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HOME : Chinese Art : Han Dynasty : Western Han Painted Terracotta Sculpture of a Dancer
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Western Han Painted Terracotta Sculpture of a Dancer - RP.160
Origin: China
Circa: 206 AD to 9 AD
Dimensions: 18" (45.7cm) high x 5.25" (13.3cm) wide
Collection: Chinese Art
Style: Western Han Dynasty
Medium: Painted Terracotta


Location: UAE
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Description

The Han era was one of the greatest artistic moments in Chinese history easily on par with the glories of Western contemporaries in Greece and Rome. Wealth poured into China from trade along the Silk Road and initiated a period of unprecedented luxury. Stunning bronze vessels were created and decorated with elegant inlaid gold and silver motifs. Jade carvings reached a new level of technical brilliance. Yet the artistic revival of the Han Dynasty is nowhere better represented than by the sculptures and vessels that were interred with deceased nobles. Called Mingqi, literally meaning “spirit articles,” these works depicted a vast array of subjects from warriors and horses to ovens and livestock that were buried alongside the dead for use in the next life. Such actions reflect the Chinese belief that the afterlife is an extension of our earthy existence. Thus the material goods that we require to sustain and nurture our bodies in this life are just as necessary in the next life.

This sculpture was commissioned by the family of the deceased to be buried alongside their departed relative. It served both as a symbol of their wealth and familial piety. Only elite members of the social hierarchy could afford to be honored with such elaborate burials. The tombs of nobles and high-ranking officials were filled with sculpted renditions of their earthly entourage. Musicians, chefs, attendants, and guardians were placed alongside pots, vessels, cooking utensils, and herds of livestock. Each one of these Mingqi were expected to perform their functions continually throughout the afterlife. The guards would watch over the soul of the deceased while the chef prepared meals utilizing the meats of the livestock and the musicians would perform songs to nourish the spirit throughout eternity.

While mounted warriors were interred inside the tombs of military generals, this tall gently undulating attendant most likely accompanied a high-ranking member of the Han bureaucracy. Her hands are hidden within the full sleeves of her long robe which is tightly gathered around her legs before flaring widely to the sides. The various layered robes are visible at the neck and chest, molded in V-shaped necklines painted in red and white with a faint black border on the outermost robe. The facial features are delicately painted over white slip, the elongated eye area in black pigment and mouth in red while the nose is slightly molded in the middle and raised high above the ears.

Han Dynasty tomb figures are noted for their naturalistic style and graceful slender portrayals of human figures. They are not created as works of art; they were made to answer the needs of a particular belief about life after death and the spiritual world. The sculptor strove to capture the life and vitality of the subject rather than create a meticulous portrait as their work was commissioned by the ruling classes to accompany the body and soul of the deceased into the realm of the spiritual world.

The gently undulating posture raises the possibility that the standing figure represents a court dancer. It is a gorgeous symbol of the philosophical and religious beliefs of the Han, symbolizing their fundamental beliefs in the beauty of this life and the next.

- (RP.160)

 

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