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This is a ceramic model of a house, made as a burial object (mingqi) during the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220). Models like this one were made to represent everything from simple goat or pig pens to the most elaborate towers and palaces. Because very few ancient Chinese buildings have survived intact, these models, along with descriptions from ancient texts, give a good representation of what the buildings might have looked like.
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Mingqi were made in response to the growing demand for burial objects in various workshops throughout China during the Han dynasty. They were made of earthenware and either grey or lead glazed. It is not known exactly when and how lead-glazes were introduced. Taoist alchemists may have influenced potters by experimenting with the chemical properties of metals in a search for the elixir of immortality. Ironically, lead was poisonous, and was therefore only used on burial items. The body of the vessel would have been reddish in color. Green was produced by adding glaze containing copper oxide. The vessel was fired twice in the kiln. Brown glazes were popular in the western Han, whereas green lead-glazes became popular in the eastern Han.
How does this object reflect society at that time?
Burial objects such as this are plentiful from this period. The Asian Art Museum collections from this time include other farm scenes, well-heads, animals, cookware, stoves, houses, jars, incense burners and a rare set of gate pillars. Some can be disassembled to view component parts. Watchtower models and house models allow us to see construction techniques and room arrangements.
What was the purpose of these models?
Models of real-life objects were placed in tombs to provide for the deceased’s soul, which needed real-life provisions in the afterlife, for sustenance and reassurance. This was not the life-sized world of the scale created by the First Emperor, but a facsimile version produced for a growing population wanting to enjoy the burial privileges of the aristocratic elite.