What Process Was Used To Make The Shang Dynasty Ritual Wine Vessel?

What was the purpose of the bronze vessels of the Shang dynasty?

  • Shang dynasty ritual bronze vessels. The bronzes were used in rituals conducted by the ruling elite. These rituals required the use of wine vessels, water containers and food containers, for heating and serving purposes.

What process made the Shang dynasty ritual?

The earliest Chinese bronzes were made by the method known as piece-mold casting —as opposed to the lost-wax method, which was used in all other Bronze Age cultures.

How were bronze vessels made?

Ritual bronze vessels were more than just elegant objects of status, but symbols of power, commanding respect. They were cast using ceramic piece molds, built around a clay model. The shapes of the bronzes appear to have developed from ceramic prototypes, and experimentation with hammered shapes and different forms.

What is a wine vessel?

This object is known as a ” guang” which is a type of wine vessel used in ritual settings in ancient China, it emerged in the Shang Dynasty. This especially elaborate guang is decorated with a dragon and taotie (or demon mask) motif. Hot wine inside would have produced steam that poured out of the creature’s mouth!

How were bronze vessels of the Shang period preserved?

They were probably kept in the ancestral hall of the clan, and, in some cases, they were buried with their owner. Surprisingly, perhaps, the bronze vessels were not discussed in Shang oracle bone inscriptions.

What inventions were made in the Shang Dynasty?

The Shang made many contributions to Chinese civilization, but four in particular define the dynasty: the invention of writing; the development of a stratified government; the advancement of bronze technology; and the use of the chariot and bronze weapons in warfare.

What are ritual vessels?

Ritual Vessel stores the monsters slain for the first time from a completed Ritual Altar for future use. In the end game, you can obtain Ritual vessels, which allow you to itemise the monsters from a ritual. Vessels are tradeable both before and after they contain monsters.

What did the Shang Dynasty make out of bronze?

In that time, Shang and Chou craftsmen learned to use bronze for more than weapons. They made tools out of bronze. This helped farmers and craftsmen and miners produce more food, goods, and minerals. They made bowls, bells, drums, cups, axes, and many other things out of bronze.

What were bronze vessels used for?

‘Bronzes were made for the very wealthy elite and were associated with power. ‘ The vessels, which were made to serve grain and wine, also played an important role in the ritual banquets that took place in family temples or over ceremonial tombs.

What was usually featured on bronze sculptures and vessels from this period?

During the Shang Dynasty, bronze sculptures and vessels were used in rituals. They usually featured a motif called taotie.

Who made the spouted wine vessel?

Period: Shang dynasty (ca. 1600–1046 B.C.) Date: 13th century B.C.

What is the Greek vessel used to store wine?

Amphorae were used in vast numbers for the transport and storage of various products, both liquid and dry, but mostly for wine. They are most often ceramic, but examples in metals and other materials have been found. Versions of the amphorae were one of many shapes used in Ancient Greek vase painting.

What was the Guang used for?

They are a type of ewer which was used for pouring rice wine at ritual banquets, and often deposited as grave goods in high-status burial.

How did they make bronze in the Bronze Age?

In the Stone Age, flint was shaped and used as tools and weapons, but in the Bronze Age, stone was gradually replaced by bronze. Bronze was made by melting tin and copper, and mixing them together. The bronze could then be poured in to moulds to create useful items.

What is bronze made of and how were tools or masks made from bronze?

The Bronze Age was the time when men learned how to mine and smelt copper and tin to make bronze weapons and tools. These activities required an organized labor force and skilled craftsmen. In Neolithic times (before the Bronze Age), people had made tools out of stone and hunted and gathered their food.

How was bronze discovered?

Around 3500 BC the first signs of bronze usage by the ancient Sumerians started to appear in the Tigris Euphrates valley in Western Asia. One theory suggests that bronze may have been discovered when copper and tin-rich rocks were used to build campfire rings.

Guang (vessel) – Wikipedia

The Ritual Wine Vessel (guang), which dates to around 1700-1050 BC and measures 16×8.2×21.5 cm (61x31x81cm), is housed at the Brooklyn Museum.

Standard Mandarin
Hanyu Pinyin gōng
Wade–Giles kung 1
Middle Chinese
Middle Chinese kˠwæŋ
Old Chinese
Zhengzhang *kʷraːŋ

Originally employed in Chinese ceremonial bronzes during theShang dynasty (c. 1600 – c. 1046 BC), aguangorgong is a distinctive form used inChinese art for vessels. It was also utilized inChinese porcelain at various periods during theShang dynasty. Their function was to pour rice wine during ceremonial dinners, and they were also frequently used to lay grave gifts in high-status burials. Ewers, ceremonial wine containers, wine pourers, and other similar words are used to describe examples of the design, while all of these terms are also used to describe a variety of other shapes, including the smaller tripodjue and the larger zun, which are the most common.

Guangs are characterized by a vertical handle at one end and a spout at the other, both of which are zoomorphic, and were frequently lavishly adorned withtaotie on the outside.

It is customary for the back and animal head at the pouring end to be a detachable cover that can be pulled off for pouring.

Among the finest examples of this kind is theRitual wine server (guang), Indianapolis Museum of Art, 60.43, which dates to around 1100 BC.

