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Sets and individual examples of ritual bronzes (in Chinese: 中国青铜器) survive from when they were made mainly during the Chinese Bronze Age. Ritual bronzes create quite an impression both due to their sophistication of design and manufacturing process, but also because of their remarkable durability. From around 1650 BCE, these elaborately decorated vessels were deposited as grave goods in the tombs of royalty and the nobility, and were evidently produced in very large numbers, with documented excavations finding over 200 pieces in a single royal tomb. They were produced for an individual or social group to use in making ritual offerings of food and drink to his or their ancestors and other deities or spirits. Such ceremonies generally took place in family temples or ceremonial halls over tombs. These ceremonies can be seen as ritual banquets in which both living and dead members of a family were to supposed participate. Details of these ritual ceremonies are preserved through early literary records. On the death of the owner of a ritual bronze, it would often be placed in his tomb, so that he could continue to pay his respects in the afterlife; other examples were cast specifically as grave goods.[1] Indeed, many surviving examples have been excavated from graves.

The ritual bronzes were probably not used for normal eating and drinking; they represent larger, more elaborate versions of the types of vessels used for this, and made in precious materials. Many of the shapes also survive in pottery, and pottery versions continued to be made in an antiquarian spirit until modern times. Apart from table vessels, weapons and some other objects were made in special ritual forms. Another class of ritual objects are those, also including weapons, made in jade, which was probably the most highly valued of all, and which had been long used for ritual tools and weapons, since about 4,500 BCE.[2]

At least initially, the production of bronze was probably controlled by the ruler, who gave unformed metal to his nobility as a sign of favour.[3]

They contain between 5% and 30% tin and between 2% and 3% lead.[4]

Usage

Bronzes (simplified Chinese: 青铜器; traditional Chinese: 青銅器; pinyin: qīng tóng qì; Wade–Giles: ch'ing t'ong ch'i) are some of the most important pieces of ancient Chinese art, warranting an entire separate catalogue in the Imperial art collections. The Chinese Bronze Age began in the Xia Dynasty (ca. 2070 – ca. 1600 BC), and bronze ritual containers form the bulk of collections of Chinese antiquities, reaching its zenith during the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC) and the early part of the Zhou Dynasty (1045–256 BC).

The majority of surviving Chinese ancient bronze artefacts are ritual forms rather than their equivalents made for practical use, either as tools or weapons. Weapons like daggers and axes had a sacrificial meaning, symbolizing the heavenly power of the ruler. The strong religious associations of bronze objects brought up a great number of vessel types and shapes which became regarded as classic and totemic and were copied, often in other media such as Chinese porcelain, throughout subsequent periods of Chinese art.

The ritual books of old China minutely describe who was allowed to use what kinds of sacrificial vessels and how much. The king of Zhou used 9 dings and 8 gui vessels, a duke was allowed to use 7 dings and 6 guis, a baron could use 5 dings and 3 guis, a nobleman was allowed to use 3 dings and 2 guis. Turning to actual archaeological finds, the tomb of Fu Hao, an unusually powerful Shang queen, contained her set of ritual vessels, numbering over two hundred, which are also far larger than the twenty-four vessels in the tomb of a contemporary nobleman. Her higher status would have been clear not only to her contemporaries, but also, it was believed, to her ancestors and other spirits.[5] Many of the pieces were cast with inscriptions using the posthumous form of her name, indicating there were made especially for burial in the tomb.[6]

Metallurgy and origin

The origin of the ores or metals use for Shang and other early chinese bronze is a current (2018) topic of research. As with other early civilisations (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Indus) the Shang period development was centered on river valleys, and driven in part by the introduction of intensive agriculture - in China such areas lacked ore deposits and required the import of metallurgical material. Typical Shang period bronzes contain over 2% lead, unlike contemporary coppers of the Eurasian Steppe. Pre-Shang bronzes do not contain the radiogenic lead isotopes. Analysis of the ore/metals origins has been based on lead content and trace isotope analysis.[7] In the case of Shang period bronzes, various sites, from early to late Shang period, numerous samples of the bronze alloy are characterized by high radiogenic Lead isotope content (derived from both uranium and thorium decay), unlike most known native Chinese lead ores. Potential speculative sources of the ore include Qinling, middle to lower Yangtze area, and south-west china; the possibility that ore or metal was imported from Africa in this period has been proposed, based on potential isotopic matches, but challenged and rejected by other researchers.[7]

Classification of pieces in the Imperial collection

The appreciation, creation and collection of Chinese bronzes as pieces of art and not as ritual items began in the Song dynasty and reached its zenith in the Qing dynasty during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, whose massive collection is recorded in the catalogues known as the Xiqing gujian (西清古鑑) and the Xiqing jijian (西清繼鑑). Within those two catalogues, the bronzeware is categorized according to use:

  • Sacrificial vessels (祭器, jìqì),
  • Wine vessels (酒器, jiǔqì),
  • Food vessels (食器, shíqì),
  • Water vessels (水器, shuǐqì),
  • Musical instruments (樂器, yuèqì),
  • Weapons (兵器, bīngqì),
  • Measuring containers (量器, liángqì),
  • Ancient money (錢幣, qiánbì), and
  • Miscellaneous (雜器, záqì).

