace Museum, Taipei
Pottery cocoon-shaped Hu vessel Creation Date:
Warring States Period to Western Han Dynasty
Start Year Date:
End Year Date:
Krannert Art Museum – University of Illinois
Chinese, Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE)
Ceramic: earthenware with red, black and white slip
diam: 8″ x 5 1/2″