Function and use

The Indianapolis Museum of Art has a ritual wine server (guang) from the Shang period. It was the guang bronze ritual vessels of Early China that served as the primary container and server for wine during ancestral worship rituals, with the wine vapors serving to satiate and enliven the spirits of those who had passed away, and the actual physical contents serving to gratify those still alive. The shape of the jar suggests that it will be used for both storage and serving purposes. It is normally supported by a single oval-shaped foot (although it has been known to be supported by four legs), while the bronze itself takes the form of a variety of animals and fantasy creatures that have been transformed.

The jar is accompanied with a lid, which completes the design.

However, while the animal and fantasy creature decoration is important to the meaning of these works, it is not clear what the ornamentation is supposed to do for the bronzes, and it is still up to the viewer to choose what it means.

As a result, the ceremonial vessels are not only apotropaic, but they are also beneficial to those who are still alive. They are items that are used on a daily basis, as well as artifacts that are used for religious and spiritual purposes.


The Guang can be distinguished by its zoomorphic lid and handle, as well as its one-footed base, among other features. Although the animal image on the front of the lid is frequently a tiger or dragon, there is a wide variety of design on the carved handle, ranging from mythical creatures such as dragons to genuine animals such as rams, elephants, and the beaks of birds. Some guang lids also have animals, usually birds, depicted at the rear of the vessel, either facing the handle or transitioning from the back to the handle.

There are several possibilities for this relief, including bodies belonging to species depicted on the lid as well as other whole animal representations.

Flanges are used to separate the bottom parts of the guang into registers and quadrants as well as other divisions.

In addition to geometric backdrop forms such as the squared-spiral, thelei-wen, there are other surface decorations.

Historical development

Take a look at the following:Shang Dynasty In terms of bronze vessels, the guang, one of many different types of Chinese ceremonial bronze vessels, is a latecomer to the world of bronze vessels, having only existed for a brief period of time. According to historical records, the first mention of guang boats dates back to the late Shang dynasty, during the Anyang Period, which spanned around 1300-1046 BCE. Because of their ornamentation, these containers stood apart from other guang items from the early history of Chinese civilization.

In a guang from the late twelve century to the early eleventh century, the ornamentation is missing on the bottom register, but the lid and upper registers are more inventive in their design than the bottom.

Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 1045-771 BCE)

Take a look at Western Zhou as well. The Western Zhou Dynasty is the last time in which guang vessels are known to have been produced, mostly as a result of the Ritual Revolution that happened in the late Western Zhou dynasty, which resulted in a significant reduction in the number of wine vessels produced in the end.

Prior to its extinction, the guang underwent morphological alterations, with the ovular foot being occasionally replaced by four legs, among other things. The ornamentation grows more sophisticated as well, while still including animal and fantasy motifs within the design.


The piece-mold procedure was used to cast the first Chinese bronze vessels. This procedure entailed the artist creating the mold in bits of clay and then putting them together to create a single overall vessel form. The ornamentation on a vessel’s surface had to be incised into the clay using this process, which required the decoration to be done in reverse and negative. Images that would otherwise be elevated on the metal surface would have to be transformed into depressions in the clay mold as a result of this transformation.

Instead, the method of lost-wax casting allows an artist to construct a wax model of the thing that they want to cast in bronze.

For big vessels, it was frequently required to cast the main component first, then include it into the building of another mold, and then cast protrusions—such as the guang’s handle—onto that piece.

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Inscriptions on these bronze vessels rose in frequency as the dynastic period progressed from the late Shang to the early Zhou periods. Among the most significant events documented were sacrifices, presents from a monarch to his officials, praise offered to ancestors, records of property exchanges and sales, and political weddings, all of which served to strengthen connections.

Historical and cultural references

Following the “Ritual Revolution,” certain wine containers were no longer in use in the Western Zhou dynasty, while others were repurposed. It was only during the Late Shang to Early Western Zhou dynasties that the Guang vessel became widespread.


  1. “Gong (Bronze Work)” is a traditional Chinese musical instrument. The Britannica Encyclopaedia is a reference work that provides information on a wide range of topics. The Great Bronze Age of China was discovered and studied in detail on November 9, 2012. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, 1980. pp. 205-206
  2. Bagley, Robert (1987).Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections. New York: The Arthur M. Sackler Museum. Washington, D.C.: Sackler Foundation
  3. Rawson, Jessica (p. 413)
  4. Sackler Foundation (1987). Sculpture and ritual in Chinese bronzes. British Museums Publication Ltd., pp. 26–41
  5. “Freer and Sackler Galleries,” British Museums Publication Ltd., pp. 26–41. Avery Brundage Collection of Bronze Vessels from Ancient China, p. 66
  6. D’Argence, Rene-Yvon (1977).Bronze Vessels from Ancient China, Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd., pp. 10–12
  7. AbBagley, Robert (1987).Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections from the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, New York, pp. 10–12
  8. Authors: von Erdberg, Eleanor
  9. Arthur M. Sackler Foundation
  10. Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Foundation
  11. ISBN: 0-674-80525-9
  12. (1993). Chinese Bronzes from the Ancient Period: Terminology and Iconology p. 42, 43.ISBN3-87747-063-7
  13. D’Argence, Rene-Yvon (1977).Bronze Vessels of Ancient China in the Avery Brundage Collection. Japan: Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. p. 11
  14. Asian Art Museum (1997).Bronze Vessels of Ancient China in the Avery Brundage Collection. Japan: Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. (1977). Ancient Chinese bronze vessels from the Avery Brundage Collection. Photo courtesy of Avery Brundage. In: The Great Bronze Age of China: The Great Bronze Age of China (San Francisco, CA: Asian Art Museum), pp. 66–67. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, 1980, pp.184–185
  15. Delbanco, Dawn Ho, p.184–185
  16. (1983). Ritual is transformed into art. Bronze vessels from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections that date back to the ancient Chinese period The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, Washington, D.C., pp. 14–15.ISBN0-916724-54-9
  17. Ping-hen, Liou, “Bronzes of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties.” Washington, D.C.: The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, pp. 14–15.ISBN0-916724-54-9
  18. May 1, 1989, National Museum of History Republic of China, pages 9 and 10
  19. “””.1995, pages 39 to 47
  20. Allen, Anthony J. “Allen’s Authentication of Ancient Chinese Bronzes.” Allen’s Authentication of Ancient Chinese Bronzes.” On December 31, 2001, Walter Hirsh and Associates published a paper entitled P25.


