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Ancient Celadon Glazed Ceramic Funerary Urn/Spirit Jar $699.99 - SOLD

Genuine Ancient Glazed "Celadon Green" "Hun'ping" Funerary Urn/Spirit Jar (Rare!) 300 A.D.


ATTRIBUTION: Ancient China, Jin Dynasty (about 300 A.D.). Possibly an 18th or 19th Century Revival Imitative


Height: 318 millimeters (12 2/3 inches)

Diameter: 190 millimeters (7 2/3 inches) at belly; 100 millimeters (4 inches) at base.

CONDITION: Exceptional. Entirely intact except for the normal oxidation of the glaze and one ancient chip (repairable upon request). Otherwise just the normal potting blemishes associated with crude hand production; and assorted minor bumps and bruises consistent with wear due to ancient usage and then burial since ancient times. All quite normal for a 2,000 year old vessel.

DETAIL: Although it is probable that this specimen is much older, it is also possible that this piece might be a revivalist imitative produced for the European market of the 18th or 19th century. It is widely known that Chinese porcelain and other ceramic artwork was quite popular in Victorian Europe. Carrying Chinese porcelain from China to Europe was an industry for the seafaring mariners of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Entire fleets of sailing ships plied the trade, especially the Dutch and English. However in addition to porcelain, ancient Chinese ceramics were also extremely popular in Victorian Europe, where Chinese ceramic artwork was highly appreciated and in great demand.

Although the style of this specimen is very convincing and suggests it might indeed be of Jin Dynasty origin, a large portion of the antique/ancient Chinese ceramics in Europe date to the 18th or 19th century, so it is quite possible that this is an imitative revival piece. Judging by the style it is likely considerably older, but only a $1,000 thermoluminescence test would establish this conclusively (and even then the reliability and accuracy of such testing is still debated). So we'll simply err on the side of being conservative and suggest that you consider it a revival piece, and if it is indeed older, so much the better. However whether an antique several centuries old, or an antiquity a few centuries older, this is a valuable and collectible piece of art.

This unusual green glaze jar belongs to a particular type of funerary vessel which was made during the Three Kingdoms and Western Jin dynasties. It is a wonderfully preserved specimen, with no significant blemishes other than the expected degradation of the glaze. This means that rather than being entirely glossy, some of the glaze has decomposed, and has lost its glossiness, and is rather powdery, or rough to the touch. Notwithstanding these blemishes (and a decomposing glaze is quite typical of ancient earthenware), it remains in wonderful condition! There's a few very minor scratches and abrasions as can be seen in the images, but otherwise no damage aside from the normal little dings and bruises one would expect with an ancient earthenware vessel. As well there are the normal blemishes (warts, dimples, pimples and pits) one expects with earthenware fashioned and glazed by hand. There is one single chip - seemingly an ancient chip - which would probably never be noticed. If you look at the lowest tier of buildings, close examination will reveal that of the four structures, one is missing a roof support which was broken off. It's a tiny little piece - there's supposed to be one on each side of roof - and one is missing. We can repair it if requested.

Known as a "hun'ping", or "spirit jar", it is a funerary urn with a conventionally shaped body (much like a Han granary jar) topped by a configuration of tiered architectural elements, peoples, and animals. In some examples birds or other animals will dominate the theme. This particular piece as you can see depicts dozens of birds, lots of buildings and structures, as well as a ring of seated Buddha's. The vessel type was generally limited to the area south of the Yangzi River corresponding to modern northern Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces. The vessel type dates to the relatively short period of time from about 250 to 300 A.D. This magnificent example with olive-green celadon glaze covering the body possesses an extraordinarily rich assortment of modeled figures and architecture in a well-proportioned, tiered arrangement. Of particular interest is the row of Buddhas sitting in meditative postures around the waist of the vessel. These are among the earliest Buddhist images known in China.

The hun'ping reflects the southern tradition of "burial of the summoned soul." Placed in a tomb together with armrests, banqueting tables, food, and drink, it was hoped that the soul of the deceased would return to reside in the urn, entering through the uppermost gate and building. The auspicious birds and the seated Buddhas represent mystical entities that could guide the soul to be reborn in paradise. If you would like to see some other examples of similar vessels, including one at the New York Metropolitan Museum, please click here, here, and here.

