Earthenware with relief decoration under olive–green glaze; H. 13 7/8 in. (35.2 cm)
Purchase, Stanley Herzmann Gift, 1996 (1996.15)
This splendid jar is a mingqi, an object made especially for burial with the dead, and was used for ritual offering of food in the tomb. The relatively inexpensive earthenware would have been a substitute for more costly silver or bronze, and the vessel copies metalware in both form and ornamentation.
This fascinating object is one of an extremely small group of flambuoyant stoneware or earthenware jars manufactured in northern China during the second half of the sixth century. Many of the applied decorative elements on this group of elaborate vessels are taken from Buddhist ornamental grammer, and some of the motifs here evidence a Buddhist connection.
The decorative style shows a definite Western derivation, particularly in the singular motif of pearl roundels containing heads with frontal Central Asian faces. These naturalistic fleshy faces have been sculpted in exquisite detail. This design, which clearly exhibits a Central Asian Khotanese influence, apparently has not been found on any other Chinese ceramics.
The Central Asian motif and the extremely high quality of the jar lead to the theory that it was manufactured for the tomb of an important member of the large community of foreigners living in the northern Chinese capitals during the late sixth century.