Large painted pottery with abstract human figures
馬家窯半山型神人紋彩陶罐

Majiayao culture, Banshan type, ca. 2600-2300 BCE
38 cm high

Description: The painted pottery from the Banshan type of Majiayao Culture are among the most splendid Neolithic arts. This object with god in human form is the rarest that has been discovered over the last century, only a few similar examples are reported. The pattern depicts the early god, while the arms and legs signify those of frogs, which are the symbols of fertility.  Some scholars linked the Neolithic culture to the early appearance of shamans and shamanism, suggesting that the image of the skeleton may represent rebirth. Such an exquisite object must have been used not as a daily ware but rather for ceremonial service and burial purpose. It is made in the finest manner having the entire body burnished to produce a silky and glossy finish.

Majiayao culture in the Gansu Province is divided into three phases and this large painted jar is a typical Banshan type: a simple and elegant form that has roughly equal height and breadth; finely painted patterns enriched with multiple colours, including black, dark brown and red. The zigzag patterns that resemble the “sawtooth” have been developed since the beginning of Majiayao culture and became a signature for Banshan type pottery. The broad areas of “fishing net” are outlined with red lines and black lines on both sides. The gaps between the red and black lines are filled with black zigzags drawn on the side of the black line facing the red. Two small ear handles are attached on either side of the shoulder. The jar was made using the coiling method and was then carefully shaped, resulting in a light-weight jar with a thin wall, a testament to the quality of the craftsmanship employed at the time.

Provenance: Old British collection

Reference: For a similar object, refer to “Chinese Heritage” issue 4, 2012

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