1200AD Glazed Ceramic Cult Religious Robed Snake Shaman Mortuary “Spirit Goods” $149.99
For Customers outside of USA
Large! Nicely Preserved Genuine Ancient Medieval Glazed Ceramic Robed Snake Statuette Shaman (?) or Mortuary “Spirit Goods” (?) About 1200 A.D.
CLASSIFICATION: Monochrome Glazed Ceramic Statue.
ATTRIBUTION: Ancient China, Jin Dynasty (1115-1234 A.D.) by Style. Possibly an 18th or 19th Century Imitative Revival.
Height: 182 millimeters (7 1/3 inches).
Breadth: 116 millimeters (4 2/3 inches)
Depth: 86 millimeters (3 3/8 inches).
CONDITION: Excellent and original (no repairs). Most ceramic glaze is intact, though some is slightly oxidized (rough and chalky – not glossy). A few blemishes consistent with any decorative item which was buried. Not flawless, but certainly in a wonderful state of preservation – and unrepaired! Stands on its own.
DETAIL: A nicely preserved, large glazed ceramic statuette so wonderfully characteristic of from the late Jin or perhaps early Mongol Yuan (1275-1368 A.D.) statuary. The depiction is of a snake in priestly regalia, perhaps depicted as a shaman, a warlock, priest, magician, wise man, and/or spiritual leader. We’re not sure whether it was such a religious cult item, or merely “spirit goods” (perhaps meant merely as a zodiac symbol), or both. Beginning during the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) grave/tomb interiors in ancient China were richly furnished with a wide variety of miniature objects, usually fashioned as replicas of actual possessions, animals (such as this), pottery, food, 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. We suspect that in a sense, this was a form of “spirit goods”, though likely with reference to some cult or spiritual message. Burial ceramics made during the Han Dynasty, through the Tang Dynasty and beyond, were decorated with simple but colorful designs painted directly onto the unglazed fired pieces or (as in this case) with brown and/or green lead-based glazes that could be fired at low temperatures. During the Tang dynasty, production of sancai (three-color) pottery figurines dominated the pottery scene, and their production continued well into the Ming era which advanced the art with more intense colors and finer porcelain clay. The pottery and porcelain figures produced from the Tang all the way through the Ming Dynasties are famous even until today for their beautiful multicolored glazes occurring on both mortuary pieces for funerary use as well as on utilitarian pieces for use in China as well as exported to Egypt and elsewhere.
About 95% intact, there are a few places where the glaze has decomposed, probably due to contact with the soil. This means rather than being glossy, the glaze has become rough, pitted, feeling sandy to the touch, and not glossy. This is inevitable with ancient porcelain and ceramic glazes, and is as much a testament to the age of the piece as it is a detriment. There are also some soil adhesions here and there which could likely be cleaned off with a toothbrush if one was both gentle, patient, and persistent. Overall however, the glaze is remarkably intact. More often than not pieces this old show mere insubstantial remnants of their original glaze – mere traces. In contrast, the glaze on this piece is almost entirely intact. As well, statuary like this is ordinarily unearthed in pieces – shattered. So the fact that this is unrepaired and intact is noteworthy. Of course there is the customary and expected minor scuffs, marks, dings, etc., all evidence of a an extended lifespan, most of which appears to have been spent buried..
As well there are the normal blemishes (warts, dimples, pimples and pits) one expects with earthenware crudely fashioned by hand. And as pointed out, there is some glaze deterioration as well, though again most ceramic and porcelain pieces this old have little more than traces of their original glaze remaining. Of course realistically one would expect some blemishes after such an ordeal, and there are no surprises here except that there are so few blemishes. Overall the statuette is in very good condition and is a highly collectible piece of Tang Dynasty ancient Chinese funerary ceramic art. If you’d like an authentic ancient piece of ancient Jin Dynasty porcelain glazed statuary, you could not go wrong with this one. It is solidly shaped, nicely featured, and nicely proportioned. You could display this one with great pride either at work on your desk or at home. Whether at home or at work, it will certainly generate curiosity and perhaps even a little envy!
Although it is likely 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 an $800 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.
