116 HAN KNEELING COURT ATTENDANT
This Han kneeling woman court attendant (and the accompanying standing male court attendant) were among my earliest acquisitions. They were sold as a pair at a Christie's auction in the US in the 1990s and came with an Oxford thermoluminescence test certificate indicating that the figures were aproximately two thousand years old. (These days fake piece are made from ancient bricks or fragments of old pieces so that the carbon-dating thermoluminescence test today is only suggestive of authenticity - the expert's experienced eye [as with the attribution of paintings], knowledge of the source and various advanced modes of testing remain the most reliable authenticators.) Many examples of such Han court figures are in museum and private collections, but the elegance and grace of this pair is unique. The head was molded separately from the body. The hands were most probably originally of wood and didn't survive (nor did they survive in any other similar such figures). An outline of the attendant's shoes are modeled on the figure's backside. Other Han figures in similar kneeling positions were chariot drivers (most unlikely here) or entertainers (possibly playing a qin or other such instrument - see the Han Sichuan qin player in this collection). However, almost certainly this figure represents a female kneeling court attendant. Such figures are frequently seen in Han painted and incised court representations. Here she is clearly holding or doing something with her hands since they are not in a resting position - but what she was doing must be left to our imagination. The other presumably male figure of the pair clearly was a court attendant and probably held some sort of standard on the end of a pole, as can be seen in many figures in Han reliefs and paintings. The color of this piece is exceptionally well-preserved with red-edging bands to the lady's pure white outer gown and a lighter red edging to the neck of her innermost gown along with her black hair falling in the back from her neck to her shoulders. This sculpture would in any setting be striking for its restrained beauty and purity of form and for the refinement of its execution. It hasn't lost any of its beauty over the ages. It speaks to us with the same elegance and grace as it undoubtedly did to those who viewed it over two thouand years ago.