  • The Authentication of Ancient Chinese Bronzes by Anthony J. Allen is a book written by Anthony J. Allen. Walter Hirsh and Associates is a design firm. The Asian Art Museum hosted a reception on December 31, 2001. Ancient Chinese bronze vessels from the Avery Brundage Collection. Photo courtesy of Avery Brundage. San Francisco, California:

The Asian Art Museum opened its doors in 1977.

  • Robert Bagley is a writer who lives in New York City (1987). In the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, there are a number of Shang ritual bronzes. The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, Washington, D.C., ISBN 0-674-80525-9
  • Rene-Yvon D’Argence, Rene-Yvon D’Argence (1977). Ancient Chinese bronze vessels from the Avery Brundage Collection. Photo courtesy of Avery Brundage. The Great Bronze Age of China was published by Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. in Japan. Delbanco, Dawn Ho
  • New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980
  • (1983). Ritual is transformed into art. Bronze vessels from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections that date back to the ancient Chinese period Wen Fong and the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation (Washington, D.C.), ISBN 0-916724-54-9
  • Fong, Wen (1980). China’s Great Bronze Age is a period of time that began in the third millennium BCE. Ping-hen, Liou
  • Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. ISBN 0-87099-226-0
  • New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. ISBN 0-87099-226-0 “Bronzes of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties,” as the title suggests. The National Museum of History of the Republic of China opened its doors on May 1, 1989, and Jessica Rawson was the curator (1987). Sculpture and ritual in Chinese bronzes. Caron Smith
  • British Museums Publication Ltd
  • Sing, Yu
  • Sing, Yu (1999). Ringing Thunder: Treasures from the Tombs of the Ancient Chinese. San Diego, CA: San Diego Museum of Art, ISBN 0-937108-24-3
  • San Diego, CA: San Diego Museum of Art, ISBN 0-937108-24-3

External links

  • Handbook of Chinese Ceramics from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • “Freer and Sackler Galleries” are two examples of such a publication. 2nd of December, 2012
  • Retrieved Britannica’s Encyclopaedia Britannica The chronology of art history
  • The great bronze age of China: an exhibition from the People’s Republic of China, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (completely available online as PDF), which contains material on guangs
  • The Great Bronze Age of China: an exhibition from the People’s Republic of China, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (completely available online as PDF), which contains material on guangs

Chinese bronzes – The Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 bce)

In Erlitou, near the current city of Luoyang in Henan province, archaeologists discovered the oldest evidence of bronze vessels. Erlitou may or may not represent the first identified Shang capital, Po, or it may represent an even earlierXia dynastysite. Among the treasures discovered were a “palace” built on a pounded-earth base, beautiful jades, rudimentary metal dishes, and oracle bones. Remains of a walled city, known as Ao, have been discovered near Erligang, in Henan province, and it is thought to have been the capital of the middle Shang period during the period of the Han dynasty.

In 1899, paleographers following the trails of tomb thieves discovered the site, paving the path for further verification of traditional narratives from theShang dynasty as well as the first scientific analysis of China’s early civilisation.

The written documentation is extensive, archival, and comprehensive.

There have been no fewer than 14 royal tombs discovered near Anyang, culminating in the 1976 excavation of the first major tomb to have survived intact—that of Fu Hao, who is thought to have been a consort of the Shang king Wuding and a noted military leader—and the discovery of the first major tomb to have survived intact.

  • Over a broad region of northern and central China, relics of Bronze Age communities from the Shang dynasty have also been discovered, including Bronze Age tombs.
  • They were employed in divinatory rites for the sacrifice of meat, wine, and grain.
  • In most cases, they were stored in the clan’s ancestral hall, and in certain circumstances, they were buried beside their owner, according to legend.
  • They did, however, begin to have dedicatory inscriptions of their own by the late Shang period, which were usually short and cast and included information about the vessel’s kind, patron, and ancestor to whom the vessel was dedicated.
  • In early Zhou times (1046–256bce), the phrase “May sons and grandsons forever treasure and use it” was a common addition to vessels, indicating that they were initially intended for use in temple sacrifices rather than for burial.

Although it is likely that the right to cast or possess these vessels was originally reserved for the royal family, it was later granted to local governors appointed by the ruler; even later, during the Zhou dynasty, the right was claimed by rulers of feudal states and indeed by anyone wealthy and powerful enough to cast his own vessels.

