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About This Artwork
Wine Vessel (Fanglei), Shang dynasty (c. 1600–c. 1050 B.C.), 12th/11th c. B.C.
45.0 x 24.8 cm (17 3/4 x 9 3/4 in.)
Lucy Maud Buckingham Collection, 1938.17
The bronze vessels produced with sophisticated casting techniques and intricate designs by Chinese artisans of the late Shang dynasty (c. 1700-c. 1050 B.C.) are achievements unrivaled by any other Bronze Age culture. For the ruling elite of ancient China, prestigious objects made of bronze signified supreme political power as well as devout spiritual beliefs and exalted social status. Foremost among these bronzes are vessels that were made for the preparation and offering of food, wine, and water in ceremonial banquets conducted to seek and repay divine ancestral goodwill. Ancient Chinese wine was fermented from grain rather than fruit and, like beer, is best described as a type of millet ale.
This square-shouldered jar for wine storage is animated by a menagerie of imaginary creatures that have been intricately cast onto the surface in several levels of relief. The most prominent of these is a horned ogre mask (later known as a taotie), whose significance remains one of the great enigmas of early Chinese art. Here the taotie, inverted across the roof-like lid, recurs along the body within pendant triangular blades, each of which also contains a wide-eyed cicada at its tip. The cicada is found often on Chinese bronzes, perhaps because its extraordinarily long life cycle carried associations of regeneration. Confronted pairs of jaunty, stylized birds encircle the neck of the vessel, with similarly disposed dragons—each with down-curved head plume and up-curved tail around the widest part of the body. Birds and dragons are separated by a shoulder band of whorl circles, nose-diving dragons, and four fully sculpted bovine heads, two purely decorative and two surmounting lug handles. Two more such handles were cast on below to facilitate lifting. Compact, sharply cast spirals covering both the relief-cast taotie, dragons, and birds, and their receding background impart a shimmering effect to the surface, now covered with thin layers of cuprite red, malachite green, and azurite blue patina.
Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka Shikago Bijutsukan, Chugoku bijutsu meihen ten: Masterpieces of Chinese Arts from the Art Institute of Chicago, Feb. 11-March 21, 1989; traveled to MOA Museum of Art, Tokyo, April 1-May 7, 1989, Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo, May 16-June 19, 1989, cat. 2 p. 132, p. 15 (ill.).
Charles F. Kelley, “A Recent Addition to the Buckingham Bronzes,” Bulletin of Art Institute of Chicago 33, 2 (February 1939), pp. 22-24.
A Picture Book of Chinese Bronzes in the Collections of Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 1940), p. 7.
Florance Waterbury, Early Chinese Symbols and Literature: Vestiges and Speculations (New York, 1942), pls. 39, 70.
Charles Fabens Kelley and Ch’en Meng-chia, Chinese Bronzes from the Buckingham Collection, Art Institute of Chicago/ Lakeside Press, R. R. Donnelley & Sons,1946, frontispiece, pp. 28, 148, frontispiece, pp. 28, 148, pls. 9-11.
Chen Mengjia, In Shu seidoki bunrui zuroku: A Corpus of Chinese Bronzes in American Collections, ed. Matsumaru Michio (Tokyo: Kyoku Shuin, 1977), vol. 1 p. 143, cat. A781; vol. 2, pp. 1102-1105 (ill). Japanese version of Mei diguo zhuyi jieliao de wo guo (Beijing, Kexue Chubanshe, 1962), based on unpublished manuscript by Chen Mengjia, Yin Zhou qingtongqi fenlei tulu.
Minao Hayashi, In Shu jidai seidoki no kenkyu (In Shu jidai seidoki soran ichi) [Conspectus of Yin and Zhou Bronzes], 1, part 2 (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 1984), p. 289, pl. 6.
Robert W. Bagley, Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections (Arthur M. Sackler Foundation and Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University, 1987), p. 108, fig. 138.
Shikago Bijutsukan, Chugoku bijutsu meihen ten: Masterpieces of Chinese Arts from Art Institute of Chicago
(Osaka: Osaka Shiritsu Toyo Toji Bijutsukan, Atami: MOA Bijutsukan, Tokyo: Idemitsu Bijutsukan, 1989), cat. 2 p. 132, p. 15 (ill.).
Elinor Pearlstein and James T. Ulak, Asian Art in the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 1993), p. 18,
Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide (rev. ed). Art Institute of Chicago, 2003, p. 63.
James N. Wood, "The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide, Revised Edition" (Art Institute of Chicago, 2003), p. 63
Matsumaru Michio, In Shu seidoki bunrui zuroku: A Corpus of Chinese Bronzes in American Collections (Tokyo: Kyoku Shuin, 1977) p. 143, 1102,3,4,5.
Purchased from C. F. Yau, New York
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