Jars of bluish baked clay, decorated with painted, unfired figural and zoomorphic designs, were prevalent in the Western Han Dynasty. Such vessel would have been covered with a coating of white plaster, just before firing, and then painted. This allowed the brilliant natural pigments to be accentuated against a creamy, smooth white background. Most of the painted vessels of the Western Han Dynasty were typologically driven from the archaic bronze prototypes of the Xia-Shang-Zhou periods (also known as ‘The Three Dynasties’ or ‘San Dai’, the most important archaeological periods marking the dawn of Ancient Chinese Civilisation, dates from circa 2070-877 BC). Different from the abstractive zoomorphic representations of the earlier periods, the painting style of the Western Han Dynasty is known for its idealised expression of naturalistic features. These elaborately painted vessels functioned as a funeral offering during the Han Dynasties. This jar might have been used as storage jar in funerary chambers, closely connected with the Chinese spiritual concept of the after world.
A Western Han Painted Jar
A brightly painted and finely modelled Chinese jar of the Western Han Dynasty. The jar features a flat base, a drum abdomen and a slightly everted rim. On one side, the jar appears decorated with an animated hunting scene, depicting a tiger chasing two deer. Further ornamental elaboration includes decorative bands painted in vibrant red and black pigments, and galloping zoomorphic creatures with only their stretched forepaws visible. The arched representations behind the galloping beasts are executed with brilliant brownish and buff pigments, which can be interpreted as parts of their abstractly rendered bodies, or as a representation of mountains. To the other side, curly, wide volutes that resmeble a coiled serpentine, echoing the early Chinese representation of a dragon.
The animals depicted on the jar feature elongated bodies, vibrant colours and clear black contours executed with confident brushstrokes, characteristic of the Western Han pottery painting.
Period: Western Han Dynasty
Condition: Very fine condition, complete and intact, with partial sandy accretions and most of the paintings and pigments have survived.