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Chinese Bronze Ritual Vessel, Hu

Chinese Bronze Ritual Vessel, Hu


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A bronze gui was a ritual vessel used for the purpose of inscribing recorded events that could be relayed to Chinese ancestral spirits through food offerings. The practice began with the Shang Dynasty and was later adopted by the Zhou Dynasty . This particular vessel is from the Zhou period (1100-1000 BCE) in western China. The vessel's inscription tells of Kang Hou (King Wu's brother) and Mei Situ's success over the Shang and their resulting land allocations in Wei for their efforts to protect the Zhou.

The Shang and Zhou Dynasties were responsible for the Chinese transformation from stone and iron use to a great deal of bronze use. Zhou artisans were able to create bronze ritual vessels like the one in the picture by creating an alloy of copper and zinc or also copper and lead. This alloy resulted in a bluish grey tint which can be seen in the image of the bronze gui. Bronze technology in ancient China was very advanced, especially for the Shang, as the first man-made alloy.

The process of creating bronze ritual vessels began with the labor intensive mining of the copper ore and zinc ore. Then the two ores were smelted together (alloying process). Next, ancient Chinese metallurgists created a mold of the vessel that could then be used to cast the piece. This process not only took high amounts of labor, but also took time and precision to successfully complete each vessel.

The bronze gui depicted in the image is located today in the Asia gallery of the British Museum .


Bronze ritual wine vessel hu

A bronze covered wine vessel, hu, the pear shaped body supported on a circular foot cast in imitation of twisted rope. The vessel itself is cast in four sections. The slightly waisted neck terminates into a flared mouth. The vessel is decorated with seven bands of low-relief pattern of densely packed meanders and raised dots. In between these bands of low-relief pattern are six plain, concave bands. A chain consisting of double-eyed links is joined by a yoke-shaped handle, which has monster mask finials and is attached to two large taotie masks applied just below the neck of the vessel. Four tiny ring handles, issuing from taotie masks, are attached to the neck of the vessel. The four rings correspond to four similar rings attached to the cover, which is decorated with a central design of four comma-shapes, surrounded by a repeat of the low-relief pattern found on the vessel. The vessel has a subtle grey-green patina overall.

Bronze hu, according to record of Zhou Li and some bronze inscriptions, were used as wine containers in sacrificial ceremonies or larger banquets in ancient times. Bronze hu of this type, typically set on a low ring foot patterned to resemble twisted rope, with a lid attached to a long chain handle and four movable rings at the neck, have been recovered in central and southern China, including Henan, Hebei, Shandong, and Guangdong provinces.1 Archaeological excavations have provided evidence that ropes were most probably passed between the rings around the neck and the corresponding ones on the lid so as to hold the lid firmly in place while the vessel was being carried about. If so, this feature, like the chain handle, clearly facilitate transport, which supports the likelihood that hu of this type were made especially for troops or for the court in transit.2 Various bronze hu of similar form, with slight variations, have been published. The two closest comparable examples, of a nearly identical shape, with seven bands of low-relief pattern and dated to the late 6th century BC, are respectively in the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, in Cambridge, Massachusetts (fig. 1)3 and in the Stewart M. Marshall collection, which was exhibited at the Stanford University Museum of Art in 1958.4 According to Watson, these bronzes are known as the ‘Xinzheng’ (Hsin Cheng) style. The present example clearly falls into this style.5 Slightly smaller bronze hu of very similar style but with only five bands around their bodies, and dated to the same period or slightly later, are respectively in the Meiyintang collection,6 the Richard J. Salisbury collection exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1982 and the China House Gallery, China Institute in America in 1991,7 and also in the collection of the British Museum.8 A very similar bronze vessel was included in Ben Janssens Oriental Art 2003 catalogue.9

