skip to Main Content

Earthenware Stove with Siling,
“Four Spirits,” Décor

Length: 31.5 cm. (12 3/8 in.)
Width: 21.0 cm. (81/4 in.)
Height: 11.9 cm. (41/2 in.)

Western Han dynasty
2nd-1st century BCE


(NOTE: Further information is provided below the detailed images.)




By around the 2nd century BCE the Siling, “Four Spirits,” had come to represent in the thought of Han-dynasty intellects, the four cardinal directions: the Green Dragon of the East, the White Tiger of the West, the Vermilion Bird of the South, and the Black Tortoise of the North. The decoration on this earthenware model of a stove, where the four spirits appear, each on its appropriate side, is therefore a very early example of the presence of this deeply meaningful group in Chinese art. Later, by the fourth century, each spirit or animal would be codified as a signifier of a season, a color, and an element, and each imbued with its own unique characteristics.

During the Han dynasty a domestic perspective was introduced into tomb paraphernalia. This included food preparation. The butchering of animals is depicted in ceramic sculpture as well as chefs seated at work at their stoves. Ceramic models of cooking stoves are found so regularly in Han and early post-Han tombs that one assumes the stove to have been essential furnishing in a well-appointed tomb. In the example here, a human figure, or is it a sprite, is positioned in front of the dragon, and two fish are laid out on the stovetop, on their way to being consumed. The stove décor presents a compelling integration of philosophical belief and everyday domestic occupation.


[Please download the PDF writeup below for further comparisons.]
Download PDF File
Back To Top