Rare Lead Figure of a Courtly Gentleman

Han Dynasty 漢 (206 BC-220 AD) / Wei Dynasty

7 1/8 inches high

Provenance: Anne Bigelow Stern Estate, New York City

Ralph M. Chait Galleries, New York, 1980

A.W.Brankston Collection, England, UK


The figure in semi-profile, wearing a small peaked cap with a triangular flap at the front, his mustachioed face with a soft benign expression, his eyebrows neatly delineated, his simple edged robe, with a thin rope-twist piping particularly visible on the voluminous sleeves that he holds  at his front, the lower part of the robe with folds and a hem above simple boots.


This extremely rare lead figure may originally have formed part of a relief panel or perhaps was an appliqué of some form. It appears to be unique from this period, somewhere between the late Han Dynasty and the Wei Dynasty. It can be favorably compared to figures found on both late Han and Wei relief bricks or stone stele and also to a number of other known lead (or soft metal) figures from the late Zhou dynasty (3rd-2nd Century bc) and Tang Dynasty.

For an example of a slightly later and slightly smaller lead figure of a courtly lady from the Tang Dynasty, see International Exhibition of Chinese Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1935-36, p. 80 and illustration p. 99, no. 1025, from the Collection of Charles L. Rutherston. For an earlier example dated ‘probably Chou (Zhou) Dynasty’ see, Sotheby’s, London, 2 July 1968, lot 11. It is more naïve (as one would expect) than our example, but like ours the face (and the ribs) are both in slight relief.


For an example of a slightly later stone stele from the University Museum, Philadelphia, dated to 525 AD (N. Wei Dynasty) with similar robed figures, see Bradley Smith and Wan-go Weng, China, A History in Art, New York, 1972, p. 110, pl. 111b and figure relief from the Wei Dynasty, that shows some similar characteristics of the period, see Sotheby’s, London, 14 July 1970, lot 65.