Exhibition of Archaic Chinese Bronzes

By: H. H. F. J.

Originally Published in 1940

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THE Museum is privileged to be able to display, coincidentally with the current Exhibition of Archaic Chinese Jades, a group of early Chinese Bronze Vessels of extraordinary quality and beauty. These have been lent through the courtesy of Mr. C. T. Loo who has had so large a share in the development of the Museum’s Chinese collections.

Close up of a bronze handle in the shape of a beast's head with two antlers or antenae
Plate I — A horned, horrific beast that constitutes one of the handles of the Chinese bronze vessel shown in Plate II. About 1500 B. C.
Image Number: 1079

A volume could without difficulty be written on the ceremonial bronzes included in the group: each has a score of points about which it would be tempting to discourse. Yet, fundamentally, it is best that they should speak for themselves, and so we are here presenting largely a photographic record: those who have familiarity with the subject of ancient Chinese bronzes will, it is felt, prefer such a record to lengthy digressions on stylistic points. And those whose acquaintance has not extended far into this exciting field can derive as much from a study of the present reproductions or be encouraged to come and see the very pieces during the period of this temporary exhibition.

A number of the vessels bear important inscriptions whereby it is possible to fix the dates of their making. This is also possible on stylistic grounds: it could not, for instance, escape anyone that the great basin (Plate V) with its highly elaborated detailed ornamentation represents the work of an epoch much later than that which produced the circular vessel on the square base. (Plate II.) The former was made perhaps as late as 400 B. C.; the latter a good thousand years earlier. The other pieces stylistically can be fairly definitely assigned.

Bronze vessel on a square base with two handles in the shape of animals
Plate II — Bronze Bowl.
Two-handled with square base. Stylized coiled dragons with prominent eyes occupy the main panels. Startled, horned beasts form the rugged handles. Shang Dynasty 1763-1122 B. C.
Image Number: 1078

It must be confessed that we know pathetically little about the uses to which these vessels were put. It will doubtless never be disclosed in what strange sacrificial rites they were uplifted to the glory of Heaven or to satisfy the souls of departed ancestors.

Even though these problems were to be solved, such a knowledge would not add a whit to our appreciation of the innate beauty and grandeur of these works which few can deny find a place among man’s greatest artistic achievements.

H. H. F. J.

Close up of the decoration on the side of the square pedestal
Plate II — Detail of dragon panels on one side of the square base.
Image Number: 1080
View of underneath the vessel showing a bell
Plate II — Underside of the vessel, showing small bell suspended from the centre of the base. Perhaps to summon the spirits to a sacrificial ceremony.
Image Number: 1082
Top and lid of a bronze vessel showing three handles in decorated with horned animals
Plate III — Covered Tripod.
The ample body on its three stalwart legs is ornamented with three stylized monster-masks separated by heavy flanges. The pairs of twisted-horned animals that form the three high handles are of especial quality.
Museum Object Number: 41-25-1A / 41-25-1B
Image Number: 1092
Bronze tripod vessel with three handles decorated with animals
Plate III — Covered Tripod.
Museum Object Number: 41-25-1A / 41-25-1B
Image Number: 1089
Close up of the body of a tripod vessel
Plate III — Both on the inside of the lid and in the bottom of the bowl there is cast a primitive form of the Chinese character niu, meaning ox. Inasmuch as niu was the family name of Wei Tzu who founded the Sung State about 1123 B. C., it has been thought this vessel pertained to his family. It would,
however, seem stylistically to be several centuries earlier.
Museum Object Number: 41-25-1A / 41-25-1B
Image Number: 1093
Four legged bronze vessel with two handles in the shape of towers or mushrooms
Plate IV — Four-legged Sacrificial Vessel.
Early Chou Dynasty, 1122-947 B. C.
The decorated bands, filled with stylized animal elements are characteristic of vessels of this epoch. The fine grey-green patina is particularly noteworthy.
Close up of the detail of the body of a bronze vessel
Plate IV — Detail of the Vessel.
The monster-mask in the widest band is unusually elaborate; somewhat somnolent beasts fill in the band above which is surmounted by pointed motifs possibly derived from the cicada.
Image Number: 1087
A shallow bronze bowl or cauldron with three registers of decoration and four handles
Plate V — A Noble Cauldron of the Late Eastern Chou. A piece of astonishing intricacy and a masterpiece both of design and casting. The patina is sage green with patches of darker green incrustations. The diameter at the rim is 17 inches. Uninscribed. The monster heads of the ringed handles have a rugged ferocity difficult to find.
Close up of details of shallow bowl, one showing a handle with a ring on it, the other two registers
Plate V — In the body of the vessel the designer-would seem to have set himself (and attained) the mark of involving the anatomy of bird and beast in the most complex manner possible.
Tripod vessel with two handles
Plate VI — Two Tripod Vessels.
Probably made in the early years of the Chou Dynasty, twelfth century, each has a rich green patina with the details filled with what is supposed to be black lacquer, heightening the decorative effect.
Image Number: 1108
Tripod vessel with two handles
Plate VI — Two Tripod Vessels.
Probably made in the early years of the Chou Dynasty, twelfth century, each has a rich green patina with the details filled with what is supposed to be black lacquer, heightening the decorative effect.
Image Number: 1110
Low vessel on round pedestal with two handles
Plate VI — Ceremonial Vessel. Late Shang Dynasty.
Image Number: 1106
Rectangular bronze box with pyramidal lid
Plate VI — Rectangular Covered Vessel decorated with the simpler, stronger animal motives characteristic of the Shang Dynasty.
Image Number: 1257
Tripod vessel in the shape of a teapot
Plate VI — Spouted Ceremonial Vessel of unusual form, of the same period, but later than above.
Bronze oval bell with studs
Plate VII — Ceremonial Bell.
Of unusually large size. The treatment of the decorative bands on body and handle are characteristic of the Late Eastern Chou epoch. Fine green patina, patched with blue.
Image Number: 1099
Close up of bell handle in the shape of a chimaera kitten
Plate VII — Chimaera-kittens, occupied in nipping their curly tails, provide side supports on the burly tapering handle.
Image Number: 1103
Close up of bronze bell body showing studs and register of decor at the bottom
Plate VII — The main panel, below the bosses on either side, contains double-bodied monsters which share a single fierce and staring face.
Image Number: 1104

Cite This Article

J., H. H. F.. "Exhibition of Archaic Chinese Bronzes." Museum Bulletin VIII, no. 2-3 (March, 1940): 5-11. Accessed July 23, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/2177/


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