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An earthenware vessel that is round in body and stands on three narrow legs. It has a round, flat lid and two handles that stand straight up on the left and right. The body of the piece is colored green with a red and white swirling pattern. The handles and legs are brown.

An round earthenware vessel that stands upright on a faded blue background. Its round body stands on three narrow legs, two of which are shown. It has a round, flat lid and two handles that stand straight up on the left and right. The body of the piece is colored green with a red and white swirling pattern with some wear. The handles, legs, and the rim of the top lip are brown with white lines.

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
Covered tripod cauldron (ding)
Other Titles
Original Language Title: 西漢 彩繪陶鼎
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
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Physical Descriptions

Gray earthenware with cold painted pigments
H. 22.3 x W. 29.2 x Diam. 24.3 cm (8 3/4 x 11 1/2 x 9 9/16 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
[J. J. Lally & Co., New York, August 1999] sold; to Walter C. Sedgwick Foundation, Woodside, CA (1999-2006), 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 Ernest B. and Helen Pratt Dane Fund for Asian Art
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Cold-painted funerary ware simulating an inlaid bronze or lacquered vessel; bowl-shaped container supported by three cabriole legs terminating in hoof-shaped feet; two rectangular handles rising vertically from the rim; domed lid pierced with three small rectangular openings for the insertion of finial ornaments (now lost); dark gray earthenware with geometric cloud-scroll decoration painted in unfired polychrome pigments, including white, off-white, ochre, green, blue, orange, and red; interior of container and lid covered with cold-painted red pigment; remnants of small animal bones, other burial materials, and a flat bronze ring (that may have been used to anchor the now-lost ornaments from the lid) were found inside. One of a pair with 2006.170.172.A-B.
Compare to:
(1) Cold-painted earthenware ding tripod of closely related form with similar cloud-scroll decor excavated in 2001 from an early Western Han dynasty tomb in Sushantou near Mount Jiuli, Xuzhou City, Jiangsu province. See Wenwu [Cultural Relics] 5 (2013): 34, fig. 7.
(2) Cold-painted earthenware ding tripod of related form excavated in 1986 from a Han tomb in Luoyang. See Grace Wong, ed., Treasures from the Han (Singapore: Historical and Cultural Exhibitions, 1990), 90.

Publication History

  • Julie Wertz, Georgina Rayner, Katherine Eremin, Susan Costello, Angela Chang, and Melissa Moy, "Material investigation of cold-painted funerary ceramics from the Han dynasty", ICOM-CC 19th Triennial Conference (Beijing, 2021), pp. 1-10, pp. 1, 7, figs. 1.1, 8

Exhibition History

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

Subjects and Contexts

  • Sedgwick Collection

Related Works

Verification Level

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