Pair of Han Duck Vessels


206 BC to 220 AD


13″ (33.0cm) high x 9″ (22.9cm) wide


Painted Terracotta



Gallery Location



These highly unusual vessels are funerary containers, that were interred with a deceased person of considerable social standing in order to aid their passage into the hereafter. The Han period is known for extensive sociopolitical change followed by stability, leading to the foundations of what is now recognised to be “Chinese Culture”. The Han era also saw one of the greatest artistic outpourings in Chinese history, easily on a par with the glories of their Western contemporaries, Greece and Rome. Wealth pouring into China from trade along the Silk Road initiated a period of unprecedented luxury. Stunning bronze vessels were created, decorated with elegant inlaid gold and silver motifs. Jade carvings reached a new level of technical brilliance. But perhaps the artistic revival of the Han Dynasty is nowhere more apparent than in their sculptures and vessels that were interred with deceased nobles. Called “mingqi”, literally meaning “spirit articles,” these works depicted a vast array of subject, from warriors and horses to ovens and livestock, which were buried alongside the dead for use in the next world, reflecting the Chinese belief that the afterlife was an extension of our earthly existence. These vessels are sinuously and elegantly designed, incorporating the neck and head of ducks into the spouts and handles, running into globular, rounded vessel bodies. While their function is equivocal, their form suggests that they might have been used as serving vessels for liquids, although it is more probable that they were made specifically for burial with the deceased. This would also explain their extremely good colour preservation. The floral and geometric designs are painted directly onto the body and neck/spout, and are arranged in bands that highlight the vessel’s shape. The ducks’ anatomical feaures are highlighted with contrasting dark and light paint – providing feathers and facial features – in addition to some further incised decoration around the head area. A highly unusual and desirable pair of vessels, which would be a credit to any collection.

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