Model of a watchtower

UnknownSecond half 2sd century AD

Museo d'Arte Orientale

Museo d'Arte Orientale
Torino, Italy

The tower consists of three hollow removable floors, which stand in an almost square courtyard surrounded by a wall (17.5 x 39.9 x 46 cm). At the centre of one of the walled sides is a portico with double doors, each adorned with an embossed pushou mask: the right-hand door is half-open towards the interior. The doorway is covered by a pitched roof, flanked at a lower level by two half roofs with three slopes. In the centre of the courtyard stands the first floor of the tower (h 48.3 cm), whose wide facade has a simple rectangular opening at the bottom (the door) and, higher up, a perpendicular grid stamped with diamond shapes (a window). This level is crowned by a balcony, supported at the corners by four double dougong brackets imitating a wooden structure. On the front side, the parapet features a central grid with diamond shapes and two deep horizontal grooves on either side. A small statue of a bowman stands at each of the four corners of the balcony, some of which are removable and others glued to the building. Modelled in a simple and concise manner, each is dressed in a long tunic and a tall headdress, with a crescent above the head (average height from 13 to 13.8 cm). The second floor of the tower (h 50 cm) is placed in the centre of the balcony and also has a rectangular door on the facade. It is covered by a hip roof, above which there is a raised section crowned by a balcony similar to the previous one. Here, the four archers are all glued to the building. The third and final floor (33.6 x 42.2 x 35.5 cm), which rests on this balcony, has a doorway similar to the other two and a hipped roof with two triangular and two trapezoidal slopes. In this case, the roof is supported at the corners by the usual four double brackets. The ridge line is protruding and the ends are decorated with a downward pointing heart-shaped leaf motif, decorated in the centre with two stamped concentric circles. Raised hips also characterise the corners where the slopes meet, while the ends have similar heart-shaped leaves, but with the tips pointing upwards and decorated with three concentric circles. Finally, each slope has two vertical ribs imitating the ridge of a row of tiles. The roof on the lower level has similar features.
The tower was designed to be viewed from the front - where the few decorative elements are concentrated - and only partially from the side. The statuettes, the front and the sides of the building are covered with an incomplete glaze, whereas the entire back and the inside of the courtyard are unglazed and have a terracotta colour.
These model watchtowers are quite frequently found in the tombs of wealthy landowners in the Central Plains, especially in Henan, from the end of the Han Dynasty. They reflect the problem of protecting estates in this time of crisis, when Northern China experienced the hardship and exodus of small farmers, riots in the countryside and banditry. The watchtowers were made of wood, could be dismantled and transported, and were moved as needed to land that had to be defended. Similar funerary models are found less frequently in Southern China and consist of a single piece.
A tower similar to this one was discovered in 1972 in tomb 3 in Zhangwan, a district of Lingbao in Henan, which dates back to 180-220 BC. Another similar piece is in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. It is probably from Shaanxian and is in fact related to a tower unearthed in tomb 1037 in Liujiaqu, in the same district, which dates back to the Eastern Han dynasty.


  • Title: Model of a watchtower
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Creator Lifespan: 2nd century AD - 2sd century AD
  • Creator Nationality: Chinese
  • Date: Second half 2sd century AD
  • Subjetcs: Funerary sculpture
  • Physical Dimensions: w40 x h113.3 x d46 cm
  • Origins: Henan (?), China
  • Dynasties: Eastern Han
  • Provenance: Regione Piemonte
  • Type: Sculptures
  • Rights: All Rights Reserved - MAO Museo d'Arte Orientale, Turin
  • Medium: Earthenware, green slip

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