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Guide to Early Chinese Ceramics

Han Dynasty Ceramics
206 B.C. - A.D. 220

The Han dynasty is notable for its concentration on organized ceramic production. Mass-produced functional vessels, some stamped with place names and government offices, suggest that a true nationwide industry had come into existence and that some ceramic workshops were already state controlled. Molds aided tremendously in the manufacture of identical vessels, but the most important technical innovation was the development of lead glazing. These low-fired glazes were colored with copper to produce green, or iron to create yellow or brown. The toxicity of lead however meant that these new glazes were best suited to mortuary pottery rather than daily use.

While soft-bodied lead-glazed wares were manufactured largely in central China, the coastal region of southern China continued the production of high-fired stoneware incorporating a wood or ash glaze with a yellow-green color range that can be considered an early form of celadon. The expanded Han repertoire also included painted grey ware, which often imitated lacquer ware, burnished black ware, and stamped and incised decoration both glazed and unglazed.

Han ceramic tomb figurines, architectural models, farmyard animals, and horses made specifically for the tomb (ming-ch'i) are justifiably famous.


Figure of a Squatting Drummer
Figure of a Drummer

Hu Storage Jar
Hu Storage Jar

Horse and Rider
Horse and Rider

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