Chinese Han Dynasty Guardian Dog Selection

An extremely fine and well-preserved pair of Chinese Western Han Dynasty hollow-moulded terracotta guardian dogs, portrayed standing and wearing a collar and harness around their necks and shoulders. A loop to the animals’ back suggests that the collar might have been fastened with fabric materials, which sadly have not survived the passing of time. Each animal is modelled in a naturalistic manner, with much attention given towards the rendering of facial and anatomical features, such as the wide-open eyes, the flattened nose, curled tail and splayed claws. The dogs are depicted in the act of barking, with their mouths agape and heads slightly tilted upward, revelling pointed fangs. Each animal has been carefully painted after firing, in black and white pigment, with details emphasized in red colour. After-firing applied pigments are usually more prone to flaking. However, in this case, the original colours have preserved themselves extremely fine, maintaining their original brightness.

Date: Circa 202 BC-9 AD
Period: Western Han Dynasty
Condition: Extremely fine, with original pigmentation visible to the surface.
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In Ancient China, terracotta unglazed and low-fired glazed statuettes of animals and human figures, known in Chinese as mingqi, would have been placed in the deceased’s tomb to ensure companionship and service in the afterlife. Mingqi were usually modelled as an intimation of either common objects that once played a vital role in Han Dynasty domestic life, or as zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figures that were closely related to the deceased when they were alive. Zoomorphic terracotta figurines, such as this beautiful pair of rabbits, with naturalistically rendered features and details, had been absent in Chinese burial history until the advent of the Western Han Dynasty. Pottery images of dogs were popular in Han graves, since the dog was believed to be the best companion for the deceased. In this case, however, the dogs have been portrayed with fearsome features, act to evil spirits within the tomb, thereby protecting the deceased at rest in their afterlife.

To discover more about Chinese terracotta statuettes, please visit our relevant blog post: Terracotta Tomb Attendants.


Pottery and Porcelain


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