Of course, we are not trying to suggest that this piece is equivalent to these museum pieces. The glaze of this particular specimen is partly decomposed - glossy only in spots. The museum pieces here are simply extraordinary in their pristine condition - but of course they are priceless and unobtainable as well. Though clearly the celadon green glaze is partly decomposed or oxidized; most of the glaze remains intact. Furthermore, there are no significant chips, no breakage, no cracks, and no repairs. If you'd like an authentic ancient earthenware vase to proudly display, you could not go wrong with this one. It is solidly shaped, nicely featured, and nicely proportioned. Though not perfect, you could showcase this with great pride either at work home. Either way, it will certainly generate curiosity, envy, and you can be certain that outside a museum, you'll never see another one.

HISTORY OF JIN DYNASTY CERAMICS: It was beginning with the the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) that grave interiors were richly furnished with a wide variety of miniature objects, usually fashioned as replicas of actual possessions, animals, or buildings. Called "spirit goods", these items were used as substitutes for valuable possessions, and were usually produced in ceramic and were glazed or colorfully painted. The wealthy elite's increasing interest in elaborately furnished tombs led to the mass production of armies of ceramic figures made using molds. In the case of the royal burial of the sole Qin Emperor, a terra cotta army of 6,000 was produced in full size. Burial ceramics made during the Han dynasty were decorated with simple but colorful designs painted directly onto the unglazed fired pieces or with brown and green lead-based glazes that could be fired at low temperatures.

The period between the collapse of the Han Dynasty in 220 A.D. and the rise of the Sui and Tang Dynasties (starting in 589 A.D.) was characterized by the fragmentation of China and a prolonged power struggle. Together with the period of the Western and Eastern Jin Dynasties, the "Three Kingdoms" together with "Southern" and the "Northern" Dynasties cover a period of three and one-half centuries during which, despite the chaotic conditions of the period, the ceramic industry developed rapidly and ceramic production flourished. By then, porcelain-making techniques in Southern China had been enhanced and the ceramics-making area and scale increasingly expanded with kiln sites spread throughout many provinces. Excavation of white porcelain objects from noble tombs shows that white porcelain was already in production in the Northern provinces, and its emergence paved the way for further development porcelain production in the coming Sui and Tang Dynasties.

There were many other notable advances in ceramic arts, including green-glazed stoneware, highly durable and often fashioned into bowls and jars. The discovery of what became known as "celadon glazing" was a major development during the period. Fine ash or ash mixed with clay was painted onto the vessel and after firing it turned pale green. This rare funerary urn belongs to this class of vessels. Potters of the era continued improving the quality of these early "celadon" wares both with respect to glaze color and in body clay. The production of glazed porcelain was a significant achievement in Chinese ceramic history. It was eventually exported as far as the Philippines and Egypt. Ceramic figurines produced during the period were notable for increased detail. The most profound influence on the art of the period (including ceramics) was the Buddhist religion which came from neighboring India. Objects imported from the Middle East and Central and West Asia also strongly influenced the period's ceramic arts.

In spite of the political and social confusion of the period, major changes occurred in the spiritual life of the Chinese. Daoism, which had played a previously minor role in religious thought, was revitalized, and Buddhism reached the Chinese court from India and Tibet. The Buddhist notion of Bodhisattvas - compassionate beings who have delayed their own enlightenment in order to guide others along the right path - was integrated into existing beliefs, along with ideas of Buddhist heavens and symbols of worship. The quest for eternity gained great favor and people sought methods such as drinking mercury and other potions devised by alchemists to prolong their lives. These unsettled times were also a period of transition in the development of ceramics wares. The 'proto-celadon' wares described above were precursors to the renowned celadon wares of the Song dynasty (960-1279 A.D.). The increasing prominence of religion including Daoism and the emergence of Buddhism in China greatly expanded the design repertoire. Daoist Immortals, cosmological symbols and Buddhist guardians were all represented in ceramic forms. The replicas of humans and animals became more and more life-like, while images of the 'unreal' such as guardian spirits, became more and more imaginary and fanciful.

