Han Dynasty Cocoon Jar with Cloud Designs, China (16015UHEM) $2100


H: 11.75”  W: 12.25”  D: 7.5” | FOR SHIPPING INFORMATION CONTACT US AT 213-568-3030

Cocoon jars were mingqi made for placement in tombs to comfort the deceased on their journey to and in their afterlife. An elixir of Immortality made from mulberry leaves or their ashes was placed inside for the deceased to drink and transmigrate into the world of the beyond. Ovoid in shape to resemble a silkworm cocoon, ajar rests on a small trumpet-shaped foot and has a narrow neck and a wide lip at its mouth. Painted after firing with vertical bands dividing it into panels, swirling cloud scrolls, and circular “eye” motifs at each end, this beautiful vessel is in excellent condition for its age with expected paint losses, scrapes, and dirt adhesions.


Unglazed earthenware pottery cocoon jars were used extensively during the Han dynasty as mingqi, items made for placement in tombs to comfort the deceased on their journey to the afterlife. These ancient-pottery vessels were ancestral objects, part of ancestor worship, made to revere and honor the deceased, fulfill  Chinese duties filial piety, and have a ritual rather than utilitarian purpose. Wheel made  with seamless joined parts to form their thin-walled and unusual shape, they were and fired at over 1000 degrees centigrade.  As the silkworm begins in a cocoon, the idea this transmigration may work for humans was reflected in the piece’s shape, symbolic patterns on their surface, and the contents they held. The clouds scroll desigsn on their bodies were intended to evoke a state free from time and earthly limits with full access to the otherworld, ideas similar to images found in Han poetry of the afterlife: having ultimate freedom among the clouds and the “cloud chariots” departed souls could ride to soar upward to the realm of the immortals. Textiles found in Han tombs confirm the Chinese silk industry whose profits fueled China to be a wealthy international trader. Silk and the process by which it was made was so important, it affected Taoist and Confucian thinking and doctrines. Philosophers and alchemists closely examined silkworms’ metamorphoses, alleged silk was a byproduct of the silkworm’s diet, and concluded mulberry leaves were not only medicinal but also had life-prolonging properties that could produce physical change. Ingesting liquids from mulberry leaves or its ashes was considered magical, life extending, and what produced the silkworm’s transformation. The deep interest in alchemy and an elixir for immortality lead alchemists to look for potions to prolong life indefinitely; to write poetry about the immortal afterlife, and resulted with families placing cocoon jars with auspicious designs containing magical mixtures of mulberry leaves in tombs for the souls of the departed to drink for a tranformative afterlife.


Additional information

Place of Origin



Ancient, Han Dynasty


206 BCE-220 CE

Materials and Technique


Dimensions (inches)

Ht: 11.75” W:12.25” D: 7.5”

Dimensions (metric)

Ht: 29.84cm W: 31.11cm D: 19.05


7lbs 5oz


Very good, wear consistent with age and use/no restorations/repairs

Item Number


Shipping Box Size