  1. According to their putative purpose in the sacrificial ceremonies, the vessels might be divided into many categories.
  2. Theli, theding, and thef Thegui, a bowl set on a ring-shaped foot, like to a modern-day wok, was the primary vessel used for serving meals in ancient China.
  3. Kansas City, Missouri’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is a national treasure (Nelson Fund) The wordzunembraces a number of wine containers in a variety of sizes and styles.
  4. It is considered that the shapes of the round-bodied vessels were drawn from older potteryforms, while the shapes of the square-section vessels, with flat sides that are typically elaborately ornamented, are thought to have been derived from carved wood or bone boxes, baskets, or containers.
  5. Weapons and fittings for chariots, harness, and other utilitarian reasons were also fashioned of bronze throughout the time period under consideration.

A clay model of the body is constructed around a solid core that represents the vessel’s interior; clay molding is used to encase the model, which is then sliced into sections and removed; the model is eliminated; the mold pieces are reconstructed around the core, using metal spacers to separate mold and core; and molten bronze is poured into the hollow space.

  1. It is common practice to cast legs, handles, and added sculpture separately and afterwards merge them into a lock-on pour.
  2. In other cases, surface decoration is applied to the mold surface after it has been removed from the model, with an incised design on the mold yielding a raised design on the metal surface.
  3. The complexity and clarity of the artwork reveals that by the end of the 2nd millenniumbcethe technique of bronze casting in China was the most accomplished in the world.
  4. The main theme is thetaotie, viewed either as two stylised creaturesjuxtaposedface-to-face or as a single creature with its body stretched out on both sides of a masklike head.
  5. Song dynastyantiquarians suggested the improbable interpretation that it constituted a warning against eating.
  6. Other creatures on the bronzes are thegui(each like half of the doubledtaotie), tiger, cicada, snake, owl, ram, and ox.
  7. It is not known whether these meanings were attached to the creatures on Shang bronzes, for no Shang writing addresses the issue, but it seems likely that they had a more than purely decorative purpose.

The human figure appears only rarely in Shang bronzes, usually in the grasp of these powerful zoomorphic creatures.

It reached a climax of sculpturesque monumentality at the end of thedynasty, reflecting a long period of peace and stability at Anyang.

The thin-walled vessels of Style I typically carry a narrow register of zoomorphic motifs that are more abstract in appearance than motifs of later times; the motifs are composed of thin, raised lines created by incision on the production molds.

In Style III, dense curvilinear designs derived from those of the previous phase begin to cover much of the surface of an increasingly thick-walled vessel, and the zoomorph becomes increasingly difficult to discern.

In Style V the main motifs are set forth in increasingly bold plastic relief through the use of ceramic appliqué upon the model.

Styles I and II appear at Zhengzhou; Style III appears at both Zhengzhou and early Anyang; and Styles IV and V are found in the Anyang period only.

Pre-Style I vessels, ceramic in form, thin-walled, and with little or no surface decor, have been found at Erlitou near Luoyang, demonstrating early Shang or even Xia origins.

Covered ritual wine vessel (gong), approx. 1050–900 BCE

What is this item, exactly? In China, from the lateShang dynasty (about 1600–1050 BCE) through the middle of theWestern Zhou dynasty (approximately 1050–771 BCE), the gong was a wine jug used in religious rites. It is in the shape of a gravy boat, with a cover and handle, and the entire vessel is adorned with animal shapes. What was it used for, and how did it work? Thegongdoes not appear to have any immediate historical antecedent in the archaeological record. It is discovered in the late Shang tomb of Fu Hao, however it was not before discovered.

  • Because of the curved lid and robust handle, it is most likely that the gong was used as a wine pourer.
  • (The letter X is an unintelligible character.) So this gong was utilized to make ancestor offerings, as you can see.
  • The Zhou (pronounced ‘joe’) dynasty was the second most powerful dynasty in ancient Chinese history.
  • During the early Western Zhou dynasty, birds were a prominent type of ornamentation for a limited period of time.
  • As a result of the abundance of plumed birds on this vessel, it is believed to have been made during the early Western Zhou dynasty.
  • Thegongis the most elaborate of all the ritual bronze vessel kinds, with a plethora of animal figures covering the whole vessel.
  • The masks on the front and rear are made up of aretaotie masks, in addition to the plumed birds that have been highlighted.
  • Bottle horns are affixed to the top of its head.
  • The two curving horns, which resemble flat ears, are the vessel’s most distinguishing feature, and are best appreciated when viewed from the back of the vessel.
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Characteristics, History of Erlitou Culture

