In this activity students will explore the use of sculptural artworks in Ancient Chinese burial practices and enrich their understanding of the meanings and messages in ritual objects. They will develop analytical and interpretive skills through examining an example of traditional Chinese funerary earthenware. Imagining a unique composite creature of their own, they will produce a collage which represents their ideas.
Look at the related works and use the following discussion prompts to explore the use of art in cultural and social practices with your class:
The ancient Chinese believed in an afterlife, a life in which people who had died would continue to live. The afterlife was believed to co-exist in parallel with the world of the living. Objects and figures were often placed in a person’s tomb to guarantee safe passage into the afterlife, and to protect and serve them. Sometimes these objects were real items, and at others, they were models made of clay.
Often when a great Emperor was buried, living animals and even human beings were sacrificed and entombed as a provision for the ruler’s afterlife. This ritual was eventually abandoned, and humans, animals, and other precious items and everyday objects were replaced with ceramic replicas for entombment.
Guardian spirits were protective figures made from earthenware clay composed of lots of parts of different animals. This example has a human face, a bird’s wings, an elephant’s ears, a lion’s body, and legs and hoofs of a deer or horse. The figurine also represents Tubo, the earth spirit or lord of the underworld. He has the power to ward off demons and evil spirits and was placed in tombs to guard the body of the deceased ruler.
Read more about ancient Chinese burial practices and related works in the NGV’s collection here.
Students design and create their composite creature artwork through the following steps:
Students show their work to a partner, a small group or the class and share: