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Large black double-handle amphora, Han dynasty

Description: This large and elegant-looking jar is the most typical vessel excavated from Sichuan province in the south west of China, near Tibet. The majority of such black jars have a uniform grey-black surface which sometimes appears as a blue-purplish hue. What distinguishes this piece is the preservation of the white slip decoration on the surface; it is rare for such detailing to survive on these jars. Although they were produced largely from the late Zhou and throughout the Han dynasty, they were definitely made by non-Han peoples. The entire design recalls that of bronze from Sanxingdui (in the same area) and during the same period as the Shang dynasty. The rim is a rhombus shape, while the base is round with a shallow foot ring at the bottom. The neck is narrow, and the body is bloated and slightly flattened to give it four sides. Two flat handles are attached to the top of the mouth at two corners of the rhombus and end at the wide sides of the body. Each side of the jar is decorated with a pair of concentric circles, which look like wide-opening eyes. Overall the shape of the jar resembles the head of a ram, thus this jar is commonly called a ‘ram horn’ jar in Chinese. There are horizontal lines carved around the flared rim which are in-filled with numerous vertical lines. The handles have two large dots pressed onto the surface. The jar’s body is partially burnished, leaving the rest of the areas a matt grey-black with subtle scrubbing traces left by the shaping tools.

Provenance: An American collection

Reference: For a similar vessel of this type, see Dawn of the Yellow Earth, Regina Krahl, 2000, P100

Warring state to Han dynasty 3rd to 2rd century BCE

31cm high


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