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Asian art

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Architectural tower: tomb model

1st century-2nd century


Unknown Artist


Pottery models of buildings, horses and other animals, military personnel, servants and courtiers were made to furnish the tombs of rulers and royalty in early China. Thus endowed, the tomb became a replica of the deceased's life on earth. Pottery facsimiles or 'mingqi' have become the most illustrative and evocative images of life in ancient China, as well as a poignant demonstration of the Chinese belief in the afterlife. The production of these pottery models stimulated one of China's most distinctive and unique artistic traditions, which flourished during the Han and Tang dynasties. This unusually large model of a four-storey watchtower is manned by guards holding crossbows on the lower level, and by alert and watchful sentinels above. Every architectural detail is observed: in the circular roof tile ends, the ornate quatrefoil ornaments on the corners, the door and gate fittings and the overall construction methods. Since most Han dynasty buildings were constructed from wood and have not therefore survived, such models are the most accurate records of architecture in early dynastic China.

Art Gallery Handbook, 1999. pg.247.


Other Titles

Model of a Watchtower


Place where the work was made

Henan Province China


1st century-2nd century

Media category


Materials used

earthenware with a low fired green lead glaze


144.8 x 38.5 x 38.5 cm :

a - top, 39 x 35 x 33 cm

b - upper middle, 34 x 35 x 33 cm

c - middle, 35.4 x 38.5 x 38.5 cm

d - lower middle, 52 x 34.5 x 33.3 cm

e - base, 26.4 x 27.7 x 16.5 cm

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Edward and Goldie Sternberg Chinese Art Purchase Fund 1992


Not on display

Accession number



Where the work was made
Henan Province

Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 16 publications


Angelo Calandra and Grace Ciavarella, SOSE: Studies of society and environment, 'Everyday life under the Han Dynasty', pg. 118-119, Milton, 2000, 118 (colour illus.). Secondary school text book.

Yin Cao, The Connoisseur and the Philanthropist: 30 years of the Sternberg Collection, 'Chinese Art', pg. 12-23, Sydney, 31 Jan 2014, 14 (colour illus.).

Edmund Capon, The Connoisseur and the Philanthropist: 30 years of the Sternberg Collection, 'The connoisseur and the philanthropist: the creation of a collection', pg. 5- 10., Sydney, 31 Jan 2014, 5.

Edmund Capon, Look, 'Great Gifts: Great Patrons', pg. 20-21, Heidelberg, Aug 1994, 20 (colour illus.), 21.

Edmund Capon, Look: 1953-2003 celebrating 50 years, 'Goldie Sternberg 1921-2003', pg. 23, Sydney, May 2003, 23 (colour illus.).

Joanna Capon, Art and Australia (Vol. 41, No. 4), 'Goldie Sternberg. Benefactor', pg. 618-620, Sydney, Jun 2004-Aug 2004, 618-619, 620 (colour illus.).

Willow Weilan Hai, Art of China, 'The Schloss Collection', pg. 32, Hong Kong, Jan 1992, 32. This reference was provided by L. Schloss.

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Asian Collection: East Asia', pg. 246-287, Sydney, 1999, 247 (colour illus.). See 'Further Information' for text.

Candace Lewis (Curator), Into the afterlife: Han and Six dynasties Chinese tomb sculpture from the Schloss Collection, Poughkeepsie, 1990, cover page (colour illus.). plate no. 23

Candace J. Lewis, Orientations, 'Tall towers of the Han', pg. 45-54, Hong Kong, Aug 1990, 50, 51 (colour illus.) 52-54.. 10

Candace J. Lewis, Spirit of Han, 'Tall pottery, towers, and their archaeological contexts', pg. 56, Singapore, 1991, 56. This reference was provided by L. Schloss.

Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Tomb Sculpture', Sydney, 2003, 80 (colour illus.).

Jackie Menzies, AGNSW Collections, 'Asian Art - India, South-East Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan', pg. 173-228, Sydney, 1994, 190 (colour illus.).

Wendy Symonds (Editor), Look, Asian Art Galley New Courses, Heidelberg, Feb 1998, 20 (colour illus.).

Judith White, Look, 'Bringing Australia Asian culture', pg. 36-37, Melbourne, Apr 2000, 37 (colour illus.).

unknown author, Retro active 1: Stage 4 World History, 'Everyday life under the Han Dynasty', pg. 126-127, Milton, 1999, 126 (colour illus.).