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HOME : Chinese Art : Han Terracotta Vessels : ”Lifan” Terracotta Amphora with Bronze, Silver and Gilt Appliqué
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”Lifan” Terracotta Amphora with Bronze, Silver and Gilt Appliqué - DJ.1035
Origin: Lifan, Sichuan Province, China
Circa: 3 rd Century BC to 2 nd Century BC
Dimensions: 7.5" (19.1cm) high x 7" (17.8cm) wide x 7" (17.8cm) depth
Collection: Asian Art
Medium: Terracotta, Bronze

Location: United States
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This style of very rare black earthenware amphorae was produced from the Warring States period and throughout the Han Dynasty. The reign of the Han Dynasty is commonly considered within China to be one of the greatest periods in its entire history. As a result, the members of the ethnic majority of Chinese people to this day still call themselves "People of Han," in honor of the Liu family and the dynasty they created. An alternative term Chinese people often use is the term "Descendants of the Dragon" as a sign of ethnic identity. During the Han Dynasty, China officially became a Confucian state and prospered domestically: agriculture, handicrafts and commerce flourished, and the population reached 50 million. Meanwhile, the empire extended its political and cultural influence over Vietnam, Central Asia, Mongolia, and Korea before it finally collapsed under a combination of domestic and external pressures.

In his work regarding these wares, Krahl states that amphorae of this distinct type are characteristic products of Western Sichuan province where they were made by non-Chinese peoples. Hence, this type of vessel is known as Lifan, named after the area of Sichuan province in the far west of China in which such jars have been found.

The everted mouth opens elliptically as if it were two human lips opening to receive liquid refreshment in large quantity. The corners of the mouth form two pointed spouts opposite one another from which the liquid contents might have been poured out. This angular shape follows from the corners of the mouth down the elegantly curved and tapered, almost almond shaped neck of the vessel. The neck itself is decorated with three rows of short vertical engraved lines that encircle the neck in the form of a shapely chocker. On either side, the angular neck fades into the large round belly of the jar toward the middle where it meets one of a number of very unusual polychrome appliqué metal bosses or studs that decorate the curved features of the body and the handles of the vessel in a symmetrical fashion; giving the impression of eyes and other zoomorphic features to the jug and bringing it all the more to life in the eye of the beholder. These studs would have burst forth from the bright and shiny black burnished body in a pyrotechnic display of color. It is clear that each of these studs would have had a different color whether bronze, blue, red, silver or gilt.

The zoomorphic imagery of this beautiful and exotic creature has been enhanced by the potter who has engraved four symmetrically placed large deeply molded spirals that form two exaggerated crescent swirls on each side of the vessel from whichever direction we choose to view from. Might these be the eyes or perhaps arms or even wings?

The vessel has two strong broad smoothly arched handles that emanate from either side of the jar’s elliptical mouth and flow down to join themselves seamlessly to either side of the lower center of the vessel’s body (at 90 degree angles towards the tapering neck). Toward the top of each arm there remains a bronze stud one of these still has blue decorative pigment traces the other a thick red-brown pigment. Each of the arms also has markings that indicate where two more such studs would have been superficially fixed and have now come off with wear and time, but without damaging the earthenware itself in any way. The base of the jig is recessed creating a relatively shallow foot ring.

It is noteworthy that many stylistic similarities occur between these Lifan and much earlier periods and cultures such as the Neolithic cultures of Machang (circa 3000-2000 B.C.) and Xindian (circa 1500 B.C.). Similar blackware food containers with two handles have also been unearthed in Dena County, Yunan, an area that was the home of the Southwestern Yi tribe during the spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). The surface of the vessel has then been shaped with tools and then burnished. This process of manufacture gives the jar its beautiful rugged, yet carefully detailed distinctive characteristics. As most apparent from the inside of the mouth and neck of the jar, the surface of the amphora was originally highly burnished to give a shiny black sheen. The surface of the body is an amalgamation of complex curves and convex and concave shapes. These characteristics, in addition to the unusual presence of symmetrically attached bronze bosses on the sides and handles, make this piece extraordinary and particularly rare.

Comparable Literature: S.J. Vainker, Chinese Pottery and Porcelain from Prehistory to Present, New York, George Braziller, Inc., 1991.

Oriental Ceramics. The World's Great Collections, 1974, Vol.5, no.1

Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, 1994, Vol.1, no.65.

Yuegutang, A Collection of Chinese Ceramics in Berlin (Regina Krahl, G+H Verlag Berlin,2000) Item 35 Page 55. - (DJ.1035)


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