Provenance: Private collection, Europe

  1. Tao, Wang, Chinese Bronzes from the Meiyintang Collection, Paradou Writing, London, 2009, p. 96
  2. So, J. Eastern Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, vol. III, Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, New York, 1995, p. 250
  3. So, J. op. cit. fig. 42.2, p. 251
  4. Arts of the Chou Dynasty- February 21 to March 28, 1958, Stanford University Museum of Art, Stanford, 1958, no. 54
  5. Tao, Wang, op. cit. p. 96 cited Watson, W. Ancient Chinese Bronzes, London, Faber, 1962, pp. 54-8
  6. Tao, Wang, op. cit. no. 43, pp. 96-7
  7. Chase, W. T. Ancient Chinese Bronze Art – Casting the Precious Sacral Vessel, China House Gallery, China Institute in America, New York, 1991, no, 26, pp. 62-3 this piece was formerly published in Thorp, R. L. and Bower, V. Spirit and Ritual- The Morse Collection of Ancient Chinese Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1982, no. 23, p. 37
  8. Watson, W. op. cit. no. 76a
  9. Ben Janssens Oriental Art catalogue, 2003, pp. 24-25


Fig. 1 Bronze ritual vessel, hu
Arthur M. Sackler Museum, in Cambridge, Massachusetts


Teaching ideas

Ask the students to bring from home containers used for the cooking and serving of food and drink. Investigate them, thinking about what materials are used, exactly how the containers are used, how the design matches the function and whether they are everyday or special objects. Then look at the zun and the other vessels in A bigger picture and consider the same questions.

Use the British Museum’s Ancient China website to find out more about tombs and ancestors. The website includes an interactive exploration of an early Chinese tomb and a Challenge where students select suitable objects to go into a tomb.

With the Challenge section in the British Museum’s Ancient China website as a starting point, ask the students to design the contents of a similar tomb using modern objects. Discuss why they have chosen what they have and ask them to consider how these objects would appear to an archaeologist who excavates them 3000 years in the future. Would the modern objects survive as well as the ones from the Shang tombs have?

Here are some activities and enquiries focusing on other aspects of the zun.

What was the zun used for? Who used it? What does this tell us about ancient Chinese beliefs about the afterlife? Do Chinese people still believe in the importance of ancestors today, 4000 years later? Do they still make offerings to them?

Investigate how the bronze zun was made. Use the diagram of how the piece-mould method worked and the video from the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in About the object. Use a simple object and your own chosen modelling material to make simple piece-moulds to demonstrate the technique.

The zun and other ritual vessels are very sophisticated both in shape and in decoration. Ask students to invent a new ceremony or choose one they are familiar with. Then invite them to think how a vessel might be used in this ceremony and then to design their own vessel. Think about function, materials, size and decoration. Compare with the zun. Compare also the 19th century porcelain gu in For the classroom.

Look closely at the gui, ding, hu and jue in A bigger picture. You will see different forms of the same monster mask decoration, called a tao tie mask. We do not know precisely what it means, but it is found on bronze vessels right through the Bronze Age. Make a list of some mythical creatures from different cultures. What do the students think they mean? Why do so many cultures use animals like this? Ask them to think of a monster that symbolises an idea and to design a mask of the creature.

The following questions aim to encourage broader historical enquiry.

The Chinese Bronze Age began around 2000 BC. How does this compare with the Bronze Ages of other ancient civilisations? Create a timeline showing these different dates. How do they compare? Is there any evidence that one influenced the development of any of the others?

How did bronze change societies?

Consider aspects such as the need for access to increasing amounts of mineral resources which may not have been available close to home and the technology needed to extract the metals, make the bronze and then make objects. Students might also look at the growth of population centres where wealth was concentrated and the development of social elites with control of and access to the metalwork.

Is history about the rich?

Most of the objects we find from Bronze Age cultures belonged to rich and powerful people. How does this affect our understanding of their societies? Why do we not find as much material belonging to ordinary people? Is it more important to know about the rulers or about the ordinary people?

How similar were early civilisations?

Compare the Shang tomb practices with burial traditions in other early civilisations such as Egypt and Mesopotamia. Investigate whether there were any connections between the cultures that would explain the similarities. What might any similarities tell us about fundamental human attitudes to life and death? Compare other aspects of civilisation to see how different cultures dealt with similar situations.


