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Tomb Tower with Figures

Catalogue Description:
[Gallery Chat Label, 2005] Four stacked sections of earthenware with transparent green glaze. This model tower represents a type of Han dynasty burial architecture in northern China. Tomb models found in southern China usually consist of a courtyard with miniature barn structures and figures of farm animals. The small human figures peering out the windows or standing stiffly at the balcony railings represent human souls. A barking guard dog at the first level adds a humorous note. [Accession card] The tomb tower of figurines is composed of four stacking sections, comprising a bottom section representing a walled courtyard and three upper stories topped with a broad roof. The Tower is generally intact with details of the condition of individual sections noted below. This type of Han Dynasty tomb model develops from a tall watchtower. These elaborate towers appear to be idealized palace or villa buildings, and they appear only in relatively brief periods in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) from about 100-180CE, in the central area of Han China around modern Xi'an, in Shaanxi province and the Eastern Han capital at modern Luoyang in Henan province. Like other Han tomb models of buildings, the tower is constructed of mold-made and hand-formed elements. The material is red-bodied earthenware, and the exterior was originally covered with a dark green glaze. The present Tower was exhibited at the entrance to the exhibition "Traders and Raiders on China's Northern Frontier" at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, November 19, 1995-September 2, 1996. The tower was offered for sale at Christie's New York "Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art," Thursday, September 18, 1997, lot 339. 1997.180a: Top story and roof. Description: Constructed of hand-formed and mold-made elements, generally covered on the outside with a lead-flux dark green transparent glaze. The ridge surmounting the roof is topped by a bird with raised wings and a crest on top of its head, the ridge ending in leaf-shaped finials, the roof represented as flat and ridged tiles sloping gently on all four sides, the corners decorated with large press-molded floral finials, the ridges of the roof terminating in small press-molded roundels of various floral and geometric designs. The wide eaves are supported at the four corners by an architectural element composed of a horizontal diagonal beam extending from the corner of the tower supporting a three-arm bracket -and-block assembly. The wider upper part of the story is supported on short, round extended beams, the flat walls having regular rectangular areas of diagonal cross-hatching to represent either grille-work or possibly wall panels. There is a slightly protruding pierced grille over the front central opening. The side walls of the lower top story have small balconies with steep roofs and pierced grille-work; the central opening by flat beams in low relief, with a small boss to the left of the opening and a small boss and a small animal figure to the right. Inside this element of the tower is a floor at the level of the juncture between the extended upper portion and the lower narrow portion. A Christie's tag is attached, inscribed 18 Sept 1997/Sale 8720/Lot 339. Condition: Generally intact. The glaze somewhat degraded by burial, with areas of pale gray green and areas of loss exposing the red earthenware body, with earth and other burial material clinging to the surface. There is evidence of losses repaired and covered with earth and/or green colorant; including a large area of repair to the front center of the roof; the sides and back wall; and the extended corner bracket assemblies. 1997.180B: Second story with balcony and three figures Description: Constructed of hand-formed and mold-made elements, generally covered on the outside with a lead-flux dark green transparent glaze. This section of the tower consists of a high balcony with wide extended railing, pierced to represent horizontal bars, supported on short extended round beams on an extended upper portion of the story, which is in turn supported on short extended round beams. There is a pierced grille over the dental opening; rectangular areas of diagonal cross-hatching on the balcony and upper portion; the lower part plain with a large central opening framed with flat beams. In the floor of the balcony is a roughly square opening approximately 3 3/4" x 3 1/4", revealing a floor at the level of the juncture of the extended upper portion and the smaller lower portion of the story. In this space are pieces of straw, earth, and a Christie's label. On the floor of the balcony, with their heads just visible above the railing, are three press-molded figures. The center figure is wearing a high cap and long robe, the figures to the left and right are essentially identical to each other and similar to those on the story below. There is a paper label on the balcony reading: LTS1994.2.108/c/D Condition: The glaze is somewhat degraded by burial, with areas of pale gray green and areas of loss exposing the red earthenware body, with earth and other burial material clinging to the surface. Each of the three figures has been broken off and reattached, the figure on the right now detached from the restored area below. 1997.180c: First story with balcony and three figures. Description: Constructed of hand-formed and mold-made elements, generally covered on the outside with a lead-flux dark green transparent glaze. This section of the lower tower consists of a high balcony with extended railing, pierced to represent horizontal bars, supported on short extended round beams on an extended upper portion of the story, which is in turn supported on short extended round beams. There is a pierced grille over the dental opening; rectangular areas of diagonal cross-hatching on the balcony and upper portion; the lower part plain with a large central opening framed with flat beams. The floor of the balcony has a square opening approximately 3 1/2" x 3 1/2", revealing an inner floor at the level of the juncture of the extended upper portion and the smaller lower portion of the story, this floor likewise pierced with a rectangular opening. On the balcony floor are the clearly visible remains of glaze run on an upper story in place during firing [sic], forming an irregular rectangle approximately 8-8 3/4" x 7 3/8", with areas of loss where the two stories were taken apart. On the balcony, their heads just visible above the railing are three press-molded figures, generally identical, each appearing to hold an object in the proper right hand. Condition: The glaze is somewhat degraded by burial, with areas of pale gray green and areas of loss exposing the red earthenware body, with earth and other burial material clinging to the surface. Each of the three figures has been broken off and reattached. 1997.180d: Courtyard and surrounding wall with three figures and a dog. Description: Constructed of hand-formed and mold-made elements, generally covered on the outside with a lead-flux dark green transparent glaze. This element of the tower represents a walled courtyard with a central opening at the front surmounted by a small ridged tile roof, supported at the end by simple angle brackets, the sides of the roof unequal, the inside narrower than the part projecting out over the front of the opening. The court contains three press-molded figures and the figure of a barking watchdog, with a figure each to the left and right of the opening, the large dog to the right, and the third figure standing in the center, visible through the door in the front of the first story. Christie's tag attached to the gate. Condition: The glaze is somewhat degraded by burial, with areas of pale gray green and areas of loss exposing the red earthenware body, with earth and other burial material clinging to the surface. There is considerable evidence of damage, loss, and repair to all of the walls. Each of the three figures and the dog have been broken off and re-attached. It is difficult to determine the actual condition of the entire floor of this section of the Tower: no glazed areas are visible, top or bottom, and the inside and outside have been covered with earth, plaster, or a similar compound, covering the clay body.


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