Two shows could not be more complimentary in tone and emphasis than the Asian Art Museum’s “Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China’s Han Dynasty” and the Met’s “Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties.” I won’t repeat what I said in WSJ reviews (here and here) but instead talk about a few favorite objects. This lamp, for instance. I love its simple clean lines, its humor (that odd-beaked bird twisting round as though to groom its back feathers) and its ingenuity. People would fill the belly with water then pour oil into the shallow dish on the bird’s back. Once lit, the smoke funneled right into that trumpet-like mouth, down the neck and into the water, thus shedding light without smoke.
And here are two other delights: the first (left) is an ornament depicting two men dancing and probably singing — made during the Western Han (206 BC – AD 9) it has the feel of jazz just as (right) the gold ornamentation on what was part of a crossbow holder shares an aesthetic with Art Deco.
And, finally, a medley of other snapshots from the Met’s show to supplement the images that illustrate the review.
from left to right, top to bottom: the lid of a cowrie shell container with a lively market scene (206 BC – AD 9) ; rhino and groom, 2nd cent. BC; lively relief on a brick (AD 25–220); terra-cotta archer, part of the Qin terra-cotta army (221–206 b.c.); lamp with a South Asian-syle figure and hanging from chains in a style that was typical of the Mediterranean (AD 25-220); coffin handle from 2nd cent BC; Han horses and riders made of lacquered wood; detail from the lid of the cowry container.