Square lidded ritual wine container (fangyi)


Square lidded ritual wine container (fangyi) with taotie, serpents, and birds, Early Western Zhou dynasty, ca. 1050-975 BCE, Bronze, China, Henan province, Luoyang, 35.3 high x 24.8 x 23.3 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1930.54a-b)

Square lidded ritual wine container (fangyi) with taotie, serpents, and birds, Early Western Zhou dynasty, c. 1050–975 B.C.E., Bronze, China, Henan province, Luoyang, 35.3 high x 24.8 x 23.3 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1930.54a-b)

This bronze container, made to hold wine, is called a fangyi in Chinese (fang means square and yi means vessel). It looks like a house: rectangular with a roof-shaped lid topped by a roof-shaped knob. Vertical ridges at the center and corners of each side reinforce this architectural character and add to its visual appeal.

Square lidded ritual wine container (fangyi) with taotie, serpents, and birds, Early Western Zhou dynasty, ca. 1050-975 BCE, Bronze, China, Henan province, Luoyang, 35.3 high x 24.8 x 23.3 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1930.54a-b)

One side with a taotie. Square lidded ritual wine container (fangyi) with taotie, serpents, and birds, Early Western Zhou dynasty, c. 1050–975 B.C.E., Bronze, China, Henan province, Luoyang, 35.3 high x 24.8 x 23.3 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1930.54a-b)

Each side has a taotie, a frontal animal-like mask, executed in multiple planes of relief. Besides the eyes, horns, snout, and jaws, the taotie mask also has a split animal-like body with a foot and tail shown in profile on either side of the mask. Narrow bands with paired birds or split serpents with tiger heads appear below and above this taotie motif. The lid has a nearly identical taotie design but inverted, like a mirror-image. Made more than three thousand years ago, the surface of the bronze is not the shiny silvery color it used to be. Instead, the whole surface is covered in areas of greens, blues, and reds as a result of corrosion, similar to the way a penny is shiny when it is new but becomes duller over time. Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper with the addition of tin and sometimes other metals such as aluminum or zinc.

Square lidded ritual wine container (fangyi) with taotie, serpents, and birds, Early Western Zhou dynasty, ca. 1050-975 BCE, Bronze, China, Henan province, Luoyang, 35.3 high x 24.8 x 23.3 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1930.54a-b)

Square lidded ritual wine container (fangyi) with taotie, serpents, and birds, Early Western Zhou dynasty, c. 1050–975 B.C.E., Bronze, China, Henan province, Luoyang, 35.3 high x 24.8 x 23.3 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1930.54a-b)

Despite the beauty of its form and decoration, this vessel is most famous for its lengthy inscription of 187 characters. The text is one of the longest from the early Zhou period, around the eleventh to tenth centuries B.C.E.. It is repeated inside the vessel and on the lid. The characters possess the decorative style of calligraphy. It is likely that the text was first written with a brush and then transferred to the clay model used to make this bronze. According to the inscription, the vessel commemorates three days of administrative meetings and ritual ceremonies held in the capital during the reign of Zhao, the fourth king of Zhou. The owner of the vessel was deeply involved in these ceremonies.

Shang dynasty bronzes preserve one of the earliest forms of Chinese writing in their simple, highly pictographic inscriptions. In the succeeding Zhou dynasty, written characters became more standardized and bronze inscriptions lengthened. They often commemorated an event in which the person commissioning the bronze was involved, as seen in this fangyi. Thus, besides their artistic and ritual values, Shang and Zhou bronzes are often carriers of important cultural and historical information critical for us to rebuild the history of ancient China.

 

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This resource was developed for Teaching China with the Smithsonian, made possible by the generous support of the Freeman Foundation


For the classroom

Discussion questions:

  • What is bronze? What metals does it consist of? What is an alloy?
  • How were bronze vessels created in ancient China? What were the steps of the bronze-making process?
  • Take a close look at all sides of this vessel. How many taotie can you find? Why do you think the craftsman designed creatures and taotie on the outside of the vessel?
  • Looking at this vessel, what would you imagine an inscription on the inside would say? Write your own commemorative inscription for this object.
  • What are some ways we commemorate historic events today?

 


Additional resources:

This object in the Teaching China materials from the Smithsonian

Luo Zhenyu. A research into. vol. 5, no. 3 Kyoto, October 1929. opp. p. 480.

William Watson. Ancient Chinese Bronzes. The Arts of the East London. pl. 33a.

Benjamin Rowland, Laurence Sickman, H. G. Henderson, Robert Treat Paine, Richard Ettinghausen, Eric Schroeder. The University Prints. Oriental Art Series O 4 vols. Newton, Massachusetts, 1938-1941. Section 2: Early Chinese Art, pl. 99.

Sueji Umehara. On the Shapes of the Bronze Vessels of Ancient China: An Archaeological Study. Toho Bunka Gakuin kyoto kenkyujo kenkyu hohoku, vol.15 Kyoto. pl. 42, fig. 1.

Sueji Umehara. Shina kodo seikwa [Selected Relics of Ancient Chinese Bronzes from Collections in Europe and Asia]. 3 vols., Osaka. vol. 1, p. 23, fig. 4, pl.10-11.

Hai-Po Sun. Ho-nan chi chin t’u chih sheng lu [Illustrated Catalogue of Honan Bronzes]. Peking. pls. 36a-b, 37.

Bernhard Karlgren. Yin and Chou in Chinese Bronzes. no. 8, 1955 article reprint. Stockholm. pl. 18, B24.

Osvald Siren. Kinas Konst Under Tre Artusenden. 2 vols., Stockholm, 1942-1943. pl. 8.