HISTORY OF SONG/LIAO/JIN CERAMICS: Fifty years of chaos followed the fall of the Tang Dynasty before the rise of two competing but complementary Dynasties in China; the shorter-lived Liao and their successors the Jin Dynasty to the North, and the Song to the South. Liao and Jin ceramics are unique in form, glaze and design but still utilize Chinese techniques, sometimes showing Tang influence. Liao ceramics are often monochrome white and black similar to that which would be widely produced in the future during the Yuan dynasty. Other Liao ceramics are similar to Tang sancai (three color) lead glazes. The most fundamentally unique characteristics of Laio ceramics were their shapes. To the South, the arts of the Song Dynasty showed introspection and refinement. The Song emperors were among China's most culturally enlightened rulers, many were accomplished artists in their own right. Song ceramics provide a parallel to the era’s renowned landscape painting in their variety and accomplishments.
The finest ceramic products included Ting ware characterized by a milky white glaze and delicately carved or impressed designs. A common motif featured lotus blossoms, which were originally a Buddhist symbol but were often used for decoration in Song secular art. Also highly regarded is vividly colored Chün ware, with splashes of red or purple painted on a blue glazed surface. It was popular in the royal court and was often used for bowls and flowerpots. Classic blue-green celadon and white porcelain continued to be produced in large quantities, most frequently found in the shape of vases. In addition to these royal favorites, a group of popular stoneware, called Tz'u-chou, was manufactured in for local use. The Tz'u-chou potters used a wide variety of decorative techniques, including glazing, painting, incising, and enameling. Chien ware was the favorite of Buddhist monks in Fujian Province who drank their tea from glossy, black-glazed bowls.
During the Song Dynasty porcelain kilns were established at Jingdezhen, where porcelain is still produced today. Jingdezhen became the dominant producer due to its proximity to deposits of high-quality porcelain clay and to two major river systems for transport. Their kilns were particularly successful due to the innovation we know as assembly line techniques. Huge demand came both from a growing Chinese middle class and from foreign merchants, and led to a diversity of shapes, glazes, and decorative motifs. The Song dynasty was the most important dynasty in Chinese porcelain history, and brought prosperity in porcelain production. Amongst the most famous porcelain every produced were exceedingly fine and delicate Ru Kiln wares which used special a glaze with orange carnelian added. The production of Ru ware lasted only 20 years, and today are so rare that only about 70 pieces are known to still exist.
HISTORY OF EARTHENWARE IN ANCIENT CHINA: 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 2100°F and 2400°F. 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 2400°F. 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 THE SUNG/LIAO/JIN DYNASTIES: The collapse of the Tang Dynasty in 907 A.D. formed the backdrop for the rise the Sung (Song) and Liao Dynasties. During the fifty years following the collapse China fragmented into ten different kingdoms, constantly in conflict with one another, and a rapid succession of five dynasties formed and then collapsed. The Five Dynasties period ended in 960 A.D. when a military leader seized the throne and proclaimed the establishment of the Sung (Song) Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) and reunified most of China. However the Mongols who were responsible for the demise of the preceding Tang Dynasty formed their own kingdom in North China known as the Liao Dynasty (907-1125 A.D.). For the only time in China, the contemporaneous monarchs of both the Liao and Song Dynasties recognized one another as possessing “the mandate of heaven” to rule China as the “son of heaven” – a situation similar to that of Ancient Egypt whereby one Dynasty ruled Upper Egypt, the other Lower Egypt, both Pharaohs recognizing one another’s divine right to rule.
The Liao Dynasty fell in 1115 A.D. due to the insurrection of an amalgamation of tribal clans known as the Jurchen, who founded the Jin Dynasty. Aided in their military insurrection against the Liao Dynasty by the Song Dynasty, after conquering the Liao the Jin turned against their allied Song, and conquered most of the northern territory of the Song Dynasty. Nonetheless of the Song, Liao, and Jin Dynasties, the Song Dynasty proved to be the longer lived, and controlled most of China. The founders of the Song Dynasty built an effective centralized bureaucracy staffed with civilian scholar-officials. Notable for the development of cities not only as administrative entities, but also as centers of trade, industry, and maritime commerce, the Sung Dynasty gave rise to a new group of wealthy commoners, the mercantile class. Printing and education spread, private trade grew, and a market economy began to link the coastal provinces and the interior.
Landholding and government employment were no longer the only means of gaining wealth and prestige. Unfortunately fearing a repeat of the anarchy created in the Tang Dynasty by petty military rulers in the frontier areas, the Sung Monarchs severely limited the power and authority of provincial military commanders. They were subordinate to centrally appointed civilian officials who had replaced the regional military governors of the Tang. Though this gave greater power and control to the emperor and his palace bureaucracy, it also led a chronic problem with military weakness. Weakness which proved to be fatal to the Sung Dynasty as they confronted the Mongols under the leadership of Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan.
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 2 pounds.