The Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220AD), although marked by political conflicts and social turmoil towards the end of its imperial power, showed great adherence to early imperial Chinese traditions and stylistic features seen on artworks. Both the quantity and quality of ancient Chinese terracotta figurines reached their peak in the Han Dynasty. During this period, a wide variety of terracotta figurines, reflecting different identities and services, were finely executed in great detail, and then placed in elite burials. Ostentatiously displaying terracotta figurines inside the tombs was not only to embellish funeral offerings, but also to further their services to the tomb owners in the next life. Differing from entertaining and warrior terracotta figurines, which were some of the commonest genres of Han burial figurines, wet nurse figurines are comparatively rare in Han burials. To date, most wet nurse figurines have mainly been excavated from burials in Southern China. The practices of employing a wet nurse (known as rumu) in early imperial China were strictly calibrated with the traditional Chinese aristocratic classes and Confucian ethical doctrines that were established in the Western Zhou Dynasty (BC 1046-771). In Ancient China, only high-class nobilities were allowed to employ wet nurses to breast-feed the elite newborn infants. Wet-nurses were selected from slaves, based on a variety of requirements for their physical conditions. Detailed instructions on manners and restrictions on their daily diets would be applied to ensure that safe, nutritive and efficient nursing would be undertaken. Given the literature evidence suggesting the engagements between Han aristocratic families and wet nurses, this fine wet nurse terracotta figurine might have been a funeral offering dedicated to either a feudal lord or a grand master’s tomb.
Eastern Han Terracotta Kneeling Wet Nurse Figurine
A finely moulded Eastern Han wet nurse (rumu) terracotta figurine, depicts a wet nurse in a kneeling position, holding an infant in front of her chest. She is portrayed wearing a typical Han court garment that consists of a tight inner chemise known as shenyi and a loose outer robe with wide sleeves and a tapering hem, known as qujupao. The rich draperies on her garments are finely expressed through confident and precise grooves of different depths, echoing the finely moulded ridge shaping her V-necked collar. The rear of her qujupao flares out evenly at an elegant angle in profile, accentuating her elegant body curves when kneeling. Her hair is neatly tied in a high coiffure with a semicircular bun flanked by two chignons. Her facial features are turned into a sincere smile as she gently gazes at the baby. Her grooved, elongated eyes and eyebrows, a modelled nose and sensual lips are naturalistically and delicately rendered in characteristic Han style.
Period: Eastern Han Dynasty
Provenance: From the collection of a West Country gentleman, formed in 1970s
Condition: Good condition.