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Early Han Dynasty Terracotta Jester with Drum

East Asia, China, Han Dynasty, ca. 206 BCE to 220 CE. A wonderfully preserved example of a tomb attendant - a court jester-like figure, nude aside from a loose skirt that hangs below his broad belly and does not quite cover the top of his buttocks. He is crouched, holding drumsticks, one in each raised hand. His face is playful, with his tongue sticking out between his lips and his forehead furrowed as if in mirth. Who is this figure? Perhaps he is based on Dongfang Shuo, famous court jester to the Emperor Wu (r. 141 to 87 BCE). Size: 7.05" W x 11.05" H (17.9 cm x 28.1 cm)

Tomb attendants like this one are part of a class of artifacts called mingqi - sometimes known as "spirit utensils" or "vessels for ghosts". They became popular in the Han Dynasty and would persist for several centuries. Alongside figures like this one were musicians, athletes, animals, structures… Even though they were mass produced, mingqi of the Han Dynasty often show a high level of detail and naturalism. These were designed to assist the po, the part of the soul of the deceased that remained underground with the body while the hun, the other part of the soul, ascended. Caring for the po seems to have taken on a new level of meaning in the Han period, with more elaborate rituals and tomb construction arising.

Condition: Intact, with nicely preserved features. Orange pigment on surface may not be original and is very fragile.

Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection

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