Shang Bronzes BronzeAge art(as opposed to weaponry) began in China around 1700-1500 BCE,as bronze became a widespread substitute for jade, horn, ivory, and stone,in the crafting of high-status objects like ceremonial, ritualistic andfeasting vessels. Shang rulers and nobles, for instance, required a vastquantity of vessels for various ceremonies associated with religious divinationand other sacred rituals, including the worship of ancestors, whose namesare often inscribed on the bronzes. Other ritual vessels were speciallycast to celebrate important events in the lives of their owners, and wereused in sacrificial offerings of wine, meat and grain, to the spiritsof clan ancestors. In any event, these bronzes represent one of the greatestaccomplishments in the history ofmetalwork,prior to the modern age.Note: To see how ancient Chinese artsand crafts influenced its closest East Asian neighbour, see:KoreanArt(3,000 BCE onwards).Furthermore, this large-scale productionof bronze objects needed a suitably large and structured labour forcethat could mine, refine, and transport the necessary tin, copper, andlead ores. In this way, ritualization and ceremony helped to foster socialcohesion, and artistic craftsmanship. Additional demand for bronze camefrom the army, who used it for weapons and chariots. Shang artists alsoproduced numerous examples of figurativebronzesculpturefor tombs: see, for instance, theHuman Figure(c.1150BCE, Institute of Archeology and Cultural Relics Bureau, Sichuan Province)discovered in Burial Pit 2 at Sanxingdui, Sichuan Province.Note: In 1986, archeologists discoveredtwo sacrificial pits on the site of the Lanxing Brick Factory at Sanxingdui.The first contained thousands of artifacts made from gold, bronze, jade,and clay. The second pit contained a wide variety of bronze sculpture,including figurative sculptures, animal-faced castings, bells, decorativeanimal figures of dragons, snakes and birds. Other finds included alarge number of ivory carvings and clamshells. Amazingly, the styleof the objects discovered was completely unknown in the history of Chineseart, whose “cradle” was assumed to be the cultures of theYellow River valley. For more, see:SanxingduiBronzes(1200-1000 BCE)Interestingly, it was Chinese expertisein jade carving, acquired during the late period ofChineseNeolithic Art, that proved of most value in the development of bronzemetallurgy. Bronzes of exceptional quality and complexitywere made at production centres in Erlitou, Anyang and Zhengzhou. Shangmetallurgists developed a refined process of piece-mould casting – asopposed to the lost-wax method (cire perdue), which was used inall other Bronze Age cultures. (In so-called piece-mold casting, a modelis created of the item to be cast, and a clay mold is then made of themodel. After this, the mold is cut into sections – releasing the model- which are then reassembled after firing. This then forms the mold forcasting in bronze.) Although somewhat convoluted, piece-mould castingallowed decorative patterns to be carved or stamped onto the inner surfaceof the mold before firing in a kiln. This method enabled the craftsmanto achieve a high degree of definition in even the most elaborate motifs.CompareIrishBronze Age artwithMinoan art,one of the most advanced forms of Aegean culture of the time. For ancientIraqi Bronze Age cultures, seeMesopotamianartof the 2nd millennium – in particular:Assyrianart(c.1500-612 BCE) andHittiteart(c.1600-1180 BCE). Note: To see how Shang Dynasty art fitsinto the overall history of culture in China, see:ChineseArt Timeline(18,000 BCE – present). Please see also:Asianart(from 38,000 BCE). The Shang Taotie One of the most distinctive decorativeimages on Shang-dynasty ritual bronze vessels was the “taotie”,a zoomorphic mask, with a pair of protruding eyes but typically no lowerjaw, although some versions also include fangs, horns, as well as earsand eyebrows. The taotie design may have borrowed elements from the mysteriousjade “cong” – a cylindrical tube encased in a rectangular block- produced by the Neolithic Liangzhu culture (3400-2250). Other popularmotifs included tigers, gui, snakes, cicadas, rams, dragons, birds, owls,ox-like creatures, and a range of geometric patterns. The exact significanceof the taotie – or indeed many other decorative motifs in Shang Dynastyart – is unknown, although some of the symbolism used is now understood.The tiger, for instance, represented the power of nature, while the cicadaand snake symbolized rebirth, and the owl was the carrier of the soul. Evolution ofShang Bronze Decoration During the 1950s, the art historian MaxLoehr (1903-88), Professor of Chinese art at Harvard University (1960-74),identified five stages in the evolution of bronze methodology during theShang Dynasty. In Stage I, thin-walled vessels are decorated with a narrowband of abstract or semi-abstract zoomorphic motifs. In Stage II, zoomorphicshapes consist of flat bands engraved on the object, typically on a raisedregister of ceramic appliqué. In Stage III, we see intricate curvilineardesigns which cover most of the surface of what is becoming a relativelythick-walled vessel. In Stage IV, the predominant zoomorphic motifs, areclearly distinguished against a dense spiral background. In Stage V themajor motifs are laid out in much greater sculptural plastic relief byusing ceramic appliqué. Stages I and II appear at Zhengzhou; StageIII has been discovered at both Zhengzhou and early Anyang; while StagesIV and V appear only at Anyang. Other ShangExcavations and Artifacts In assessing Shang culture, and itstypesof art, we are exclusively dependent on its elaborate burial sites.In 1976, archeologists at Yinxu stumbled upon the undisturbed and richlyfurnished royal tomb of Lady Fu Hao, consort to the Shang King Wu Ding.Along with a host of bronze weapons, more than 440 bronze vessels, 590jade figures and other objects,ancient pottery vessels, and bone hairpins were found. In 1986, over 4,000 objects, includingcowrie shells, bronze face masks, jades and life-size bronzestatues encased in gold sheet, were discovered at the walled city of Sanxingduiin Sichuan, southern China. Of particular interest were the burial masks,distinguished by their large ears and bulging eyes, and lips painted redwith cinnabar, a mineral widely used to colour lacquerware. (See alsoColour Pigments.) Alsofound at Sanxingdui were tiny bronze fragments of treesculpture,along with bronze leaves and perching birds. Although traces of frescomurals have been found,Chinese painting had yet to become established as an artform. As a result, mostChinesepainterswere employed in the pottery industry or in other types ofdecorative art. LaterChinese Dynasties Later visual arts are traditionally dividedinto the following periods: -Arts of theSix Dynasties Period(220-589)-Sui Dynasty art(589-618)-Tang Dynasty art(618-906)-Song Dynasty art(960-1279)-Yuan Dynasty art(1271-1368)-Ming Dynasty art(1368-1644)-Qing Dynasty art(1644-1911) See also:JapaneseArt.

