Female Attendant

North China
Western Han period, 2nd century B.C.E.
Earthenware with slip and traces of pigment
H. 21 1/2 in. (54.6cm); 1979.110

Artist Comments

Ping Chong

How many centuries did she stand at attention accompanying her lord to the netherworld in the blackness of royal tomb? Under what circumstances did the light of day blind her and then reveal to her the sights and smells of a China irrevocably changed? When did she, a humble personage, never intended as an objet d'art become an objet d'art? Why does the visible evidence of time wrought on her being, the discoloration, the chips and cracks move us so? Is it because she reminds us of the endless suffering of the Chinese poor and by extension the poor of the world who continue to be exploited by the rich and powerful? In her erect quietude we feel her stoicism, her forbearance, her eternal dignity in an essentially unjust world.

Yong Soo Min
I am powerfully drawn to her. She compels me to empathize with her. I identify with her broad, flat, simply defined face and flat feet. The irregular patch of redness around her face along with the marred and dirtied surface enhance the sense of pathos that she engenders, given the emotional and social damage derived from her station in life. She stands tentatively though with such rigidity in the slim hips, as if to render herself so self-contained, self-restrained, and diminutive, lest she take up any unwarranted space. And although she appears quite vulnerable in all her exposed humility and servitude, she nevertheless commands the kind of honor and dignity of someone who has nothing left to lose.

I feel eternal gratitude to the anonymous artist who fashioned her with such honesty, compassion, and conviction. It's a seemingly simple and stylized portrait with such economy of line and form yet it conveys a powerful sense of individuality, of an actual person in all her complexity.