THE latest acquisition in the Department of Chinese Art is a very early bronze vessel, about seven inches high. It is a tsun, of beaker type, having a hand of rich ornament in relief around the body and a plain flaring neck and base [Plate VI].
Such vessels were used in the worship of ancestors from earliest times in China, and this particular shapeis one of the most ancient, going back, it is believed, at least as far as the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 B.C.). The motives of decoration are characteristic. In front, and also in back, is a great monster face called a t’ao-t’ieh, or greed-monster. Eyes, eye-brows, and heavy, sheep-like horns are modelled in fairly high relief with fine gradation of planes. Ears, nostrils, and snarling jaws are in lower relief. The whole is highly conventionalized. Between the horns is a small animal head in high relief, representing the sacrificial victim. On each side of the beaker are two birds in relief, facing each other. They are phoenixes, symbol of warmth and sunshine. These birds are very naturalistic in their design. All over the background in raised threads of relief are the double scroll motives known as ‘cloud and thunder.’
The vessel was cast by the cire perdue process, in a mould made over an original wax model. The line where two sections of the mould joined is indicated by the vertical thread running between the confronted birds.
Inside, on the bottom, appears a sunken inscription cast in beautifully fashioned ancient Chinese characters reading: ‘Shou tso Fu Kêng pao tsun i Kung‘ that is to say, ‘Shou made Father Kêng this precious wine-jar sacrificial-vessel, Kung.’ The last character, Kungtsun which, if not actually made in the Shang dynasty, belong to the early years of the Chou, about 1000 B.C.
H. E. F.