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HOME : Chinese Art : Masterpieces of Chinese Art : Han Dynasty Painted Pottery 'Sichuan' Chef
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Han Dynasty Painted Pottery 'Sichuan' Chef - DL.1003
Origin: Sichuan Province China
Circa: 206 BC to 220 AD
Dimensions: 24.8" (63.0cm) high x 10.63" (27.0cm) wide
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Terracotta
Condition: Extra Fine


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.”

Although the culinary delights conceived by this smiling chef is have vanished, we can rest assure that he prepared bountiful feasts that were enjoyed in the afterlife. A type of work known as mingqi, literally translated as, “items for the next world,” this sculpture was specifically commissioned by the family of the deceased to be buried alongside their departed relative, both as a symbol of their wealth and familial piety. However, only elite members of the social hierarchy could afford to be honored with such elaborate burials. During the Han era, the ancient Chinese believed that the afterlife was an extension of our earthly existences. Thus, 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 utensil, and herds of livestock. All 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 performed songs to nourish the spirit throughout eternity. The smile that graces the face of this chef is typical of the happy entertainers from the Sichuan Province. He holds a cleaver in his left hand, ready to hack through the meat and bones of the nearby livestock. A reflection of the wealth and sophistication of ancient China, this sculpture intrigues us with its vast historical and cultural insights. Furthermore, this work is a gorgeous symbol of the philosophical and religious belief of the Han. - (DL.1003)

 

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