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The Art of Realism

Realism out of this World
China<br/> <em>Funerary Model of a Pig Sty</em><br/>2nd century BCE<br/>Ceramic, earthenware <br/>Gift of Alan and Dena Naylor in memory of Thomas E. Leary.
Funerary Model of a Pig Sty
2nd century BCE
Ceramic, earthenware
Gift of Alan and Dena Naylor in memory of Thomas E. Leary.


In China, during the Eastern Han dynasty (25 BCE–220 CE), it was customary for people to furnish the tombs of loved ones with ceramic figures, called ming-ch'i, that depicted everyday people, places, and things from the living world. The idea was to recreate the comfort and familiarity of this world in the afterlife. They believed that the contents of the tomb should reflect the deceased's life so he or she could continue living comfortably in the afterlife.

Ming-ch'i grew even more popular during the T'ang dynasty (7th–8th century CE) when funerals became extravagant festivals. In 742 CE, the government issued an edict that established how many ming-ch'i people could place in tombs. The number and quality corresponded to a person's social rank and wealth. While notable people were allowed up to 70 pieces, commoners were only allowed about 15.

The person who crafted this model included realistic details of an actual Chinese style pigsty, including piglets, feeding containers—even toilets (located under the roof)!

Look closely at the scene. Describe the everyday details that you see. What can you learn about ancient Chinese culture from this artistic interpretation? What kind of person do you think this set was created for? What makes you say that?

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1. This boat was placed in an Egyptian noble's tomb to help transport his or her soul to the next life. It is a miniature replica of the boats Egyptians used for fishing and transportation in their daily lives. Egypt, Model Boat and Figures, Middle Kingdom (22nd–18th century BCE). Polychromed wood. The William Hood Dunwoody Fund.
2. Ceramic figurines, called haniwa, accompanied deceased Japanese aristocrats in their tombs. They may have been thought to provide protection, comfort, and service in the afterlife. Notice the realistic details of her necklace, hairdo, and medicine bag. Japan (Kofun), Haniwa Figure, 6th century. Earthenware. The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund.
3. An ancient Peruvian civilization called Moche created pottery that faithfully reflected everyday life, such as this prominent couple feasting on seafood. Vessels like this would have accompanied elite people to their tombs, carrying on their status and serving in the afterlife. Moche, Peru, Andean Region. Vessel, ceramic, pigment, 1st–2nd century. William Hood Dunwoody Fund.


January 2013