Female Dancer

Period: Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 9)

Date: 2nd century B.C.

Culture: China

Medium: Earthenware with slip and pigment

Dimensions: H. 21 in. (53.3 cm); W. 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm); D. 7 in. (17.8 cm)

Classification: Tomb Pottery

Credit Line: Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1992

Accession Number: 1992.165.19


Once part of a larger retinue, this elegant dancer is extraordinarily compelling in her ability to convey energy in a perfectly motionless form. The sculptor chose the moment in the performance when one sleeve is thrown back as the dancer gently stoops and flexes her knees, lifting one heel from the floor; she is motionless for a split second before she advances on her toes, her pendant arm remaining supremely still. The desire for an afterlife through which worldly pleasures and activities are maintained is reflected in the placing of models (known as spirit goods, or mingqi) of attendants, entertainers, pets, domestic animals, and a host of worldly goods in Chinese tombs. Tomb furnishings reflected the wealth, status, and interests of the deceased, while equipping tombs with such items was often understood as an act of homage by the deceased's family and descendants. Although certain spirit goods were made of bronze, jade, and other materials, clay was most commonly used.