A VERY RARE LARGE PAINTED GREY POTTERY FIGURE OF A FEMALE ATTENDANT
A VERY RARE LARGE PAINTED GREY POTTERY FIGURE OF A FEMALE ATTENDANT
A VERY RARE LARGE PAINTED GREY POTTERY FIGURE OF A FEMALE ATTENDANT
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A VERY RARE LARGE PAINTED GREY POTTERY FIGURE OF A FEMALE ATTENDANT

WESTERN HAN DYNASTY (206 BC-AD 8)

Details
A VERY RARE LARGE PAINTED GREY POTTERY FIGURE OF A FEMALE ATTENDANT
WESTERN HAN DYNASTY (206 BC-AD 8)
The attendant is shown standing with head inclined slightly forward and partially hollowed hands held one above the other protruding from the full sleeves of her heavy, layered robes that are belted low on the waist and worn over loose trousers that fall to the tops of her shoes. The face is sensitively modeled, and the hair is parted in the middle and pulled back in a double loop at the nape of the neck. There are extensive traces of red, blue and white pigment.
22 ½ in. (57.2 cm.) high, lucite stand
Provenance
Important Chinese Ceramic Sculpture, Selected Masterpieces from the Schloss Collection; Sotheby's New York, 3 December 1984, lot 45.
Literature
Wen Fong and Maxwell Hearn, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, No. 2, 1973/1974, The Arts of Ancient China, fig. 47.
Ezekial Schloss, Ancient Chinese Ceramic Sculpture from Han through T'ang, 2 vols., Stamford, Connecticut, 1977, vol. II, col. pl. II and pl. 16.
Ezekial Schloss, Art of the Han, China Institute in America, New York, 1979, p. 42, no. 18.
Barbara Smith and Wango Weng, China: A History in Art, New York, 1979, p. 61.
Kotker, Antiques World, n.d., p. 45.
A Thousand Years of Chinese Tomb Sculpture, Epcot Center, Florida, 1982, cover and col. pl. 5.
Exhibited
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Arts of Ancient China, 1973.
China Institute in America, New York, Art of the Han, 14 March - 27 May 1979, no. 18.
Epcot Center, Florida, A Thousand Years of Chinese Tomb Sculpture, 1982.

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Lot Essay

This charmingly modeled figure of a female attendant is engaging for its quiet beauty and the empathy demonstrated by the potter who created it. The figure appears to be that of a young girl who stands with head slightly bowed and hands clasped before her and partially hidden by her sleeves. The pose appears to be that which would be adopted by such an attendant as she stood in the shadows waiting patiently for instructions from her mistress or master. Her feet, in their simple shoes, are parallel and slightly apart to provide stability and allow her to stand motionless for as long as was required. Her hands, hidden in her sleeves, would not have fidgeted. To those she served she would have been invisible and forgotten until she was required to perform some task. However, although she is depicted with her head bowed in submission, the potter has nevertheless imbued her with a quiet dignity and grace that belies her simple, practical, clothes and ungainly footwear.

This figure would have been made for the tomb of a member of the Han elite: possibly even a member of the royal family. Similar figures – both standing and kneeling – were excavated in 1966 from funerary pits at Renjiapo in the eastern suburbs of Xi’an (see Wang Xueli and Wu Zhenfeng, ‘Xi’an Renjiapo Han ling congzang keng de fajue’, Kaogu, 1976. no. 2, pp. 129-33). Chang’an (modern Xi’an) was the capital of the Western Han until in AD 25, when a concatenation of disasters forced the removal of the capital to Luoyang, further east. The funerary pits at Renjiapo have been linked by archaeologists to the tomb of Empress Dou (d. 135 BC), who was the wife of Emperor Wen (r. 180-157 BC). Thus figures of this type may be regarded as representing attendants from the royal household. The standing figures from Renjiapo are very similar to the current figure, although they are slightly smaller and appear to have held something – perhaps the pole of a lantern – in their clasped hands. It is probably also fair to say that the face of the current figure has been rendered with greater sensitivity than those of the Renjiapo figures. Both the current and the Renjiapo figures have retained traces of polychrome, which had been applied as cold-paint to the surface of the clay. Such cold-paint is inevitably fragile and rarely survives burial intact. However the remaining paint provides a hint of the bright colours that would have formerly covered these figures.

In contrast to the later Tang dynasty, the tombs of the wealthy in Han times often contained models of items closely associated with daily life. These included, well-heads, enclosures for farm animals, the domestic animals themselves, and grain stores. In regard to models of human figures, it is interesting to note that although military figures – including cavalry, mythical figures, and entertainers were made to be placed into the tombs of wealthy members of Han society, some of the most charming figures were those representing attendants, such as the current example. It is tempting, although unsubstantiated, to see a correlation between this interest in and sympathy with everyday objects and people of lower rank, and the fact that the first emperor of the Western Han dynasty - Liu Bang, who ruled as Emperor Gaozu (r. 202-195 BC), was himself a commoner from amongst the peasantry, who would have recognised the worth of those of who did not belong to the elite classes.

Rosemary Scott
International Academic Director, Asian Art
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