Fishtail lady, Yuweiyong
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- Western Han Dynasty, 206 BC - 25 AD
- Earthenware with pigment
- 65 cm
Figures like this are illustrated in: Spirit of Han - Ceramics for the After-Life, published by the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society, page 87.
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Wearing a typical long sweeping robe, this female attendant stands with head bent in a deferential pose that also conveys a quiet dignity. Dressed in the characteristic manner of Western Han women, her hair is parted in the centre and pulled away from the face into a low bun at the back. The two openings in the sleeves of the long robe were originally intended for the insertion of two detachable hands. She would have held an offering or some other kind of attribute. The figure has a detachable head with a hollow interior and a slit at the back.
The female attendant was part of a funerary gift, mingqi, from the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC to 25 AD). The mingqi, literally 'spirit objects', played an important role in Chinese funeral rites. It was believed that life after death was a continuation of life in the present, and therefore the deceased was provided with all the objects necessary to continue living after death, like animals, valuables, earthenware servants, clothing and food. Together with the burial gifts and figurines, the architecture, altar and the path towards the tomb - often marked by large sculptures of mythical animals - made sure that the deceased was catered for, but also that this had its reflection on the well-being of the entire family. According to the confucian tradition, that held respect of and loyalty to the ancestors in the highest esteem, this was needed to ensure that the heavenly powers were benevolent towards the family. The period of the Han Dynasty is one of the most important in Chinese cultural history. It was a period of wealth and stability; the Han rulers centralised and unified the area. The arts flourished and the riches brought into the country by the Silk Road were used to make the most beautiful and refined objects of gold, silver, bronze and jade.