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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
Cocoon shaped jar
Other Titles
Original Language Title: 西漢 彩繪陶繭形壺
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. 23.8 x W. 27 x D. 18 cm (9 3/8 x 10 5/8 x 7 1/16 in.)
[Andrew Kahane Oriental Art, 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 Alpheus Hyatt Purchasing Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Oblong horizontal vessel with body resembling the shape of a silkworm cocoon; short cylindrical neck and everted mouth rim at top center; elliptical body resting on circular, slightly splayed pedestal foot; medium gray earthenware with geometric designs cold-painted in unfired white, green, orange, and dark red pigments.
Compare to:
(1) Cold-painted earthenware jar of similar cocoon form and cloud-scroll designs excavated in the 1990s from a mid-Western Han dynasty tomb in Tonghuagou cemetery near Zhicheng county, Jiyuan, Henan province. See Wenwu [Cultural Relics] 12, 1999: 22, fig. 6.
(2) Cold-painted earthenware jar of similar form and design excavated from a Western Han dynasty tomb in Xinxiang county, Henan province, now in the Henan Museum. See Historical Relics Unearthed in New China (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1972), pl. 87.
(3) Cold-painted earthenware jar of similar form and design excavated from a Western Han site in Hezishan, Tongguan, Shaanxi province, now in the Henan Museum. See Zhongguo taoci quanji [The Complete Works of Chinese Ceramics], vol. 3: Qin, Han [Qin and Han dynasties] (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin meishu chubanshe, 2000), no. 27, pp. 54 and 227.
Exhibition History

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

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at