A Jue Is A Chinese Ritual Bronze Tripod Vessel

The Jue is a wine vessel with a body of narrow elliptical or circular section. It has a large open spout for pouring, and opposite this a flattened and extended lip there is a loop handle on the side of the body. The vessel stands on three legs of triangular section, that spread a little.

At the root of the spout are two short capped columns, one on each side. If the vessel bears an inscription, this generally appears on the body under the loop of the handle. The flattened elliptical type is the more primitive form, and for the most part pre-dates the finds at Anyang, and is perhaps datable to a period before 1350 B.C.

The type as a whole was no longer made after the end of the Early Zhou, and it is possible that most of the surviving examples are of Shang date.

The decoration may be sparing or extremely lavish, and flanges sometimes extend up the spout and on the extended rear lip.

Related Posts:

Chinese Antique Valuations And Appraisals

Do you own a piece of Chinese porcelain or an oriental work of art that you would like to know more about, such as age, history and value?

Then you should really consider using our Chinese Antique Valuation Service as the last thing you want to do is risk under selling the piece due to lack of knowledge or ill gotten advice.


E. Other Common Bronze Implements

Incense Burners

LÚ 炉 爐 , 鑪) Incense censer, regardless of shape.

Long after the end of the Bronze Age (even up to the present) reproductions of many different bronze vessels were used as antiquarian incense burners.
XŪN 熏 薰 To perfume, hence a term used for any implement which may be used to perfume, including incense burners.

Musical Instruments

GǓ 鼓 Any sort of drum. The most important bronze ones come in a range of sizes and usually date from the Hàn 汉 dynasty (period 6, roughly 200 BC to 200 AD). They are often quite large, like the one shown here from Chicago's Field Museum, where it has been an object of eager pounding for generations of school-age visitors (including me as a kid). Similar drums were produced especially in south China and southeast Asia.
(Most museums don't let kids whack at their drums, and they are probably right. But the Chicago drum seems to be surviving just fine. It is cast metal after all, and it was originally made to be pounded!)
ZHŌNG 钟 鐘 A “bell,” sometimes suspended with the open end downward and sometimes positioned with the open end at the top. Chinese bells were played by striking from the outside with a wooden hammer.

(Language note: The same word is used for a kind of bottle.)
BIĀN ZHŌNG 编钟 編鐘 Chime set of tuned bells suspended in rows to be struck by hammers. Sets of various sizes have been found containing up to sixteen bells. Each of the bells shown here can play two notes, depending upon where it is struck, so the set of seven is potentially a set of fourteen notes.
CHÚN 錞 錞 A “small mouthed” bell, played with the opening toward the bottom and suspended by a toggle or sculpture on the slightly bulbous top.
BIĀN QÌNG 编磬 編磬 Chime of sixteen musical stones suspended in two rows.
NÁO 铙 鐃 Percussion instrument, probably a carriage bell

Miscellaneous Tools

JIÀN 鉴 鑑 Mirror.

In no part of the ancient world were there mirrors that anybody would want to use today, and bronze mirrors were by no means the best of them, at least if modern attempts at reproducing them are to be trusted.

They were, however, shiny, which made them interesting enough to give them cosmic associations. They may have been used in exorcism, but a large number of them also have clearly religious (Daoist) symbols on the "back" (non-flat) side. The handle was apparently a cord passed through a hole across the lump in the center.

(Language note: the same word is used for a kind of “punch bowl.”)
DĒNG 灯 燈 Oil lamp, regardless of shape.
GǍO 镐 鎬 A kind of hoe
GŌU 钩 鉤 Generic term for a hook
HÉ 盒 Generic term for a box. Although the box theoretically can be made of bronze, the term normally includes small ceramic or lacquer boxes designed to hold cosmetics, pins, small desk objects, and the like.

