Unknown2nd century AD

Museo d'Arte Orientale

Museo d'Arte Orientale
Torino, Italy

This three-storey lamp is made up of two sections, corresponding to the lower and upper basins with its supporting element, and eight arms, which are also removable, fitted with bowls for the combustion oil. The lower section is composed of a large basin, placed on a high truncated cone-shaped foot, at the centre of which a hollow column is inserted: this is tapered, crossed in the median part by three rings in relief, and ends with a wider capital underlined by two threads at the bottom and a slight shaping at the top. On the wide and flat edge of the basin there are four equidistant holes in which the same number of curved arms are inserted: each one ends with a crested volatile head and supports, applied on the horizontal part, a shallow cup. The birds have large and round eyes; one of them also has four scroll sketched limbs. The upper part of the lamp consists of a basin with a flat base resting on the capital of the column below. Similar to the lower basin, it differs for the four arms provided with bowls, which in this case end with a horned dragon's head. The column that starts at the center of this second basin, also decorated with grooves and three rings in relief, continues straight and flares upwards to form the body of a bird in the round: it has a long curved neck, hooked beak and very high jagged crest; the wings are spread upwards; the large printed tail rises even higher, perpendicular to the body like that of a peacock. The junction lines of the molds are clearly distinguished, corresponding to the neck, wings and tail of the bird, applied later to the bulb that constitutes the body. Three holes, made under the tail and under the wings, served as vents. A small ringed column is grafted onto the back of the bird and supports, spreading to the top, a rather large cup that concludes the structure of the lamp. The thin glazing covers unevenly all the elements that make up the object.
The lower half of the lamp is 30.9 cm high. This type of terracotta lamp is widespread in the tombs of the Eastern Han in Henan, Hebei, Shandong and Jiangsu. Specimens similar to this were brought to light in two tombs in Liujiaqu (Shaanxian), Henan, dated to the end of the dynasty. Another one, similar but with only one floor, is found in the Sankōkan collection in Tenri, Japan. The most famous example remains, in any case, the one coming from the tomb of Qilihe near Jianxi, in Henan: it is a lamp more complex than this, which presents a particularly rich iconography. It is not beyond the possibility that the funerary role of some lamps whose effect can evoke those of a tree, is comparable to that of the "coin trees".


  • Title: Lamp
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Creator Lifespan: 2nd century AD - 2nd century AD
  • Creator Nationality: Chinese
  • Date: 2nd century AD
  • Physical Dimensions: w36 x h79 cm
  • Origins: China (Henan?), China
  • Dynasties: Eastern Han
  • Provenance: Regione Piemonte
  • Type: Lamps
  • Rights: All Rights Reserved - MAO Museo d'Arte Orientale, Turin
  • Medium: Pinky buff earthenware, green underglaze

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