Gansu Province, China
Earthenware with painted decoration; Diam. 11 in. (27.9 cm)
Anonymous Loan (L.1996.55.6)
Pottery with painted decoration is among the most remarkable of the archaeological remains from Neolithic cultures that flourished along the banks of the Yellow River. One of China's earliest and most widespread, the Yangshao culture is divided into two branches: the nuclear Yangshao, located in Henan and Shaanxi provinces, and the subsequent Majiayao (or Gansu Yangshao), situated in Gansu and parts of Qinghai Province. Both branches are subdivided into six phases, named after specific archaeological sites, which share architectural forms, stone implements, and high-fired earthenware. However, the shapes and decorations of these ceramics vary, and earthenware from the northwest is distinguished from that of earlier periods by the complexity and density of the designs. The flowing curvilinear forms painted on this shallow basin typify ceramics associated with the Majiayao phase. On the outside wall, "hand" motifs are painted in a natural, fluid brush line; on the inside wall, an ambiguity between figure and ground is created by the prominent role of unpainted areas within the overall design.