Bronze Weapons

DUÌ 镦 鐓 Butt and ferrule for spear handle.
FŪ 鈇 鈇 Ax or hatchet. Contrasts with yuè, a large ax.
GĒ 戈 Dagger-axe or halberd
JIÀN 箭 Arrow
JIÀN 剑 劍 , 劎 Double-edged sword
MÁO 茅 Spear, spear head
YUÈ 钺 鉞 Large ax. Contrasts with fū, a small ax. Although bronze actions can be functional, they competed poorly with stone and eventually iron, so even when undecorated, like the one on the right, it seems likely that they were ceremonial. the heavily decorated one here was clearly intended as a prestigious work of art, not intended for actual use except perhaps in a rare and purely ritual context.

Chinese Bronze Ritual Vessel, Hu - History

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    Exploring the ritual significance of ancient Chinese bronzes, this exhibition sheds new light on innovations of form and ornamentation, and the advanced techniques of casting of these stunning objects dating from the Shang to the Han Dynasties (1600 BCE to 220 CE). Bronze designs influenced other art forms in China, and later examples in jade, blue and white ceramics, and cloisonné will also be featured.

    Admission to this exhibition is free.

    Hours

    Thursday – Friday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
    Saturday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

    During Thanksgiving week:

    Monday, November 23 – Sunday, November 29, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
    Closed Thursday, November 26.

    Photography

    Photography of the exhibition without flash is permitted.

    Family Museum Quest
    Monday, November 23 – Sunday, November 29, 2020, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
    Participate in a family-friendly scavenger hunt using a free app! All children completing the game will receive a prize.

    Docent Tours
    Friday, November 27 – Sunday, November 29, 2020 (Times vary)
    Join us for your last chance to experience this exhibition with a personalized, guided tour by our experienced docents.

    Preview Reception
    Wednesday, February 26, 2020, 6–8 p.m.
    Celebrate the new exhibition on view in the Louisa Stude Sarofim Gallery.

    Monthly Tours

    To schedule a group tour outside of these designated days, please fill out the form below or contact Jennifer Kapral, Director of Education & Outreach, at [email protected]

    School Tours

    School tours, facilitated by the education department staff and volunteers, provide educationally rich interactive opportunities for students to learn about Asian art, culture, and traditions. These free tours are open to all public, private, charter, alternative, and home schools. Visits take place on weekdays, Tuesday through Friday, for one to two hours.

    All school tours and subsequent interactive projects are tethered to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and district curriculum standards. They may include:

    Docent-led tour of exhibitions in the Louisa Stude Sarofim Gallery

    "Introduction to Asia” PowerPoint Presentation highlighting essential information about Asian art, culture, geography, and politics

    Guided tour of the Texas Center and discussion of its unique architecture

    Interactive projects based on the current exhibition (unavailable during summer months, June through August)

    At least two weeks’ notice is required for school tours. Additional advance notice is required for groups larger than 25.

    For more information, please contact Jennifer Kapral, Director of Education & Outreach, at [email protected]

    HOUSTON, February 27, 2020 — Asia Society Texas Center (ASTC) opens a new exhibition on February 29, featuring almost 100 pieces spanning over three millennia of ancient Chinese bronze artwork and later eras inspired by the Bronze Age. Eternal Offerings: Chinese Ritual Bronzes showcases the artistry of hundreds of artisans and craftsmen whose creations were used in ancestral traditions and burial rites. The exhibition explores humanity’s universal desire to honor one’s ancestors and highlights some of the earliest examples of the artwork and methods developed for that purpose. Though today’s technology has devised many ways to honor loved ones, this exhibition demonstrates that the concept of honoring those who came before is inherent to the human experience.

    The bronzes originate from 1600 BE to 220 CE and represent the largest, most prestigious collection ever seen in Texas. The exhibition also features digital media illustrating the process of casting the bronzes, widely considered to be among the most advanced metalwork before modern times. The objects on display include pots and other serving vessels, bells, spears, daggers, and mirrors. Many are intricately shaped like animals, such as a dragon, owl, water buffalo, and a horse. The ornamentation is even more impressive given that the molds were always destroyed as a by-product of the casting process, guaranteeing that each object was completely unique.