The most highly prized are generally the sacrificial and wine vessels, which form the majority of most collections. Often these vessels are elaborately decorated with taotie designs.

Sacrificial vesselsThe ritual bronzes were probably not used for normal eating and drinking; they represent larger, more elaborate versions of the types of vessels used for this, and made in precious materials. Many of the shapes also survive in pottery, and pottery versions continued to be made in an antiquarian spirit until modern times. Apart from table vessels, weapons and some other objects were made in special ritual forms. Another class of ritual objects are those, also including weapons, made in jade, which was probably the most highly valued of all, and which had been long used for ritual tools and weapons, since about 4,500 BCE.[2]

At least initially, the production of bronze was probably controlled by the ruler, who gave unformed metal to his nobility as a sign of favour.[3]

They contain between 5% and 30% tin and between 2% and 3% lead.[4]

Bronzes (simplified Chinese: 青铜器; traditional Chinese: 青銅器; pinyin: qīng tóng qì; Wade–Giles: ch'ing t'ong ch'i) are some of the most important pieces of ancient Chinese art, warranting an entire separate catalogue in the Imperial art collections. The Chinese Bronze Age began in the Xia Dynasty (ca. 2070 – ca. 1600 BC), and bronze ritual containers form the bulk of collections of Chinese antiquities, reaching its zenith during the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC) and the early part of the Zhou Dynasty (1045–256 BC).

The majority of surviving Chinese ancient bronze artefacts are ritual forms rather than their equivalents made for practical use, either as tools or weapons. Weapons like daggers and axes had a sacrificial meaning, symbolizing the heavenly power of the ruler. The strong religious associations of bronze objects brought up a great number of vessel types and shapes which became regarded as classic and totemic and were copied, often in other media such as Chinese porcelain, throughout subsequent periods of Chinese art.

The ritual books of old China minutely describe who was allowed to use what kinds of sacrificial vessels and how much. The king of Zhou used 9 dings and 8 gui vessels, a duke was allowed to use 7 dings and 6 guis, a baron could use 5 dings and 3 guis, a nobleman was allowed to use 3 dings and 2 guis. Turning to actual archaeological finds, the tomb of Fu Hao, an unusually powerful Shang queen, contained her set of ritual vessels, numbering over two hundred, which are also far larger than the twenty-four vessels in the tomb of a contemporary nobleman. Her higher status would have been clear not only to her contemporaries, but also, it was believed, to her ancestors and other spirits.[5] Many of the pieces were cast with inscriptions using the posthumous form of her name, indicating there were made especially for burial in the tomb.[6]

Metallurgy and origin

The origin of the ores or metals use for Shang and other early chinese bronze is a current (2018) topic of research. As with other early civilisations (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Indus) the Shang period development was centered on river valleys, and driven in part by the introduction of intensive agriculture - in China such areas lacked ore deposits and required the import of metallurgical material. Typical Shang period bronzes contain over 2% lead, unlike contemporary coppers of the Eurasian Steppe. Pre-Shang bronzes do not contain the radiogenic lead isotopes. Analysis of the ore/metals origins has been based on lead content and trace isotope analysis.[7] In the case of Shang period bronzes, various sites, from early to late Shang period, numerous samples of the bronze alloy are characterized by high radiogenic Lead isotope content (derived from both uranium and thorium decay), unlike most known native Chinese lead ores. Potential speculative sources of the ore include Qinling, middle to lower Ya

The majority of surviving Chinese ancient bronze artefacts are ritual forms rather than their equivalents made for practical use, either as tools or weapons. Weapons like daggers and axes had a sacrificial meaning, symbolizing the heavenly power of the ruler. The strong religious associations of bronze objects brought up a great number of vessel types and shapes which became regarded as classic and totemic and were copied, often in other media such as Chinese porcelain, throughout subsequent periods of Chinese art.

