Cocoon-Shaped Jar with Cloud-Scroll Design

China, possibly Luoyang, Henan province
Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 9)
late 2nd or early 1st century B.C.
Earthenware with painted polychrome decoration
11 1/2 x 13 1/8 x 9 1/4 in. (29.2 x 33.3 x 23.5 cm)
AP 1995.02
Currently Not On View
This handsome jar would have served as a mortuary object (mingqi), placed in a tomb as a substitute for the more valuable bronze and lacquer vessels used in daily life. Along with a variety of other funerary earthenware objects, attendant figures, and animals, richly decorated vessels of this kind were intended to serve the spirit of the deceased in the afterlife. The silk industry, dating back to the third millennium B.C., was a principal source of wealth for the Chinese economy during the Han dynasty. The distinctive, plump ovoid form of this jar imitates the silkworm’s cocoon. The drifting cloud-scroll (yunwen) motif, which flanks a central vertical panel of diamond-shaped lozenges, is evocative of the celestial realms of a Taoist immortal paradise. During the reign of the Han emperor Wudi (140–87 B.C.), fascination with the idea of the celestial journey and the Taoist search for immortality reached a climax and gave tangible definition to the ethereal decoration of painted earthenware vessels such as this.

Provenance

(Haworth & Chen, Ltd., Hong Kong); purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1995.