Bronzes from Fu Hao’s Tomb

The development of metal-working technology represents a significant transition in Chinese history.The first known bronze vessels were found at Erlitou near the middle reaches of the Yellow River in northern central China.Most archaeologists now identify this site with the Xia dynasty (c. 2100-1600 BC) mentioned in ancient texts as the first of the three ancient dynasties (Xia, Shang, and Zhou).It was during the Shang (1600-1050 BC), however, that bronze-casting was perfected.Bronze was used for weapons, chariots, horse trappings, and above all for the ritual vessels with which the ruler would perform sacrifices to the ancestors.The high level of workmanship seen in the bronzes in Shang tombs suggests a stratified and highly organized society, with powerful rulers who were able to mobilize the human and material resources to mine, transport, and refine the ores, to manufacture and tool the clay models, cores, and molds used in the casting process, and to run the foundries. Altogether the bronzes found in Fu Hao’s tomb weighed 1.6 metric tons, a sign of the enormous wealth of the royal family.These vessels were not only valuable by virtue of their material, a strong alloy of copper, tin, and lead, but also because of the difficult process of creating them.The piece-mold technique, used exclusively in China, required a great deal of time and skill.(In this Teacher’s Guide, the hyperlink for the piece-mold technique is given below.)
To make a bronze vessel, a clay model of the bronze vessel-to-be had to be fashioned.When it hardened, soft clay was pressed against it, taking on the negative impression of both its shape and decoration.These clay pieces were removed in sections to form the piece-molds.The model was then shaved down to become the core (the walls of the bronze vessel would exactly equal in thickness this layer that had been shaved off).The piece-molds were then reassembled around the core.Molten bronze would then be poured into the space between the mold and the core.After cooling, the mold pieces were removed.Pre-cast appendages were often inserted into the core-mold assemblage before casting; when the vessel was produced, they became locked into place as the metal was poured in.
What does this sophisticated method of casting bronze imply about the level of ceramic technology during the same period?
SOURCE:Treasures from the Bronze Age of China: An Exhibition from the People’s Republic of China(New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980), p. 19.Copyright by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The vessel below is ading, used for food. Think about the piece-mold process.How do you think the technique affected the shapes and decoration on vessels such as this ding? (The hyperlink for decoration is given below in this Teachers’ Guide.)
To the left is a drawing showing the decoration of theding.In the center of the frieze or band running around the top rim is a design of ataotiemask.This part-human, part-animal face with bulging eyes is a recurring image on Shang bronzes.It may have carried some symbolic significance, but we can no longer be certain of its meaning.Some hypotheses include a monster, a dragon, a ritual mask, or simply a popular formal design.
SOURCE:Bronze Vessels from Yin Xu(Beijing: Cultural Relics Publishing House, 1985), Diagram 4.
Many of the vessels were inscribed with Fu Hao’s posthumous title, “Si Mu Xin.”The rubbing of her title from thedingat left can be seen below.SOURCE:Zhongguo gudai cankao tulu v. 2 (Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe, 1989), p. 57.
Bronze dingvessel Height: 80.1cm, Weight: 128kgSOURCE:Zhongguo gudai cankao tulu v. 2 (Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe, 1989), 2 ndpage of illustrations.
SOME THOUGHTS:In thepiece-moldtechnique, surface decoration could be made by carving into the mold (for raised relief) or into the model (for recessed designs).The use of a ceramic mold made of tightly fitting sections made intricate shapes very difficult.As a result greater attention was placed on surface decoration, which was easier to create.
To the left is one of a pair ofzunvessels used for wine.The creature stands on two legs; a down-turned tail forms the third leg.The back of the head is a removable lid with a miniature bird and dragon as knobs. Click to see a drawing of its decoration. (In the Teachers’s Guide, this is shown below.) What creature is this zun supposed to represent?ANSWER:An owl or a parrot.A similar owl in white marble was found in Tomb 1001 at Anyang, thought to be the tomb of King Wu Ding.
Wine vessel Height: 46.3cm, Weight: 16kgSOURCE:Zhonguo zhongda kaogu faxian (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1990), p. 97.
SOURCE:Bronze Vessels from Yin Xu(Beijing: Cultural Relics Publishing House, 1985), Diagram 14.
Can you make out what the decoration on this ax shows? Think about the contents of Fu Hao’s tomb. What do you think this ax might have been used for?
Bronze ax
SOURCE:Zhonguo zhongda kaogu faxian(Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1990), p. 94.
ANSWER:The center of the ax shows a human head with a tiger on either side.Axes of this type and size were probably used for ritual sacrifices (recall the animals and humans found in Fu Hao’s tomb).During Shang times, human sacrifices to the ancestors accompanied cult ceremonies, the construction of buildings, and the burials of the elite members of society.Many of these people were probably prisoners of war from the Shang’s frequent battles against its neighbors. In addition, subordinates would also voluntarily “accompany” a superior in death.
Click to see a drawing of the decoration on the bronze at left.(In this Teachers’ Guide, shown below.) Why do you think zoomorphic images play such a large role in Shang art?
Covered containerHeight: 60cm, Length: 88cm, Weight: 71kgSOURCE:Zhonguo zhongda kaogu faxian (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1990), p. 96.
Do you see any similarity to the decoration on the ding seen earlier?
SOURCE:Bronze Vessels from Yin Xu(Beijing: Cultural Relics Publishing House, 1985), Diagram 11.
MORE:The zoomorphic images on Shang bronzes range from clearly mimetic low- or high-relief images of birds, snakes, crocodiles, and deer, to imaginary animals like dragons, and to highly stylized mask motifs that allude to animals but don’t directly represent them.Since bronze vessels were used in sacrificial rituals, most observers assume the decoration symbolized something important in Shang political and religious cosmology.Unfortunately, texts that discuss the meaning of images exist only from much later periods.
Can you think of technical reasons for the projecting flanges on the body of the vessel to the left?ANSWER:In the piece-mold technique, molten metal would sometimes seep in between the pieces of the mold, leaving traces of vertical joins.Some bronze artists, instead of working to eliminate these casting seams, transformed them into major structural elements in the vessel’s decoration.
Drinking vesselSOURCE:Zhonguo zhongda kaogu faxian (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1990), p. 93.
Move on toJade from Fu Hao’s tomb

