Artful Bronzes: Bronzes of Ancient China (Part 1)

At the Chicago Art Institute last month, we saw an exhibition of ancient Chinese bronzes.
Chinese emperors used to collect ancient bronzes to connect to the past and building their power in the present. These bronze objects mostly date from the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.E. and had been found in tombs where they contained sacrifices to the ancestors, to accompany the deceased to the underworld, or commemorate family lineages in public ceremonies.

in later centuries, Chinese emperors considered these bronze vessels to be a sign of omens or blessings. Qianlong (1735-960, a powerful emperor of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) had collected a huge number of artworks, including ancient bronzes, to underscore his power and express his worldview.



Jar (Hu) – Zhou dynasty (1046-771 BCE)

Bronze making in China arose from pottery traditions of the Neolithic era (before 2000 BCE). Bronze, an alloy of tin and copper, gave inhabitants of the region a substance that was harder and more durable than anything previously available.

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Pedestal tureen of Hu (Hu Gui), Western Zhou dynasty, bronze (from the Shanghai Museum)

Among the most common vessel types are the bucket (you), cauldron (ding), cup (zhi), food container (gui), jar (hu), stemmed bowl (dou) and wine container (zun). Modern archaeologists classify objects by form and function and still use the ancient names.



L-R: Beaker of Er (Er Zun), late Shang dynasty (1250-1046 BCE), bonze; Bucket of Recorder Huan (Zuo Ce Huan You), Western Zhou dynasty (1046-771 BCE), bronze; Beaker of Mother Zin (Mu Xin Zu), Western Zhou dynasty, bronze; Jar (Hu), late Shang dynasty, bronze. The bucket (second from left) had writing inside, from which rubbings were taken.

The following photo is of one of my favorites, because of the elaborate designs all around it.



Jar (Hu), Warring States period (475-221 BCE), bronze (from the Shanghai Museum)



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Pitcher of Father Ding (Fu ding Gong), late Shang dynasty, bronze

The Shang dynasty led to stability, prosperity, and various cultural developments, including a form of writing and a method of casting bronze using ceramic molds.


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Small Tripod Cauldron of Chang Zi (Chang Zi Ding), Western Zhou dynasty (1046-771 BCE), bronze (from collection of Art Institute of Chicago)



Mask, Western Zhou dynasty (1046-771 BCE), bronze



Clockwise from top left: Bird-shaped container (Zun), late Shang dynasty, bronze; Ram-shaped container (Zun), late Shang dynasty, bronze; Ox-shaped container (Zun), Shang dynasty (about 1600-1046 BCE), bronze


To be continued…







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