Haniwa Seated Man
Japan, Ibaraki prefecture, Kashima, Hokota site
Kofun period (248–646)
c. A.D. 500
Low-fired clay with cinnabar pigment
29 15/16 x 10 5/8 in. (76 x 27 cm)
Currently On View
Haniwa, which means “circle (or tube) of clay,” is the term given to large numbers of hollow clay cylinders that were placed in and around the bases of large earthen mounds covering Japanese royal tombs. Their function is unknown, but it is thought that they were used to protect the sides of the mound from erosion or perhaps formed a symbolic barrier around the precincts of the dead, protecting the site from evil spirits. The majority of haniwa are unadorned, but a number of them are decorated with a variety of sculpted human figures, animals, and domestic or ceremonial objects, rendered with the typical simplification and abstraction that characterizes the Kimbell figure of a seated man. Seated on a platform, he has short legs and rounded, tubelike arms that are held in front in a somewhat formal pose. The body has no suggestion of clothing, but the masklike face, devoid of sculptural detail, is marked by triangles on the cheeks and chin, painted in red cinnabar. Although the status and function of the person represented are not known, his distinctive conical cap and the sword at his side suggest a low-ranking soldier.