The Bronze Age

Archaeological digs have uncovered artwork from the Shang era, including bronze sculptures. The artwork was unearthed during the excavations.

Learning Objectives

In recent archaeological investigations, bronze artefacts from the Shang dynasty, as well as other works of art, have been unearthed.

Key Takeaways

  • Archaeological digs have uncovered examples of Shang period artwork, particularly metal sculptures.

Key Terms

  • Partially-molding: A process of casting in which the thing is first constructed as a model, and then encased in a clay mold that can be broken into parts so that it may be removed from the model In ancient China, oracle bones were made from pieces of ox scapula or turtle plastron and were used for pyromancy (a sort of divination) primarily during the late Shang dynasty. Bronze is a natural or artificial alloy of copper, generally including tin, and one or more additional metals
  • It can be found in nature or manufactured.

Overview: Shang Dynasty

Partially-molding: A process of casting in which the thing is first constructed as a model, and then contained in a clay mold that can be cut into sections so that it may be removed from the model. In ancient China, oracle bones were made from pieces of ox scapula or turtle plastron that were utilized for pyromancy (a sort of divination) primarily during the late Shang dynasty. In nature or man-made alloys, bronze is a combination of copper and one or more additional metals; it is also known as tin bronze.

Artifacts from the Shang Dynasty

It has been revealed that the Shang Dynasty created artwork, which has been uncovered via several archaeological investigations. The Ruins of Yin, which have been identified as the final Shang capital, have revealed eleven large Yin royal tombs as well as the foundations of palaces and ceremonial sites, which include weapons of battle and the remains of animal and human sacrifices, among other things. Over ten thousand bronze, jade, stone, bone, and pottery items have been discovered and documented.

Many Shang royal graves were devastated by grave robbers in ancient times; however, the discovery of Tomb 5 at Yinxu in the spring of 1976 showed a tomb that was not only untouched, but also one of the most lavishly equipped Shang tombs ever unearthed.

Bronze vessels, stoneware and ceramic containers, bronze weapons, jade figures, hair combs, and bone hairpins were discovered, as well as jade figurines and bone hairpins.

Ceramic and Bronze Work

During the Shang dynasty, Chinese bronze casting and pottery made significant strides forward, with bronze being utilized for both art and weaponry. Shang-era ceramics became more intricate as technical competence improved throughout this period, however they did not yet approach the level of expertise achieved by the Han Dynasty, which followed. In a number of excavations, ceramic fragments with brief sequences of symbols have been discovered, indicating that early forms of writing varied according to geographical location.

  1. A white clay pot with a geometric pattern on the outside: Dynasty of the Shang (1600–1100 BC) As early as 1500 BCE, the early Shang Dynasty was involved in the mass manufacture of bronze vessels and weapons on a huge scale.
  2. It was necessary for the Shang royal court and nobility to have a large number of bronze containers for a variety of ceremonial functions and religious divination rituals.
  3. For the fittings of spoked-wheeled chariots, which first emerged in China about 1200 BCE, bronze was also a common material.
  4. Because of the growing availability of bronze, the army will be able to better equip itself with a wider range of bronze weapons in the future.
  5. Shang infantry were armed with máo () spears, yuè () pole-axes, ga (g) pole-based dagger-axes, composite bows, and bronze or leather helmets.

An axe made of bronze from the Shang dynasty: In Shang civilization, bronze weapons were an essential element of everyday life, and Shang troops were equipped with a range of stone and bronze weapons.

Bronze under the Zhou Dynasty

During the Shang dynasty, Chinese bronze casting and pottery made significant strides forward, with bronze being utilized both for art and warfare. Because of advancements in technical competence, Shang-era ceramics became increasingly intricate during this period, albeit they did not yet approach the level of proficiency achieved by the Han Dynasty, which followed. In a number of excavations, ceramic fragments carrying brief sequences of symbols have been discovered, indicating that early forms of writing varied according to geographical region.

