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Toiletry Case Sets Across Life and Death in Early China (5th c. BCE-3rd c. CE)

Lullo, Sheri A. (2010) Toiletry Case Sets Across Life and Death in Early China (5th c. BCE-3rd c. CE). Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation is an exploration of the cultural biography of toiletry case sets in early China. It traces the multiple significances that toiletry items accrued as they move from contexts of everyday life to those of ritualized death, and focuses on the Late Warring States Period (5th c. BCE) through the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), when they first appeared in burials. Toiletry case sets are painted or inlaid lacquered boxes that were filled with a variety of tools for beautification, including combs, mirrors, cosmetic substances, tweezers, hairpins and a selection of personal items. Often overlooked as ordinary, non-ritual items placed in burials to comfort the deceased, these sets have received little scholarly attention beyond what they reveal about innovations in lacquer technologies. This dissertation presents a contextualized and nuanced understanding of toiletry case sets as enmeshed within rituals, both mundane and sacred. Chapter Two begins with their uses in life, as essential to fulfilling fluctuating social ideals of beauty and, as sets found in association with both females and males, tools through which gender identity was enacted rather than simply reflected. Chapters Three and Four focus on the layers of meaning that toiletries accrued when placed on display during the funerary rituals, arranged within organized tomb layouts, or kept above ground for use in post-burial contexts. These chapters employ approaches to the material culture of death developed by Howard Williams, ideas that are themselves based on the classic sociological model for studying death rituals established by Robert Hertz. Such theories provide a framework for understanding how toiletry items may have affected the corpse, the soul, and the mourners differently. As items used in daily rituals of grooming and adornment, these sets became entangled within the biographies of individuals, ensured the order and beauty of the body into death, and may have acted as potent objects of memory throughout rituals surrounding death. This open inquiry of the toiletry case set demonstrates the potential for objects in early China to be understood as active within social, political and ritual contexts, and contributes to a growing discourse about the multiple meanings of objects.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Lullo, Sheri A.shl31@pitt.eduSHL31
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairLinduff, Katheryn Mlinduff@pitt.eduLINDUFF
Committee MemberWeis, Anneweis@pitt.eduWEIS
Committee MemberBarbieri-Low,
Committee MemberHanks, Bryan Kbkh5@pitt.eduBKH5
Committee MemberGerhart, Karen Mkgerhart@pitt.eduKGERHART
Date: 28 January 2010
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 9 October 2009
Approval Date: 28 January 2010
Submission Date: 11 December 2009
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History of Art and Architecture
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: beauty; China; Han Dynasty; toiletries; toiletry case
Other ID:, etd-12112009-081509
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:10
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:54


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