A CHINESE GREY-POTTERY FIGURE OF AN OX, HAN DYNASTY, 206BC-220AD
The result of Oxford Authentication Ltd. thermoluminescence test no. C108q62 is consistent with the dating of this lot.
Estimate: R400 000 – 600 000
In ancient China, life and death became a circle that ran through the present to the hereafter and for this reason the soul had to be provided with goods that would ensure the same standard of living in the afterlife as in the present. As a result “spirit goods” were created for Han Dynasty Aristocracy - items that would comfort and satisfy their needs in the next world.
This Western Han Dynasty Ox is a superb example from this period. Standing foursquare with the head tilted at an angle it is clear that this piece was shaped by a skilled artistic hand. The naturalistic expression is sensitively captured resulting in an emotive work of art. Sculptures of Oxen are not uncommon amongst burial goods but this work is exceptional for various reasons. The piece is exceptionally large and freestanding – often smaller Oxen were modelled standing on a rectangular base that added extra support to the legs. Further, the legs are fashioned from clay unlike other animals from this period which often had wooden legs fitted. Most Oxen were also depicted strapped to wagons or carts implying that they were used as beasts of burden, however as this Ox appears more domesticated it implies that it would have formed part of a herd and therefore would have been a source of food in the afterlife. Nourishing the body equates to nourishing the soul, and Han Dynasty Emperors deemed the flesh of bovine animals as being very important, making it a delicacy at Royal banquets. The bones of cattle and water buffalo were also used as oracle bones, often inscribed with prayers and words of hope and are often excavated from Han Dynasty burial sites.
This monumental sculpture exhibits all the hallmarks associated with an Imperial Tomb and similar examples can be seen in the area of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s famous terracotta army in Xian. Han sculptures of this calibre rarely become available for sale, and this quality piece is possibly the first in this style to be auctioned in South-Africa.