Figure of a Man

Japan, Ibaraki Prefecture
Tumulus period, 6th-7th century
Earthenware with traces of pigment
H. 56 in. (142.2 cm); 1979.199

Artist Comments

Bjorn Amelan and Bill T. Jones
The haniwa figure of a man from the sixth or seventh century, Japan's Tumulus period, standing precariously on a cylinder of clay with outstretched arms-as if to balance-is as mysterious in its representation of human anatomy as is the culture that produced him.

This is not a celebratory dancing figure. Tight faced with piercing gaze and tiny arms, it is obviously intended to project an aura of stasis and power. Conditioned as we are to read power and authority in muscular strength, we are bewildered by the "lack of body" and the emphasis placed on the inflated trousers and sharp, funneled skirt covering them. If power and authority are suggested here, they are undermined by the spindly, childlike arms in awkward, frozen reach and the doll's feet, turned inward, barely holding the curved surface of the base.

And yet the figure has command. There is an urgency and aloofness in the expression that seem to imply that the possible destab-ilization below has been taken into account and mastered. The intense reserve of the face is epitomized by tiny eyes, like slits that allow nothing out, but take everything in. In this face there is such confidence that we can imagine this warrior/priest, springing down from his perch, or flying away. The world he commands is represented in fragile clay, suggesting politics, intrigue, and/or natural disaster, but the face speaks of cool assessment, unabating ambition, and determination.

Heri Dono
This male figure is different from the female in that he is more serious with a protective nature. The figure looks regal, a man of importance. However his male attributes are not clearly shown. We assume he's male as he wears armor, but in fact the image is unisex with long hair peeping out from under the helmet. (In a strange way the hair style reminded me of Marilyn Monroe with her 50s female hairstyle.) The garment also suggests that the figure is a female. Closer inspection shows that the clothing consists of a tunic and trousers. This suggests that the figure is Chinese or Japanese, however one can't be certain since facial features give no evidence of ethnicity. The helmet looks like those worn by characters in the comic Asterix and by the Vikings, placing the figure in Scandinavia. The helmet could also be a crown like that the Pope wears. The pointed hat suggests someone of importance, perhaps a prince.

He is obviously a warrior and carries a boomeranglike weapon. The pillarlike legs suggest strength and the object he stands on was presumably dug into the ground to support the standing image. His body is markedly deformed with the greatest emphasis being his legs and the body tapering upwards. The overall shape is that of a pyramid and so the suggestion that he guarded a tomb or stood on top of a tomb is fitting.

In conclusion the image reminds me of the character Arjuna in the Wayank Kulit story of the Mahbharata. Arjuna is a handsome male warrior and is usually played by a female to show the extent of his beauty.

Beth Forer
Haniwa appear easy to make, simple assemblages of basic geometric forms: sphere, cone, cylinder. The cutout eyes and mouth are as basic a rendition of facial features as is possible. The result, however, is a hauntingly vacant expression drawing the viewer into a dark void. There is no sense that this form contains anything. The hollow eyes suck out any possible life. The figure is as devoid of breath as the corpse it is intended to serve. Yet are these eyes non-seeing or all-seeing? They mesmerize the viewer with their blankness, quite a powerful result from merely fettling out small ovals from a slab of clay.

Mary McFadden
The use of earthenware began during the Jomon period, 10,500 to 300 B.C. "Jomon" is translated as cord impressed. A method that pressed and rolled thick rice rope and cord wrapped sticks onto the wet clay then smoothed. Cord designs were used to decorate the tunic worn by this haniwa figure of a man produced during the Kofun period. Kofun means "tumulus" or ancient mound and the period is named after the enormous tombs that were constructed for the ruling elite. These tombs were generally covered with large mounds of earth and were often in the shape of keyholes, surrounded by moats. "Haniwa" means circle of clay. The earliest examples were simple clay cylinders like the base of this figure. The concept of encircling the holy space forming the sacred void was the cornerstone of Japanese culture.

Vessels were placed at the top of the burial mound, along the edges like an underground fence, and at the entrance to the burial chamber. In prehistoric times the earliest places of worship were certain stones of trees or waterfalls. They were marked by lines of stones around them, or by ropes encircling them.

In the late fourth century cylindrical haniwa horses were created. By the fifth and sixth centuries sculptures like this man were found. They functioned as attendants to the deceased and as symbols of his status. This figure wears Jodhpur style pants under his long tunic. His beaded necklace and coronet were part of the formal civilian attire worn by high-ranking members of Kofun period society.

The comma shaped object on the front of his tunic is speculated to be the hilt of a sword, or a jade object called magatama. Possibly it follows a shape of a bear's claw, which would be part of ceremonial decoration in prehistoric times. Later magatama became one of three sacred insignia of emperors' status along with the sword and the mirror.