About This Artwork


Funerary Urn (Hunping), Western Jin dynasty (A.D. 265–316), late 3rd century

Stoneware with olive-green glaze and molded and applied decoration
H. 48.7 cm (19 3/16 in.); diam. 27.5 cm (10 13/16 in.)

Through prior bequests of Mary Hooker Dole and Grace Brown Palmer; through prior gifts of Josephine P. Albright in memory of Alice Higinbotham Patterson, and Mrs. Kent S. Clow; Russell Tyson, Robert C. Ross endowments, 1987.242

This complex and imaginatively modeled vessel is known as an “urn of the soul,” a symbolic dwelling for the spirit of the deceased. A profusion of figures was molded and applied to its sealed lid, which takes the form of a multistory pavilion. In the balcony-like mouth-rim, a tortoise supports a large vertical tablet, a common form of memorial stone. The real and mythical creatures on the vessel—birds, monkeys, bears, dragons, kneeling figures, and immortals riding dragons—all follow the iconography of early Chinese funerary art. Intermingled with these images, however, are depictions of the Buddha, who is identified by his meditating posture, topknot, and halo. The marginal role of Buddhist art in this decorative scheme reflects the adoption of the alien Indian religion, as the Chinese then understood it, into a hospitable mélange of different spiritual beliefs. Additionally, this jar reflects a formative stage in the development of China’s renowned celadon glaze, which became more uniform in color and texture over subsequent centuries.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2009, p. 84.

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