Shang Chou chin wen shi ch’eng. Multi-volume, Taipei. cat. 5531.

Sekai bijutsu zenshu [A Complete Collection of World Art]. 40 vols., Tokyo, F1951-1953. cat. 74.

Mizuno Seiichi. In Shu seidoki to tama [Bronzes and Jades of Ancient China]. Tokyo. pl. 104, fig. 51.

Franz Michael. China Through the Ages: History of a Civilization. Boulder and London. fig. 6a.

Bernhard Karlgren. Some New Bronzes in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities. no. 24 Stockholm. fig. 13.

Keng Jung, Chang Wei. Yin Chou ch’ing t’ung ch’i t’ung lun [A Survey of Shang-Chou Bronzes]. Peking. cat. 167.

Deane Heller, David Heller. The Nation’s Art Treasures: Press Release., October 30, 1954. .

Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy. Introduction to the Art of Eastern Asia. Chicago, March 1932. opp. p. 32.

Higuchi Takayasu. Chugoku seidoki hyakusen., 1 hen. Tokyo. pl. 52.

Chugoku bijutsu [Chinese Art in Western Collections]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1972-1973. fig. 43.

Noel Barnard. Bronze Casting and Bronze Alloys in Ancient China. Monumenta serica, no. 14 Canberra. pls. 1, 23.

Chen Mengjia. Yin Zhou qing tong qi fen lei tu lu [Yin-Chou ch’ing t’ung ch’i fen lei t’u lu]. 2 vols., Dongjing. vol. 2, A 646.

Jessica Rawson. Western Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections. Ancient Chinese Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, vol. 2 Washington and Cambridge, Massachusetts. vol. 2a, p. 63, vol. 2b, fig. 80, 40.9.

Dr. John Alexander Pope, Thomas Lawton, Harold P. Stern. The Freer Gallery of Art. 2 vols., Washington and Tokyo, 1971-1972. cat. 9, vol. 1, p. 154.

Grace Dunham Guest, Archibald Gibson Wenley. Annotated Outlines of the History of Chinese Arts. Washington, 1949. p. 3.

compiled by the staff of the Freer Gallery of Art. A Descriptive and Illustrative Catalogue of Chinese Bronzes: Acquired During the Administration of John Ellerton Lodge. Oriental Studies Series, no. 3 Washington, 1946. pp. 4-6, 42-43, pls. 21-22.

Freer Gallery of Art. The Freer Gallery of Art. Washington. p. 6.

Fu Shen, Glenn D. Lowry, Ann Yonemura, Thomas Lawton. From Concept to Context: Approaches to Asian and Islamic Calligraphy. Exh. cat. Washington. cat. 1, pp. 20-21.

Higuchi Takayasu. Kijin to ningen no Chugoku. Tokyo. pp. 26-27.

The Eternal Army: The Terracotta Soldiers of the First Emperor. Vercelli and New York. p. 29.

Michael Sullivan. The Arts of China., 3rd ed. Berkeley. p. 35.

Moruo Guo. Yin Chou ch’ing t’ung ch’i ming wen yen-chiu/Yin Zhou qing tong qi ming wen yan jiu: A study of the inscriptions on the bronzes of the Yin and Chou dynasties. vol. 1, Shanghai. p. 37 ff.

The Horizon Book of the Arts of China. New York. p. 45.

Luo Zhenyu. Chen sung tang chi ku i wen [Ancient Inscriptions in the Collection of Lo Chen-yu]. multi-vol., . p. 49.

Sekai kokogaku taikei [Archaeology of the World]. 16 vols., Tokyo, 1958-1962. p. 73, fig. 198.

Beasts & Beauty in Bronze., February 10, 1958. p. 84.

William Watson. Early Civilization in China. Library of the early civilizations London, 1966. p. 95.

Walter Karp. The Smithsonian Institution: An Establishment for the Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge Among Men. Washington. p. 114.

Herman Floris Eduard Visser. Are There Other Projections of Flanges, besides Karlgren’s “Hook Projections” which are Characteristic of Yin-Chou Bronzes? vol. 16, no. 5 Amsterdam, May 1939. p. 158, fig. 3.

W. A C. H. Dobson. Early Archaic Chinese: A Descriptive Grammar. Toronto. pp. 195-200.

Dr. John Alexander Pope, Rutherford John Gettens, James Cahill, Noel Barnard. The Freer Chinese Bronzes. Oriental Studies Series, vol. 1, no. 7 Washington. cat. 38, p. 213.

Keng Jung. Shang Chou i chi’i t’ung k’ao [The Bronzes of Shang and Chou]. Yenching Journal of Chinese Studies, no. 17 Beijing. pp. 314, 409, fig. 603.

Virginia Kane. The Chronological Significance of the Inscribed Ancestor Dedication in the Periodization of Shang Bronze Vessels. vol. 35, pt. 4 Washington and Zurich. pp. 335-337, fig. 23.

Edwards Park. Treasures from the Smithsonian Institution., 1st ed. Washington and New York. p. 338.

Mizuno Seiichi, Yukio Kobayashi. Zukai kokogaku jiten [Dictionary of Archaeology]. Tokyo. p. 1039.

Wu Qichang. Study of the Inscription on the “Ts’e i”. Peking, June 1931. pp. 1661-1732.

Chin wen tsung chi. Taipei. pp. 2738-2739.

Cite this page as: Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art, "Square lidded ritual wine container (fangyi)," in Smarthistory, May 7, 2021, accessed June 24, 2021, https://smarthistory.org/ritual-wine-container/.