Han Dynasty Rock Crystal Mortuary Pig
Han Dynasty, 206BC-AD 220
length: 11.4cm, width: 2.7cm, weight: 175g
This rare but simple and beautiful representation of a pig has been cut from a single, long piece of rock crystal. The style is known as the ‘Han eight cut’, meaning the craftsman produced the shape of the animal with a minimum number of cuts. The result tends to be abstract but nonetheless a clear representation of the animal.
The example here is recumbent with an upturned snout, two long eye sockets, curves to suggest four legs or feet, and a tail that has been drilled through with a single hole.
The rock crystal itself has plenty of interesting inclusions as well as an element of opalescence. There are signs of the item having been buried – soil residue is evident in the crevices.
Such a representation is modelled after the more common jade examples, which were used in the Han Dynasty burials; indeed rock crystal examples are very rare. Glass examples also are known. One such example is in the Muwen Tang Collection of Chinese Glass (see Lam, 2012 for an illustration.) The pigs were placed in the hands of the deceased. Pigs symbolise wealth and so such a placement would allow the deceased to carry wealth into their next life.
Two pairs of rock crystal pigs, dated to the Eastern Han Dynasty are in Hong Kong’s Taoshi Zhai Collection. And jade examples are illustrated in Johnston & Chan (2011, p. 77). A related jade example, described erroneously as a shroud weight and acquired in 1937, is in the British Museum – see
The example here is in excellent condition.
Chow, R., Sparking Splendours: The Art of Ancient Chinese Carvings on Rock Crystal and Agate – the Taoshi Zhai Collection, The Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2000.
Johnston, J., & L.P. Chan,
5,000 Years of Chinese Jade: Featuring Selections from the National Museum of History, Taiwan and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, San Antonio Museum of Art, 2011.
Lam, P., ‘Iridescent Jewels: The Muwen Tang Collection of Chinese Glass’, in
Arts of Asia, March-April 2012.
private English collection.
Inventory no.: 4189