About This Artwork


Cauldron, Western Zhou dynasty ( 1046–771 BC ), early 9th century BC

49 x 43 cm (19 3/8 x 16 15/16 in.)
Inside of the cauldron, Shi Wang Ding ( 師朢鼎 ):

The Grand Captain's young son Captain Wang says: "Illustriously august
deceased-father Duke Jiu was beautifully capable of making accordant his heart and making wise
his virtue, with which he served the past kings, and gained purity
without flaw. Wang for the first time has gone on to emulate his august deceased-father, respectfully
morning and night taking out and bringing in the king's commands, not daring not
to follow through or to manage. Because of this, the king has not forgotten the sagely man's
descendant, and has greatly praised his accomplishments and awarded him beneficence. Wang dares
in response to extol the Son of Heaven's illustriously fine beneficence, herewith
making for my august deceased-father Duke Jiu this offertory caldron; may Captain
Wang for ten-thousand

Major Acquisitions Centennial Fund, 2005.426

As this monumental cauldron demonstrates, the most distinctive bronze vessels of early China represent important historical documents as well as stunningly powerful works of art. Designed to contain offerings of meat in ritual ceremonies, this vessel was cast with a lengthy inscription on its interior bowl. The text commemorates a solemn ritual ceremony at the imperial court of the Zhou, the second dynasty recorded in Chinese texts, and explains that Captain Wang, a noble official who had been rewarded for his loyal service to the Zhou king, commissioned this vessel to honor his deceased father and record the occasion for succeeding generations. Together with the inscription, the vessel’s shallow profile and austere surface decor date it to the early ninth century B.C. Although the monsterlike masks that project from each leg display animal imagery common on older bronzes, the two registers of hooked, ribbonlike bands that encircle the bowl preserve only traces of early dragon or bird patterns. The transition from zoomorphic to abstract surface designs marks a significant turning point in the art of early Chinese bronzes. Recent archaeological discoveries of similar bronze vessels in China indicate that this cauldron was most likely buried as part of a large hoard.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2013, p. 97.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Publication History

Art Insitute of Chicago: Essential Guide, rev. ed. (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2009) p.83.

Jay Xu, "Captain Wang Speaks: The Re-emergence of a Western Zhou Ding," Orientations, 38, 6 (September 2007).

Wu Dacheng, Kezhai ji gu lu [Collection of Ancient Inscriptions by Kezhai], reprint of 1918 catalogue, together with Shiwen shenggao [Additional draft exegeses of inscriptions]. Shanghai: Shangwu Yinshuguan, 1930), vol. 5, no. 7; Shiwen shenggao, no. 29.

Chen Rentao, Jin Kui lun gu chu ji [Essays on Chinese antiquities—The First Album of King-kwei’s Collection with Explanations]. (Hong Kong: Asiatic Litho. Press, 1952), no. 6, pp. 57-61.

Jessica Rawson, Western Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections (New York and Cambridge: Arthur M. Sackler Foundation and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, 1990), vol. 2, p. 297, fig. 21.6.

Jay Xu, “Shi Wang Ding,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 32, 1 (2006), pp. 30-31 (color pl.)

Ownership History

Allegedly acquired by Zuo Zongtang (1812-85) during the Mohammaden Rebellion (1862-77); gifted by Zuo to unknown collector; subsequently passed to two successive (unknown) collectors; acquired by Chen Rentao [Chen Jen Dao, Ch’en Jen-t’ao] (1906-68); by descent to his son, Chen Tai Chai. Sold by Chen Tai Chai through Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong, to the Art Institute, 2005.

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