Pilaster from a tomb

From China
Han dynasty, 1st century BC-1st century AD

An earthenware tomb pillar with kneeling figure

The decoration on tombs of the Han dynasty (221 BC-AD 220) is a good source of information about daily life in that period. Moulded or incised bricks showed agricultural practices, architecture, social customs, chariot processions, myths and legends.

This pillar was used in a brick tomb to hold up the lintel of a doorway. It would have been positioned centrally with doors on either side, creating the impression of a house.

The extraordinary kneeling figure on top was intended to ward off evil. He is oddly proportioned, but complete. His feet appear on the sides of the pillar and his hands are incised on the front. A figure of a bird in flight is stamped between his legs. Two lines of this bird emblem are arranged on each side of the pillar. On the front are two columns climbing dragons. Surrounding the lines of pictorial decoration are borders with a geometric pattern, a common feature of Han tomb architecture.

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More information


S.J. Vainker, Chinese pottery and porcelain, (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)


Height: 1.140 m

Museum number

Asia OA 1942.10-10.1


Gift of the National Art Collections Fund


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