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Haniwa Figure of a Woman

Asian Art

On View: Asian Galleries, West, 2nd floor (China)
Clay cylinders called haniwa were set into the ground around the large funerary mounds created during Japan’s Kofun period (circa 300–538 C.E.). Their original purpose was probably to mark and protect the periphery of the tomb. Many haniwa have been decorated to resemble houses, animals, or people; these likely represented the entourage and possessions that the deceased would need in the afterlife.

The figural haniwa appears to represent a female of high status, with jewelry and a shelf-like headdress. It is unusual that the pigment on her face and body survives. Because of her distinctive facial markings, she is sometimes identified as a holy woman or shaman, but it may be that many different types of women marked their faces during this period.
MEDIUM Earthenware with traces of pigment
  • Place Made: Japan
  • DATES 5th-6th century
    PERIOD Kofun Period
    DIMENSIONS 18 x 8 3/4 x 7 1/2 in. (45.7 x 22.2 x 19.1 cm)
    COLLECTIONS Asian Art
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Asian Galleries, West, 2nd floor (China)
    ACCESSION NUMBER 79.278.1
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Three-quarter length standing figure of a priestess, who would have presided over the funeral ceremonies of a Yamato chieftain. She wears a coat-like robe closed diagonally across the chest and having a flaring lower edge. She has a string of beads around her neck and a flat, crescent-shaped headdress. Haniwa were placed around and on the top of a kofun (burial mound) for which the period is named. Kofun mounds have been located throughout Japan, from the end of the 3rd century to late 5th-6th century A.D., demonstrating the long duration of the practice. The large mounds are associated with high ranking leaders. Material: Buff earthenware with traces of red iron-oxide pigment on the lower robe, neck, cheeks, eyebrows, and forehead.
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