Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Bronze and lacquer ritual vessels were expensive commodities that only the privileged class could afford, but in the Han dynasty, ceramic funerary wares that simulated these luxurious vessels became a more affordable means of outfitting one’s tomb, as a finished ceramic piece required far less fuel and specialized labor than a bronze or lacquer. The earthenware ceramics on display here date to the Western Han period (when the capital was located in modern-day Xi’an, Shaanxi province) and imitated ritual vessels with painted-lacquer decoration. Fired at relatively low temperatures, earthenware vessels are not fully vitrified and are slightly porous, making them less than ideal as containers for daily use, but suitable as burial items. Few colored compounds can withstand kiln temperatures without alteration; in order to replicate the multiple bright colors and dynamic designs of painted lacquers, mineral pigments were applied to earthenware vessels after firing and are hence “cold-painted.”

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Cylindrical tripod vessel (lian) with conical lid
Other Titles
Original Language Title: 西漢 彩繪陶奩
Work Type
2nd-1st century BCE
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
Gray earthenware with cold-painted pigments
H. 23.5 x W. 22 x Diam. 19.9 cm (9 1/4 x 8 11/16 x 7 13/16 in.)
[J. J. Lally & Co., New York, June 2000] sold; to Walter C. Sedgwick Foundation, Woodside, CA (2000-2006), 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 Louise Haskell Daly Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Cylindrical vessel with three cabriole legs and conical lid in the form of a mountain peak; the vessel with painted decoration of swirling cloud scrolls, the lid with decoration of mythical creatures surrounding a floral peak; light gray earthenware with decoration cold-painted in polychrome pigments, the container with designs painted in white, red and purple; the lid with decoration painted in white, green, red, pink, purple, and black.
Exhibition History

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

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