The ritual books of old China minutely describe who was allowed to use what kinds of sacrificial vessels and how much. The king of Zhou used 9 dings and 8 gui vessels, a duke was allowed to use 7 dings and 6 guis, a baron could use 5 dings and 3 guis, a nobleman was allowed to use 3 dings and 2 guis. Turning to actual archaeological finds, the tomb of Fu Hao, an unusually powerful Shang queen, contained her set of ritual vessels, numbering over two hundred, which are also far larger than the twenty-four vessels in the tomb of a contemporary nobleman. Her higher status would have been clear not only to her contemporaries, but also, it was believed, to her ancestors and other spirits.[5] Many of the pieces were cast with inscriptions using the posthumous form of her name, indicating there were made especially for burial in the tomb.[6]

The origin of the ores or metals use for Shang and other early chinese bronze is a current (2018) topic of research. As with other early civilisations (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Indus) the Shang period development was centered on river valleys, and driven in part by the introduction of intensive agriculture - in China such areas lacked ore deposits and required the import of metallurgical material. Typical Shang period bronzes contain over 2% lead, unlike contemporary coppers of the Eurasian Steppe. Pre-Shang bronzes do not contain the radiogenic lead isotopes. Analysis of the ore/metals origins has been based on lead content and trace isotope analysis.[7] In the case of Shang period bronzes, various sites, from early to late Shang period, numerous samples of the bronze alloy are characterized by high radiogenic Lead isotope content (derived from both uranium and thorium decay), unlike most known native Chinese lead ores. Potential speculative sources of the ore include Qinling, middle to lower Yangtze area, and south-west china; the possibility that ore or metal was imported from Africa in this period has been proposed, based on potential isotopic matches, but challenged and rejected by other researchers.[7]

Classification of pieces in the Imperial collection

dǐng

  • The original zun shape, with taotie, Shang

  • Later zun in the shape of an ox

  • Wine vessels

    A variety of wine vessels around an altar, Western Zhou, Metropolitan Museum of Art.[8]
    Two Jué on either side of a Gū, all from the Shang dynasty
    The original zun shape, with taotie, Shang

  • Wine vessels

  • Shang Jiǎ

  • Zhou water pourer , from the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng

  • Food vessels

    Dui vessel with geometric cloud pattern, Warring States period, Hubei Provincial Museum.
    Pan food vessel, here in a legless style
    Covered Food Container (dou), 6th Century B.C.[9] The Walters Art Museum.
    • Duì (敦, not pronounced dūn): Spherical dish with a cover to protect its contents from dust and other contaminants.
    • Pán (盤): Round curved dish for food. May have no l

      Shang Jiǎ

  • Zhou water pourer , from th

    Zhou water pourer , from the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng

  • Food vessels

    taotie pattern was a popular bronze-ware decorative design in the Shang dynasty and the subsequent Zhou dynasty, named by scholars of the Song dynasty (960-1279) according to records in literature of the Warring States period of Master Lu's Spring and Autumn Annals.

    The typical taotie pattern is a full-face round-eyed animal head, with sharp teeth and horns. In all of these patterns, the eyes are always the focus. The huge eyes leave an awesome impression on viewers even from a distance. The taotie pattern features rich variations from one bronze piece to another because one ceramic mold could only cast one bronze work in the early days of casting. The most obvious difference between taotie patterns are the horns, some have ox horns, some sheep horns, and some have tiger's ears, distinguishing animal origins of different images.

    See also

    Notes

    1. ^ Rawson, 44-60
    2. ^ Rawson, 44-60
    3. ^ Rawson, 33-34
    4. ^ Gernet, Jaques (1987). Lumea chineză (the first volume). Editura meridiane. p. 67 și 68.
    5. ^ Rawson, 33
    6. ^ "Excavations at the Tomb of Fu Hao" Archived 2007-08-18 at the Wayback Machine, accessed August 4, 2007, National Gallery of Art, Washington
    7. ^ a b Liu, S.; Chen, K.L.; Rehren, Th.; Mei, J.J.; Chen, J.L.; Liu, Y.; Killick, D. (2018), "Did China Import Metals from Africa in the Bronze Age?", Archaeometry, 60 (1): 105–117, doi:10.1111/arcm.12352
    8. ^ "Altar Set | China | Shang dynasty–Western Zhou dynasty (1046–771 B.C.) | The Met". The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. Retrieved 2017-11-19.
    9. ^ "Covered Food Container". The Walters Art Museum.

    References

    • Rawson, Jessica (ed). The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, 2007 (2nd edn), British Museum Press, ISBN 9780714124469
    • Sickman, Laurence, in: Sickman L & Soper A, "The Art and Architecture of China", Pelican History of Art, 3rd ed 1971, Penguin (now Yale History of Art), LOC 70-125675
    • Xi'an Jiaqiang (in Chinese)
    • Xiqing Gujian (西清古鑒). China. 1749–1755.

    Further reading

    External links