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Gallery Text

By the Eastern Han period (when the Han capital was located in present-day Luoyang, Henan province), Chinese potters had discovered the efficacy of using lead-fluxed glazes for their ceramic burial wares. As a fluxing agent, lead oxide lowers the melting point of a glaze, reducing the amount of fuel required for firing. Copper and iron metal oxides were added to the glaze to impart the green and brown colors reminiscent of bronzes with different patinas; they were thus especially useful for glazing ceramic wares that imitated more expensive bronze ritual vessels. The decorative elements on these objects—mystical mountains with swirling clouds, mythical beasts, immortal figures, and bear-form supports—are associated with cosmological realms of immortals and closely replicate the relief ornamentation on sumptuous Han bronzes. Although the tombs of the most wealthy and important Han personages continued to be furnished luxuriously, ceramic reproductions of expensive burial goods and tomb sculptures representing animals, servants, and entertainers became acceptable substitutes for real objects and living creatures.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Covered tripod cauldron (ding)
Other Titles
Original Language Title: 西漢 绿釉陶鼎
Work Type
1st century BCE-early 1st century CE
Creation Place: East Asia, China
Han dynasty, Western Han period, 206 BCE-9 CE
Persistent Link
Level 1, Room 1600, Early Chinese Art, Arts of Ancient China from the Bronze Age to the Golden Age
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Physical Descriptions
Earthenware with green lead glaze
Lead glaze
H. 18 x W. 25.5 x Diam. 20.1 cm (7 1/16 x 10 1/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
[The Chinese Porcelain Company, New York, May 2001] sold; to Walter C. Sedgwick Foundation, Woodside, CA (2001-2006), partial gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2006.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Partial gift of the Walter C. Sedgwick Foundation and partial purchase through the Alpheus Hyatt Purchasing Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Tripod cauldron with three legs in the form of crouching bears, wide S-form handles, and domed cover with decoration of animals; red earthenware with lead-fluxed, emerald-green glaze over molded decoration; the base of the feet and the underside of the cover unglazed. One of a set of eight funerary vessels (2006.170.192-199).
Compare to:
(1) Yellow-green lead-glazed covered ‘ding’ with virtually identical decoration excavated in 2004 from a late Western Han brick tomb near in Xi’an, Shaanxi province. See Wenwu [Cultural Relics] 10 (2012): 195, pl. 1.
(2) Green lead-glazed ‘ding’ storage jar with closely related decoration excavated in 2007 from a Xin dynasty (9 – 23 CE) brick tomb in Zhangjiabao near Xi’an, Shaanxi province. See Wenwu [Cultural Relics] 5 (2009): 11-12, figs. 13-14.
(3) Green lead-glazed covered ‘ding’ with very similar decoration excavated in 1956 from a late Western Han brick tomb near Hansenzhai village, Xi’an, Shaanxi province. See Wenwu [Cultural Relics] 5 (1960): 72, pl. 2.
Exhibition History

32Q: 1600 Early China II, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Related Works

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