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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
Cylindrical tripod vessel (lian) with conical lid
Other Titles
Original Language Title: 西漢 绿釉陶奩
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
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Earthenware with green lead glaze
Lead glaze
H. 25.8 x Diam. 20 cm (10 3/16 x 7 7/8 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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Cylindrical tripod vessel with legs in the form of crouching bears and a conical lid in the form of a multi-peaked mountain; decoration of hunters pursuing animals on the vessel sides and amid the mountain peaks; red earthenware with lead-fluxed, emerald-green glaze over molded decoration; the underside of the vessel and cover with some glaze overflow. One of a set of eight funerary vessels (2006.170.192-199).
Compare to:
(1) Green lead-glazed wine vessel of very similar form and decoration excavated in 1983 from a Han site at Doudian, Xianyang, Shaanxi province, now in the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology collection, Beijing. See Treasures from a Swallow Garden: Inaugural Exhibit of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology (Beijing: Peking University, 1992), cat. 116, pp. 224-25.
(2) Yellow-green lead-glazed wine vessel of same form 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): cover image.
(3) Green lead-glazed wine vessel of same form with very similar decoration excavated in 1956 from a late Western Han dynasty brick tomb near Hansenzhai village, Xi’an, Shaanxi province. See Wenwu [Cultural Relics] 5 (1960): 72, pl. 4.
Exhibition History

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

Related Works

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