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Wine Vessel (You)
North China,
Western Zhou period about late 11th century B.C.E.
Bronze
H. 14 7/8 in.

Background
The Bronze Age in China extended from 2000 to 500 B.C.E. The development of bronze technology provided better tools for increased productivity and more effective weapons. In China, bronze objects also served a ritual purpose.

Excavations at Anyang, the capital city of China during the late Shang period (1300-1050 B.C.E.), have revealed large palace buildings, workshops, and burial sites with many bronze vessels. These vessels were mainly cast for the king and the nobility. The Zhou people defeated the Shang and established a new capital at Xi'an. Under the Zhou (1050 B.C.E. to 221 B.C.E.), bronze vessels, which had been used only for rituals, became items of luxury and power.

How to look at this work
This object is bucket-shaped and has a lid and a swing handle. The handle's attachments are in the shape of the head of a horned buffalo. On the lower part of the vessel is a masklike representation of a buffalo with bulbous eyes, a long snout, horns and, cloven hooves. Above this buffalo face is the masklike shape of another type of animal. A buffalo motif can also be seen on the top of the lid. These animal-like faces are called taotie (pronunciation "ta-o-tyay"). These fantastic creatures may have served as intermediaries between the world of men and the realms of the spirits. The masks are set against a spiral-like background.

Function
The shape of this vessel indicates that it was a container for storing liquid, probably wine.

Bronze vessels cast during the Shang Dynasty (1700-1050 B.C.E.) were used in state rituals and in other rituals concerned with communication with ancestors or gods. The belief that deceased spirits had powers to influence events on earth was important in early Chinese culture. Since spirits were all-powerful, they had to be propitiated. The most important way to appease them was with periodic sacrifices, during which offerings of food and drink were made and the spirits were invited to partake in a ritual meal. In addition to being used for such ceremonies, bronze vessels were often buried in tombs. Under the Zhou, bronze vessels were still cast for rituals to honor ancestors, but other motivations became more common.

How this object was made
This vessel was cast in the piece-mold method. A model was made "...probably of clay. When the model had hardened more clay was packed around it to make the molds: to remove these molds from the model, the clay wrapper had to be carefully cut into sections. The mold sections were fired and then reassembled around a core, so that when the hot metal was poured into them, a hollow vessel would result."*

*Jessica Rawson, ed., The British Museum Book of Chinese Art. (Thames and Hudson Inc., 1992), p.49.

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