Funerary Urn (Hunping)

Period: Western Jin dynasty (265–316)

Culture: China

Medium: Stoneware with olive green glaze (Yue ware)

Dimensions: H. 17 7/8 in. (45.4 cm); W. 11 15/16 in. (30.3 cm)

Classification: Ceramics

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

Accession Number: 1992.165.21


The hunping, or funerary urn, is a vessel type whose provenance is generally limited to the area south of the Yangzi River corresponding to modern northern Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces. The vessel type dates to the relatively short period of time from about 250 to 300. This magnificent example with olive-green celadon glaze covering the body possesses an extraordinarily rich assortment of modeled figures and architecture in a well-proportioned, tiered arrangement. Of particular interest is the row of Buddhas sitting in meditative postures on lion thrones with lotus petals around the waist of the vessel. These are among the earliest Buddhist images known in China.

The hunping reflects the southern tradition of "burial of the summoned soul." Placed in a tomb together with armrests, banqueting tables, food, and drink, it was hoped that the soul of the deceased would return to reside in the urn, entering, in this particular case, through the grand double-tiered gate that appears to lead directly into the vessel. The auspicious beasts and birds and the seated Buddhas represent mystical entities that could guide the soul to be reborn in paradise.