HISTORY OF THE JIN DYNASTY: The collapse of the Han dynasty was followed by nearly four centuries (220-589 A.D.) of relative anarchy. Petty kingdoms waged incessant warfare against one another. Unity was restored briefly in the early years of the Jin Dynasty (265-420 A.D.), but by 317 A.D. China again disintegrated into a succession of petty dynasties that was to last from 304 to 589 A.D. The Jin Dynasty followed the "Three Kingdoms" Period and preceded that of the "Southern" and "Northern" Dynasties. The Western Jin Dynasty (265-316 A.D.) was founded by Emperor Wu, and a brief period of unity followed the Jin conquest the Kingdom of Wu in 280 A.D. The entire country was united again for a brief interlude between the turbulent age of the Three Kingdoms and the devastating barbarian invasions.

For a short time, the government attempted important fiscal and political reforms, mainly intended to curb the power of the great families by regaining control of taxation and reducing the exorbitant rents that powerful landowners were extracting from the people. However the power of the great local families was never really broken, and they even continued to maintain their own private armies. Thus weakened and fragmented internally, ultimately the Jin Dynasty could meet the external challenge from the invasion of nomadic peoples after the devastating "War of the Eight Princes". This devastating internal struggle occurred when the emperor divided the kingdom into 25 provinces, one for each son. The struggle between the 25 successors to the throne eventually distilled into a war between the eight strongest contenders.

These wars lasted a total of 16 years, killed hundreds of thousands of people and laid waste to many cities and towns. The consequences included a dislocated social economy, a paralyzed government, and an exhausted capacity to govern. Society became feudalistic, essentially controlled by great landowning families, each with hordes of serfs and their private armies. Nomandic groups like the Turks and the Avars, took advantage of the central government's instability to attack the frontier. Their mounted archers easily outfought the less mobile Chinese forces. Crippled and fragmented, the country and the Jin Dynasty fell in 316 A.D. The remnants of the Jin court fled from the north to the south and reestablished the Jin court near modern-day Nanjing, founding the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420 A.D.). Militaristic authorities and crises plagued the Eastern Jin court throughout its 104 years of existence. It survived several rebellions and usurpations. During this period and for another century to follow, China was divided into two different societies, northern and southern, with a proliferation of would-be dynasties.

Millions of Chinese peasants, led or herded by aristocrats, moved from nomadic-conquered northern China down south of the Yangtze River. The Eastern Jin was racked by revolts, court intrigues, and wars with the nomadic northern states. It did not have any more success than the Western Jin in controlling the power of huge landowners; it was at the mercy of powerful families, with government controlled by changing groups of aristocratic clans. Eventually the last emperor of the Dynasty, Emperor Gong, was installed in 419 A.D. His abdication a year later ushered in the turbulent "Southern Dynasty". Meanwhile Northern China had been ruled by the "Sixteen Kingdoms" of the nomadic peoples. The conquest of the Northern Liang by the Norther Wei Dynasty in 439 A.D. ushered in the "Northern Dynasty". A turbulent and fragmented society was to pervade for another 150 years until the ascendancy of the Sui Dynasty in 589 A.D. and the Tang Dynasty in 618 A.D.

HISTORY OF CHINESE CERAMICS: The first Chinese ceramics archaeologists have found date back more than 10,000 years. These were earthenware, which means they were made from clay and fired at the kind of low temperatures reached by a wood fire or simple oven. In China, most ceramics made before the Tang dynasty (600 A.D.) are earthenware. They may be glazed or unglazed, and are occasionally painted, often brightly colored. Stoneware ceramics are harder and less porous than earthenware and are fired at hotter temperatures-between 2100F and 2400F. At these high temperatures, the surface of the clay melts and becomes glassy. Although stoneware is usually waterproof, most stoneware ceramics are glazed for decoration. The glazes often contain ash, which allows the glaze to harden at stoneware temperatures.

