A Chinese Model Hen House, Eastern Han Dynasty, ca. 25–220 CE
Object No: AT1409
modeled after a functional animal pen, with a walled-in yard, a small roofed building, and stairs on the exterior wall, and populated with three small model hens. Such pens are typical of mingqi or "spirit utensils" that accompanied the deceased in burials of the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 CE). Replicas of farm animals, utilitarian objects, and entertainers were believed to provide nourishment and amusement for the soul of the tomb occupant. The elevated structure serves as an architectural record of rustic buildings that would have been part of a large agricultural estate and preserves in clay details of wooden design and construction—such as the low-pitched roof with a series of wood rafters flanging from a central beam—that have long since disintegrated above ground.
The popularization of mingqi over the course of the Han dynasty reflects dramatic changes in Chinese society, illustrating how power circulated beyond the imperial government and nobility to a broader bureaucratic class. In the early years of the Han, Confucianism emerged as the dominant philosophy and the empire became dependent on a class of scholar-officials. They desired gratification for themselves and their families in the afterlife and plentiful clay, fashioned into models ranging from crude earthenware to fine glazed stoneware, was the ideal medium for furnishing mingqi in burials across a swath of social strata.
Dimensions: Height: 6 1/2 inches (16.5 cm), Length: 8 1/4 inches (20.95 cm), Width: 8 inches (20.32 cm)
Condition: Head of one head rejoined otherwise all intact and in good condition overall.
Provenance: Private NY collection since the early 2000s.
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