JarArtist(s)ChineseArtist NationalityChinese (culture or style)Object Creation Date2600 BCE - 2300 BCEMedium & Supportearthenware with slip and mineral pigmentDimensions
16 1/4 in x 15 3/4 in x 15 3/4 in (41.3 cm x 40 cm x 40 cm);16 1/4 in x 15 3/4 in x 15 3/4 in (41.3 cm x 40 cm x 40 cm)Credit LineGift of Domino's Pizza, Inc.Label copy
The boldly painted pottery of China's prehistoric past is admired by collectors around the world. This large, handsome jar is one of several in UMMA's collection dating from the so-called Banshan phase (2600 BCE-2300 BCE) of Majiayao Culture, which flourished in north and northwestern China in the Neollithic Period, before the discovery of the use of bronze.
People of the Majiayao Culture lived in riverside villages, and made their livelihood by hunting, fishing, and small-scale plant cultivation. Kilns were located just outside the village, but potting does not seem to have been a specialized occupation. There was very little variation in the types of vessels made, and certain shapes remained popular for many centuries. Large storage jars such as this one are found in graves, placed around the figure of a single corpse; judging from later practices, they held grain to supply the deceased in the afterlife.
These magnificent large jars are astonishingly thin and lightweight. Studies show that they were made by coiling strips of clay, and then a paddle and anvil were used to stabilize and refine the shape. The exterior surface was scraped, especially on the lower half, to produce a thin body and remove marks of the paddle. The whole was then often covered with slip (a very watery clay), dried, painted with mineral pigments, and fired in a simple kiln. The rich red, purple, brown and black tones of the paint come from iron and manganese compounds, which would have been found when digging for clay.
Pots from the Banshan phase of Majiayao Neolithic Culture—named for the site where sample vessels were first discovered—almost always have the same general shape: a narrow, cylindrical neck, abruptly giving way to a rounded upper half, tapering gently to a flat bottom, with two small lugs (ring handles) at the waist. Painted decoration is confined to the upper half, perhaps because these pots were set into the earth to keep them upright. The painted designs evoke fish nets and swirling eddies of water, but their meaning remains a matter of debate; since these pots date from before the invention of a writing system, the Majiayao people left no record of what their beautiful designs mean.
M. Graybill, Senior Curator of Asian Art
The earthenware vessels produced by the Majiayao culture, are considered by many as the archetypical Chinese Neolithic pottery. They are certainly among the most attractive and sought after. As seen in these two large pots, static geometric shapes of fish nets, gourds, checkerboards, sawtooth, and herringbone are imaginatively contrasted with fluid curvilinear patterns of swirling eddies and waves to form a harmonious and sophisticated design. The painted decoration is confined to the upper part of the vessels, perhaps because they were set into dirt or sand to keep them upright when in use. They are found in graves placed around a single corpse. Judging from later practice, they held grain to supply the deceased in the afterlife.
These magnificent jars are remarkably thin and lightweight. They were made by coiling strips of clay. Potters then used a paddle and anvil to stabilize and refine the shape. They scraped the exterior surface, especially on the lower half, to produce a thin body and remove marks of the paddle. The whole was then often covered with slip (liquid clay), dried, painted with mineral pigments, and fired in a simple open kiln. When cooled, strong burnishing enhanced their warm colors. The rich russet reds, blacks, and sometimes purple colors come from iron and manganese compounds, which would have been found when digging for clay.
(Label for UMMA Chinese Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)Subject matter
This is a mortuary urn or guan
(罐) jar of the Neolithic Banshan phase (2600 BCE-2300 BCE) of Majiayao Culture from Banshan, Gansu of the Yellow River Valley. It was discovered by Johan Gunnar Andersson in 1921. By the 1980's approximately 60,000 items and 400 kilns had been discovered at Majiayao sites (He, 22). They were found in subterranean graves with conical bases placed into the local loess soil, and because the decoration is consistently only on the top portion of the jar, it can be assumed they were meant to be viewed from above. Decorations of four whirls such as this is the most common decorataion found on guan
at the Banshan site. While it is impossible to know the meaning behind this decoration, researchers suggest perhaps this pattern represents constallations or the four directions. They interpret the the network patterns to represent fishing nets and a major source of food supplied by the Yellow River. The two lug handles were probably used to tie down a wooden (or other decomposable material) lid. An abundance of this type of guan
were made with similar proportions, which suggests the use of a mathematical module, standardization, assembly line style mass production and the possible division of labor during the Neolithic period (Poor, 166).Physical Description
This light reddish-buff earthenware guan
(罐) jar has a wide, globular upper body with a tall, narrow neck and flaring rim; the conical lower body rests on a narrow flat base. Two diametrically opposed lug handles are at the waist, and two small ear-like applications are at the rim. Painted on the upper half of the body with black and red pigments are four whirls containing a pattern of dots within the swirling lines, confined between solid band borders, with a garland line border below. Around the neck is a cross-hatched network design above a garland or wave band. Primary Object Classification Ceramic Primary Object TypejarCollection AreaAsianRights
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