During the Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 B.C.) bronze metallurgy superceded ceramics as the favored art form of the ruling class. However both the ceramic and the bronze industries evolved into complex systems of production that were supported by the aristocracy. Decorative designs rich in symbolism were created first in bronze were then imitated in clay. Chinese burial customs included the tradition of placing clay replicas of material possessions, animals and people in the tomb to accompany the deceased and serve them in the next life. Although archaeological finds have revealed that glazed pottery was produced as early as 1100 B.C. during the Zhou dynasty, the production of glazed wares was not common until about 200 B.C. during the Han Dynasty. However from about 1000 B.C. onwards during the Shang and Zhou dynasties, primitive porcelain wares emerged. Real porcelain wares appeared in the Han dynasty around 200 A.D. In the process of porcelain development, different styles in different periods blossomed.

The production of porcelain became widespread by about 500 A.D. Using a special clay with ground rock containing feldspar, a glassy mineral, the material was fired at very high temperatures above 2400F. The surface of the clay melts at such high temperatures and becomes smooth as glass. Early porcelains were undecorated and were used by the Imperial court and exported as far as the Middle East. For instance during the Han Dynasty principally celadon (green) and black porcelain were mainly produced. The famous blue and white porcelain was created with blue paint made from cobalt and then covered with a clear glaze, which can withstand the high temperatures of the kiln. The technical and creative innovations of Chinese potters are unique accomplishments in the cultural heritage of the world. Today, archaeological excavation and research in China are revealing new sites and new examples of the genius of the Chinese potter.

HISTORY OF CHINESE CIVILIZATION: Remains of Homo erectus, found near Beijing, have been dated back 460,000 years. Recent archaeological studies in the Yangtse River area have provided evidence of ancient cultures (and rice cultivation) flourishing more than 11,500 years ago, contrary to the conventional belief that the Yellow River area was the cradle of the Chinese civilization. The Neolithic period flourished with a multiplicity of cultures in different regions dating back to around 5000 B.C. There is strong evidence of two so-called pottery cultures, the Yang-shao culture (3950-1700 B.C.) and the Lung-shan culture (2000-1850 B.C). Written records go back more than 3,500 years, and the written history is (as is the case with Ancient Egypt) divided into dynasties, families of kings or emperors. The voluminous records kept by the ancient Chinese provide us with knowledge into their strong sense of their real and mythological origins - as well as of their neighbors.

By about 2500 B.C. the Chinese knew how to cultivate and weave silk and were trading the luxurious fabric with other nations by about 1000 B.C. The production and value of silk tell much about the advanced state of early Chinese civilization. Cultivation of silkworms required mulberry tree orchards, temperature controls and periodic feedings around the clock. More than 2,000 silkworms were required to produce one pound of silk. The Chinese also mastered spinning, dyeing and weaving silk threads into fabric. Bodies were buried with food containers and other possessions, presumably to assist the smooth passage of the dead to the next world. The relative success of ancient China can be attributed to the superiority of their ideographic written language, their technology, and their political institutions; the refinement of their artistic and intellectual creativity; and the sheer weight of their numbers.

A recurrent historical theme has been the unceasing struggle of the sedentary Chinese against the threats posed by non-Chinese peoples on the margins of their territory in the north, northeast, and northwest. China saw itself surrounded on all sides by so-called barbarian peoples whose cultures were demonstrably inferior by Chinese standards. This China-centered ("sinocentric") view of the world was still undisturbed in the nineteenth century, at the time of the first serious confrontation with the West. Of course the ancient Chinese showed a remarkable ability to absorb the people of surrounding areas into their own civilization. The process of assimilation continued over the centuries through conquest and colonization until what is now known as China Proper was brought under unified rule.

A certificate of authenticity (COA) is available upon request. Artifacts are mailed from the USA. Due to its fragile nature this particular piece is only shipped in an oversized box with lots of Styrofoam peanuts. The cost for shipping this item includes delivery confirmation (you can track your shipment on-line at the USPS Web Site). Additional items shipped together do result in a discount. The shipping weight of this item is 6 pounds. Various rates for shipping both domestically and internationally may be viewed here. A wide variety of cost-effective methods are available including surface mail, air mail, and expedited mail.