China, Middle or Late Western Han Dynasty / Jar (Hu) / 125 BC - 25 ADChina, Middle or Late Western Han Dynasty
Jar (Hu)
125 BC - 25 AD

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Dates/Places: China
Creator Active Place: China
Creator Name-CRT: China, Middle or Late Western Han Dynasty
Title: Jar (Hu)
Title Type: Primary
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: -12
Creation End Date: 25
Creation Date: 125 BC - 25 AD
Object Type: Decorative Arts and Utilitarian Objects
Classification Term: Ceramic
Materials and Techniques: earthenware with slip and painted decoration
Dimensions: Overall: 48.2cm
AMICA Contributor: The Cleveland Museum of Art
Owner Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
ID Number: 1989.15
Credit Line: The Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund
Context: Although much of what we know about ancient Chinese art is based on things that have been recovered from tombs, few early objects were specifically made for burial. Most surviving pre-Han dynasty bronzes and jades, for example, had specific functions inthe world of the living and were only buried because they also played a role in outfitting the tomb. The practice of burying mingqi ("spirit objects" specifically made for the dead) did not begin in earnest until the late Bronze Age. Typically, such workswere crafted in cheaper materials to function as substitutes for more luxurious models. Earthenware--glazed, unglazed, or painted--was a particularly popular medium for mingqi since clay is both plentiful and easily molded. This striking earthenware winejar with vibrant painted decoration illustrates how early Chinese potters could creatively exploit achievements in other media in their surpassingly inventive products. It is based on the shape of costly bronzes with escutcheon handles and horizontal bandsthat subdivide its surface. The handles of the ceramic, however, have rings that are fixed to the surface of the pot, rendering them useless, and the orderly registers marked on the jar did not prevent the painter from allowing his design to swim overthesurface. As is true of many luxurious lacquers of the time, the painted decoration is applied on top of a black ground that almost completely covers the body of the piece. Although the sweeping design, rendered in blue, white, red, yellow, and black,recalls the freely brushed patterns found on many lacquers, the image is more pictorial than lacquer-painted schemes. The mighty dragon that cavorts over the surface is surrounded by wispy clouds. Encircling his body, these clouds provide more than a setting for the creature: the overlapping forms illustrate an early attempt to portray depth in a painted image. A similar degree of pictorial sophistication appears on one of the earliest surviving Chinese paintings on silk, the burial banner found in an earlyWestern Han dynasty tomb that is datable to the second century BC. The four dragons depicted on the banner are lively creatures with sinuous bodies surrounded by clouds, plants, and other forms. These spritely serpents are completely different from earlier Chinese dragons that are static and shown without setting. The greater naturalism of Han images is underscored by the conception of the dragon itself. Unlike Bronze Age species, these later imaginary beasts are clearly composites, constructed from parts of a number of identifiable living creatures. In the words of one Han writer, "Dragons have horns like a deer, a muzzle like a camel, eyes like a demon, a body like a snake, a belly like a crab, scales like a carp, claws like a hawk, legs like a tiger, andears like an ox." Inspired by forms found in nature, dragons such as the one on this wine jar are like mythical beings created by other civilizations that draw from--but at the same time confound--the real world. K.W.
AMICA ID: CMA_.1989.15
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, The Cleveland Museum of Art

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