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Lot 0113
East Asia, China, Han Dynasty, ca. 206 BCE to 220 CE. A very large ceramic female tomb attendant of a type known as a mingqi, or "spirit utensil" created to care for a deceased individual of high status in the tomb. Dressed in flowing garments, this hollow molded figure presents an elegant dance-like pose - holding her left hand to her hip and her right hand upward, the voluminous sleeve of her robe draping below her elbow. Her visage expresses sheer joy with a wonderful smile, almond-shaped eyes, gently arched brows, a petite nose, and softly contoured cheeks, her magnificent headdress/coiffure decorated with flower blossoms. A stunning and exceptionally large example. Custom wood stand. Size: 11.75" W x 20.375" H (29.8 cm x 51.8 cm)

This figure's long sleeves suggest that she may represent a dancer. During the Han dynasty, dancers would swing their sleeves in elegant ways as part of the choreography as described in the following passage of Han dynasty poetry:

"Their long sleeves, twirling and twisting,

fill the hall;

Gauze-stocking feet…taking mincing steps,

Move with slow and easy gait

They hover about long and continuous, as if

Stopped in mid-air;

Dazed, one thinks they are about to fall…"

Han Dynasty elites had underground tombs full of pottery figures that were made to meet their every need in the afterlife. Tomb attendants like this one are part of a class of artifacts called mingqi - sometimes known as "spirit utensils" or "vessels for ghosts". They became popular in the Han Dynasty and would persist for several centuries. Alongside figures like this one were musicians, athletes, animals, structures… Even though they were mass produced, mingqi of the Han Dynasty often show a high level of detail and naturalism. These were designed to assist the po, the part of the soul of the deceased that remained underground with the body while the hun, the other part of the soul, ascended. Caring for the po seems to have taken on a new level of meaning in the Han period, with more elaborate rituals and tomb construction arising.

The Han Dynasty was a period of wealth and stability for China, and the burial places of their rulers reflected this prosperity; inside of burial mounds, hundreds and sometimes thousands of figures were placed, recreating the daily life of the Emperor's court or a noble person's world. The creation of all these pottery figures spawned a huge industry and the remains of workshops have also been found near the burial mounds.

Provenance: private Maui, Hawii, USA collection

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Right arm/sleeve, head, and large section of skirt reattached. Surface wear with slip/glaze loss as shown, though traces of pigment remain. Earthen and mineral deposits on surface.

Buyer's Premium

  • 24.5%

Chinese Han Dynasty Terracotta China Figure

Estimate $1,500 - $2,500Oct 12, 2017