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HOME : Chinese Art : Han Dynasty : Eastern Han Frosted Green-Glazed Terracotta Sculpture of an Ox
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Eastern Han Frosted Green-Glazed Terracotta Sculpture of an Ox - H.1006
Origin: China
Circa: 23 AD to 220 AD
Dimensions: 5.25" (13.3cm) high
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Glazed Terracotta


Location: UAE
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Description
The Han Dynasty, like the Zhou before it, is divided into two distinct periods, the Western Han (206 B.C.-9 A.D.) and the Eastern Han (23- 220 A.D.) with a brief interlude. Towards the end of the Western period, a series of weak emperors ruled the throne, controlled from behind the scenes by Wang Mang and Huo Guang, both relatives of empresses. They both exerted enormous influence over the government and when the last emperor suddenly passed away, Mang became ruling advisor, seizing this opportunity to declare his own Dynasty, the Xin, or “New.” However, another popular uprising began joined by the members of the Liu clan, the family that ruled the Han Dynasty, the Xin came to a quick end and the Eastern Han was established in its place with its capital at Loyang (Chang’an, the capital of the Western Han, was completely destroyed).

However, even as Chinese influence spread across Southeastern Asia into new lands, the Eastern Han Dynasty was unable to recreate the glories of the Western Period. In fact, this period can be characterized by a bitter power struggle amongst a group of five consortial clans. These families sought to control the young, weak emperors with their court influence. Yet, as the emperors became distrustful of the rising power of the clans, they relied upon their eunuchs to defend them, often eliminating entire families at a time. During the Western Han, the Emperor was viewed as the center of the universe. However, this philosophy slowly disintegrated under the weak, vulnerable rulers of the Eastern Han, leading many scholars and officials to abandon the court. Eventually, the power of the Han would completely erode, ending with its dissolution and the beginning of the period known as the “Three Kingdoms.”

During the Han Dynasty, sculptural effigies of animals were often interred in the tombs of elite members of the social hierarchy. Created in all media, these sculptures accompanied the spirit of the deceased into the afterlife. This glazed sculpture of an ox is exceptional for two reasons. While similar examples exist, many were found harnessed to wagons and carts and were meant to function as beasts of burden. However, this sculpture was discovered buried as part of a herd, contained inside a pen with other domesticated animals, suggesting that this animal served as food. Besides it function, this sculpture is also remarkable for its gorgeous green glaze that has acquired a beautiful, soft iridescent patina over the ages. Commonly referred to as “silver frost,” this iridescence is the result of wet and dry periods in a tomb whereby the clay dissolves the lead glaze and redeposits it on the surface, where it hardens. A testament of age, this patina is also admired by collectors for its charming aesthetic qualities, similar in effect to mother of pearl. During the Han era, the Chinese believed that the afterlife was a continuation of our earthly existence. Thus, logically, as we require food to nourish our bodies on earth, so too will we require food to nourish our souls in the afterlife. Created to serve as food for the afterlife, this work is more than a mere sculpture; it is a gorgeous memorial to the religious and philosophical beliefs of the Han Dynasty. This cow effigy has served its eternal purpose well. Today, it continues to nourish our souls with its beauty and grace. - (H.1006)

 

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