    As in many cultures both ancient and modern, rituals and ceremonies honoring departed family members were a pivotal part of Chinese society. Ancestors’ names were often cast into the pieces, and some pieces chronicled specific events in their lives. Inscription styles and the level of detail evolved over the centuries, allowing the exhibition viewers to witness first-hand the evolution of an ancient art form that eventually reached across the globe.

    A collection from the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the exhibition contains not just serving objects and animal shapes, but weapons and musical instruments too. Bells were an important part of rituals connecting the living to the dead, and music was a crucial a part of honoring the dead in ancient ceremonies, just like today’s funerals and religious services.

    In addition to highlighting bronze artistry, the exhibition will put bronze objects side by side with later artworks influenced by the Bronze Age, such as jade, blue and white ceramics, and cloisonné.

    Given the rarity of a collection this size, this is the only opportunity that will be offered anywhere in Texas for history buffs, art fans, and the public at large to see these works.

    Fast Facts

    • Exhibition dates: Saturday, February 29 – Sunday, August 9, 2020
    • Admission: Free for Members and children ages 12 and under $5 for Students and Seniors with ID $8 for Nonmembers
    • Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

    Related Programs

    • Monthly docent-led tours on Saturday, March 14, and Saturday, April 11, 3 p.m. | Free for Members and children ages 12 and under, $5 for Students and Seniors, $8 for Nonmembers

    Eternal Offerings: Chinese Ritual Bronzes is organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Generous support for the exhibition and related catalogue provided by the Blakemore Foundation, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Bei Shan Tang Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, and Christie's.

    Exhibitions at Asia Society Texas Center are presented by Nancy C. Allen and Leslie and Brad Bucher. Major support comes from Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen and Mary Lawrence Porter, as well as The Brown Foundation, Inc., Houston Endowment, and the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance. Generous funding also provided by The Anchorage Foundation of Texas, The Clayton Fund, Japan Foundation New York, Texas Commission on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Wortham Foundation, Inc., the Franci Neely Foundation, Olive Jenney, Nanako and Dale Tingleaf, and Ann Wales. United Airlines is our official airline partner. Additional support comes from The Southmore. Funding is also provided through contributions from the Exhibitions Patron Circle, a dedicated group of individuals and organizations committed to bringing exceptional visual art to Asia Society Texas Center.


    Ritual wine vessel (hu)

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    Citation


    An insight into the life of the elite

    Bronze was the most precious material available at this time and was only used for making very important items such as these elaborate ritual vessels, weapons and fittings for chariots. Their shapes, however, show us that they were ornate versions of everyday items used for cooking and serving food and drink. Archaeologists have excavated large numbers of much cruder vessels made of grey pottery that would have been in more general use.

    Bronze vessels from the late Shang period sometimes carry inscriptions cast into their inside. From these it is clear that the vessels were made specifically for ritual use, either for making direct sacrifices or in formal banquets shared in honour of the ancestors. Our knowledge of life in the Shang is very much limited to elite life as the major sites that have been excavated are palaces and tomb complexes. The picture that we have is of a life in which ritual played a very significant part.


    Chinese Bronze Ritual Vessel, Hu - History

    Following Sotheby&rsquos lead with a late Shang bronze vessel that fetched US$5.4m yesterday, the third day of Christie&rsquos New York Asia Week sale was just as palpable.

    A total of five Chinese archaic ritual bronzes from the Daniel Shapiro collection went under the hammer earlier today, with the Luboshez Gong being the star lot of the day and realized US$8.6m with fees. The same buyer went on a little shopping spree and took home a total of three lots.

    The sale raked in US$10,139,000 after premium, almost doubled its presale low estimate total of US$5,080,000, with the sell-through rate being 80% by lot.

