Chinese / Female Attendant / Western Han period, 2nd century BCEChinese
Female Attendant
Western Han period, 2nd century BCE

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Name-CRT: Chinese
Title: Female Attendant
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 0
Creation End Date: 0
Creation Date: Western Han period, 2nd century BCE
Creation Place: North China
Object Type: Sculpture
Materials and Techniques: Earthenware with slip and traces of pigment
Dimensions: H. 21 1/2 in. (54.6 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.110
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Context: The use of clay to make sculptures and other furnishings for tombs is one of the most distinctive aspects of Chinese ceramic history. The Chinese belief in and desire for an afterlife that continued the pleasures and activities of the world is reflected in the use of ceramics to make models (known as spirit goods, or mingqi) of attendants, entertainers, pets, domestic animals, and a host of worldly goods, all of which would be needed and used by the deceased in his or her afterlife. Large retinues of warriors and attendants, as well as models of architecture and household goods, have been excavated from some of the sumptuous burials that date from the Han dynasty (206 BCE-CE 220). The elegant slimness, quiet pose, clothing, and hairstyle of this standing attendant are comparable to those found in recently excavated tombs dating to the early part of the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE-CE 9); it is likely that this figure was once part of a larger retinue of attendants buried in the tomb of a high-ranking person. The position of the figure's joined hands suggest that they may once have held some type of object, further helping to identify this figure as an attendant.

Determining the gender of this sculpture is an interesting study in assumptions. Figures like this were once considered to be male because of their costume: two robes worn over a pair of trousers. Figures wearing similar clothing from recently excavated tombs such as that of Renjiaopo in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, are identified in the Chinese excavation reports as female, although with no accompanying explanation. Additional female figures from the Renjiaopo tomb kneel and wear full-length robes and long hair. The presence of two different types of female attendants suggests that each may have served a different function. The bun at the back of the head of this standing attendant appears on both male and female figures from the Western Han dynasty and may have been a sign of rank rather than gender.

Made of earthenware, this standing female was formed using a mold. Before firing, the entire figure was covered with a white slip; traces of red pigment on the face and black pigment on the hair suggest that this figure may once have been painted, giving it a more naturalistic effect than it now has. The figure's stillness most likely reflects his/her status as an attendant, for warriors and entertainers from the same time are generally shown in livelier postures and with more animated features.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 53.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.110
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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