Eastern Han Dynasty Earthenware Tomb Tile with Moulded Deer Head


A slab-built Eastern Han grey earthenware tomb tile displaying distinctive decorative techniques of Han pottery including impressions and relief moulding. The tile is sculpted in the form of a house or shrine featuring a traditional yìngshāndǐng roof (硬山顶) above. This is comprised of a main horizontal ridge at the top and raised sloping ridges to the sides and gable walls. The front displays a protruding deer’s head portrayed in a stylised manner with large circular eyes, long ears and tall antlers. A groove running vertically across the centre of the animal’s head reveals that the piece had been cast separately, then attached to the main corpus of the tile. The frontal field is further enriched by fixed-stamp impressed decorations. To the centre, three solar discs are arranged below a large bird, possibly a rooster; whilst the lower section of the tile displays two rectangular frames with faint markings, topped by two cranes holding a fish each. This motif is repeated on the back of the tile which displays six rows of impressed decorations within a frame of rhomboid motifs. Cranes holding a fish alternate with stylised trees and solar discs and are repeated to fill the entire reverse field. A large hole has been carved horizontally through the undecorated sides and on the base; these would have been used during the casting process to fill the mould with clay.

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Date: Circa AD 25 - 220
Period: Han Dynasty
Condition: Fine condition, with some signs of ageing to the surface.

In stock

Terracotta funerary tiles are part of the wide burial offering category known as Mingqi  (冥器). Differing from their zoomorphic and human figurines counterparts, funerary tiles decorated the tombs’ internal spaces with the purpose of comforting and satisfying the deceased in the afterlife. They were normally decorated with zoomorphic images or narrative scenes portraying idyllic romance and honourable warrior parades to reflect the deceased’s personal taste and lifestyle.

Employing highly decorated bricks or tiles to furnish the tombs have been one of the most important burial aspects since the Han Dynasty, reflecting the ancient Chinese spiritual realm where the afterlife is an extension to human life. Pictorial tiles, bricks and stones with distinctive decorative features have been unearthed in many Chinese provinces. Specifically, examples from Shandong and Jiangsu are characterised by fully decorated surfaces which are often sub-divided into bands, each with its own subject. Bricks from Henan, where this fine piece is likely from, are distinguished by unique themes and present no such subdivision. Warfare and social turmoil marked the Eastern Han Dynasty, events that have been attested in the archaeological record through the appearance of more modest tombs and funerary art, compared to those seen under the Western Han. Such phenomenon can be seen on this piece, which features the integration of traditional Han brick designs with a model of a house, mingqi which would have otherwise been produced separately.

Weight 14.2 g
Dimensions L 25.5 x W 20 x H 41 cm


Pottery and Porcelain

Reference: For a similar item, please see The British Museum, item 1914,0512.4 and The Royal Ontario Museum, item 925.26.116

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