    Lot 505 | The Luboshez Gong

    A bronze ritual wine vessel and cover, gong

    Late Shang dynasty, Anyang, 13th-12th century BC

    • The collection of Captain S. N. Ferris Luboshez, USN (Ret'd) (1896-1984), acquired in China prior to 1949
    • Important Chinese Ceramics, Bronzes and Works of Art: The Collection of Captain S. N. Ferris Luboshez, USN (Ret'd) Sotheby -Parke Bernet, New York, 18 November 1982, lot 12
    • Private collection, Switzerland, 1982-1996
    • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, 1996
    • The collection of Daniel Shapiro, New York

    Estimate: US$4,000,000 - 6,000,000

    Auctioneer Rahul Kadakia opened the lot at US$2,400,000 and the bids came cautiously in at first. Clients represented by Christie&rsquos specialists from New York and Hong Kong remained active throughout the 12-minute proceedings.

    The price went up steadily at US$200,000 bid increments. After some 23 bids, it was Tina Zonars, Christie's Co-Chairman of the Asian Art Department, who put an end to the cross-continent bidding war. Her client, paddle number 1308 eventually snatched up the prized lot, bringing an end to the sale with a round of applause from the saleroom. Together with lot 501 and 503 below, the same buyer spent over US$9m in this sale alone.

    The rear of the vessel takes form of an owl and a ram

    The Luboshez gong, which carried a presale estimate of US$4m to US$6m, certainly delivered. The front of the Luboshez gong has been cast as a feisty tiger, with its ferocious face seen on one end of the lid. The vessel is believed to be used to serve hot wine, so the steam would have poured out between the tiger&rsquos fangs. In ancient China, tiger was seen as the king of all beasts, bearing the symbolisms of bravery and power.

    The other end of the gong takes form as an owl with a rounded chest. The nocturnal bird was believed to be a vital connection between the deceased and the living in ancient Chinese culture.

    A closer examination reveals the third animal of ram. Kneeling is seen as a respectful gesture in Chinese culture. The way a young ram kneel down to be fed by its mother suggests gratitude, hence the revered animal is often seen in ritual objects.

    An inscription cast in the center of the bronze vessel's interior base

    The gong also bears an inscription at the vessel floor. The four footprints around a sanctuary has later been interpreted as the ancestor of the modern Chinese character wei (衛), meaning to guard or defend. Wei is also a family name in China, pointing to the possibility that the inscription could be a clan sign.

    The Luboshez Gong had been a part of the collection curated by Captain S.N. Ferris Luboshez (1896-1984). Raised in England by American parents, Luboshez was trained as a scientist and later, a barrister. He joined the US Navy at the outset of World War II, and was stationed in Shanghai. It was during the period of 1945 to 1949, when Luboshez acquired a substantial part of his Chinese antique collection.

    S.N. Ferris Luboshez with the present gong

    Here are the remaining lots:

    Lot 504 | A Bronze Ritual Rectangular Wine Vessel, fangyi

    Late Shang dynasty, Anyang, 12th century BC

    • The Collection of Mildred R. and Rafi Y. Mottahedeh, New York
    • Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, November 4, 1978, lot 318
    • James J. Lally, New York, 1992
    • Daniel Shapiro Collection, New York

    Estimate: US$600,000 - 800,000

    Lot 503 | A bronze ritual wine vessel, pou

    Late Shang dynasty, 13th-12th century BC

    • Sotheby's London, November 14, 2001, lot 4
    • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, 2004
    • The collection of Daniel Shapiro, New York

    Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000

    Lot 501 | A bronze ritual wine vessel, gu

    Late Shang dynasty, Anyan, 12th-11th century BC

    Lot 502 | A bronze ritual wine vessel, hu

    Late Shang dynasty, 12th century BC Height: 35 cm

    • Acquired in Macao in 1985
    • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, 2003
    • The collection of Daniel Shapiro, New York

    Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000

    Auction Details:

    Auction house: Christie&rsquos New York

    Sale: Shang: Early Chinese Ritual Bronzes from the Daniel Shapiro Collection


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