The TT Tsui collection of Chinese ceramics
Three Kingdoms (220–280) – Six Dynasties (220–589)
stoneware, early celadon glaze
This unusual green glaze jar belongs to a particular type of funerary vessel which was made during the Three Kingdoms and Western Jin dynasties. Called a hun'ping (spirit jar), it has a conventionally shaped body topped by a configuration of architectural elements and animals. In this example, birds dominate the scene as they swarm up the neck of the container.
The pots around the neck are also a common feature and are thought to represent grain stores. The archway may be a shrine, providing the ancestral spirit with a place to worship. The figures of domestic animals and people, probably worshippers, are references to the deceased's life.
The band of horsemen around the body of the jar may represent travelling to the afterlife while the purpose of the odd fish-like creatures which are poised to enter the vessel is unclear. They are called spirit jars as they act as a shrine for the ancestor who will hopefully look favourably on his living relatives ensuring they have sons to continue the family line, healthy and reproductive livestock and bountiful harvests.
When compared with funerary vessels of the Han Dynasty, this piece demonstrates a significant refinement in technique. It is elegantly formed and carefully constructed. The green glaze is also a development of the period as potters came to understand more fully the effects of oxiding or reducing atmospheres in the kiln.
The celadon type glaze, produced in a reducing atmosphere, is quite even and being on a grey pottery form, the colour is light. Many techniques were used in its construction. The body of the container is shaped on a wheel, pressed forms have been applied around the widest part of the body, the figures have been pressed onto the form while some of the birds have been attached using tenons which can be seen if looking down into the container.