figure (ritual & belief: representations)

Woman's head from a tomb figure, with pierced elongated earlobes. Made from earthenware with white, black and red pigment.

The head is from a tomb figure, made of earthenware with polychrome pigments. It would of course originally have been from a complete figure. Such figures were made to accompany the deceased occupant of the tomb into the afterlife, which was essentially seen as a continuation in many ways of earthly life. The most famous examples are the terracotta warriors from the vast necropolis surrounding Qin Shihuangdi’s (r. 246-221 BCE) tomb in Xi’an. As with the Xi’an necropolis, such tomb figures were made to serve a variety of functions and could include storage vessels, models of furniture, defensive and farm buildings, and boats and carts. Human figures included guardian figures, servants, attendants and retainers, acrobats, animals and so on. Many everyday aspects of life from the Han (the period of this figure) have been preserved in this way. In general, the greater your wealth and status the larger your tomb, the greater number of tomb goods would accompany you, and these would also tend to be larger, better detailed, of finer quality, and so on. The growing demand for such tomb figures meant that many were produced using moulds, though still to a very high standard. The head appears to be from a female figure (although it could be male), and she appears to wear her hair in a style which I think is known as known as the 'bird-tail' bun in which the hair is pulled tightly back to form a coiffed bun behind the head (I can't tell if that is in fact the case from this image). Purely based on the style of the head, I would date this head to the Western Han (202 BCE – 23 CE). Its features and style are very characteristic of that period. It would have been nice to have had the complete figure to date her by but I'm reasonably confident that she's of Western Han date. General References: Caroselli, Susan L. The Quest for Eternity: Chinese Ceramic Sculptures from the People's Republic of China: Los Angeles, Calif: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1987. Lin, James C. S. The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012. Watt, James C. Y, and Prudence O. Harper. China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 Ad. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. Kevin McLoughlin 18/02/2015

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