  • Porcelain vase with a geometric pattern made of white clay: From 1600 to 1100 BC, the Shang Dynasty reigned.
  • In order to do this, a vast work force was required that could handle the mining, refining, and transporting of the requisite copper, tin, and lead ores, in addition to official managers who could supervise both hard laborers and skilled artisans.
  • A nobleman or noblewoman of a particular level might own a specific number of bronze vessels of each sort, according to official laws.
  • a bronze ding jar from the Shang period In order to accommodate numerous ceremonial reasons and religious divination activities, the Shang royal court and nobility required a large number of distinct bronze containers.
  • máo () spears, yuè () pole-axes, ga (g) pole-based dagger-axes, composite bows, and bronze or leather helmets were all common weapons in Shang society.
  • This is the Shang dynasty’s bronze axe, which looks like this: Throughout Shang history, bronze weapons played an important role, and Shang troops were armed with a range of stone and metal weapons.

Learning Objectives

The achievements and cultural adaptations of the Zhou Dynasty, including bronze and ironware, will be discussed in this lesson.

Key Takeaways

  • China’s Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE) was a Chinese dynasty that reigned from 1046 to 256 BCE, after the Shang Dynasty and before the Qin Dynasty
  • Despite the fact that iron was brought to China during the Zhou Dynasty, this time is considered to be the pinnacle of Chinese bronzeware production by many. The technique of casting inscriptions in bronze vessels, as well as the shape of the vessels themselves, show that Zhou bronzework was highly influenced by the preceding Shang Dynasty. A considerable number of huge bronzes are inscribed with cast inscriptions. It is these that make up the majority of the extant early Chinese literature and have assisted historians and archaeologists in reconstructing the history of the country. Generally speaking, Chinese bronze objects are either utilitarian, such as spear points and other tools and weapons, or ceremonial/ritual, such as more sophisticated versions of ordinary containers in precious materials, or a combination of the two.

Key Terms

  • China’s ritual bronze pots from the Shang and Zhou dynasties are often decorated with the Taotie pattern. A zoomorphic mask with high eyes and no lower jaw region is often used in this design, which is frontal and bilaterally symmetrical. The term “oracle bones” refers to pieces of shell or bone, usually from ox or turtle scapulae or turtle plastrons, that were used for scapulimancy – a sort of divination – in ancient China, particularly during the late Shang dynasty.

Known as the “Shang Dynasty,” the Zhou Dynasty reigned in China from 1046 to 256 BCE, and it came after the Shang and before the Qin dynasties. The Zhou Dynasty reigned for more than 2,000 years, longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history.

However, the Ji family’s real governmental and military power over China only lasted until 771 BCE, during a period known as the Western Zhou. Despite the fact that iron was brought to China during the Zhou Dynasty, this time is considered to be the pinnacle of Chinese bronzeware by many experts.

Cultural Influences

The archaeological evidence reveals that the Zhou were cultural opportunists who took advantage of their surroundings. Their rapid adoption of the Shang’s material culture, presumably as a means of showing their legitimacy, was noteworthy. As seen by the casting of inscriptions in bronze containers and the shape of the vessels themselves, Zhou art was greatly influenced by Shang culture as well.

Bronze Inscriptions

A considerable number of huge bronzes are inscribed with cast inscriptions. These constitute the vast majority of extant early Chinese literature and have assisted historians and archaeologists in piecing together the history of China, particularly during the Zhou Dynasty period. Because they are cast bronze, the bronzes of the Western Zhou Dynasty document significant periods of history that are not contained in surviving writings from the period, and the medium of cast bronze provides a permanence that manuscripts do not have.

History has been able to situate the majority of the vessels within the Western Zhou era and track the evolution of the boats together with the events that they record as a result of the historical reference points established.

Uses and Types of Bronze

Generally speaking, Chinese bronze objects are either utilitarian, such as spear points and other tools and weapons, or ceremonial/religious, such as more sophisticated versions of daily containers in precious materials. Chinese ancient bronze items that have survived are mostly ceremonial forms rather than utilitarian replicas of their counterparts in other cultures. Weapons such as daggers and axes had a sacrificial connotation, representing the ruler’s celestial might via sacrifice. A large variety of vessel styles and shapes were developed in response to the powerful religious overtones associated with bronze items.

An Eastern-Zhou bronze sword was discovered in Changsa, Hunan Province, and is believed to date back to the Zhou Dynasty.

Dings are prehistoric old Chinese cauldrons that stand on four legs and have a lid with two handles that face each other.

They were used for a variety of purposes including cooking, storing, and making ritual gifts to the gods or ancestors.

Zunare wine and sacrifice vessels are distinguished by their tall cylindrical design, which lacks handles or legs, and by the fact that their mouths are somewhat wider than their bodies.

Zhou Bronze: A bronze gui jar from the Western Zhou period, c.

The ceremonial scriptures of China under the Zhou Dynasty explain which types of sacrifice vessels were permitted to be used by whom and when.

Ancient Chinese ceremonial bronzes from the Zhou Dynasty that have survived to this day are typically richly adorned and include thetaotiemotif, which depicts highly stylized animal faces, including devils, symbolic animals, and abstract symbols.

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