ART FROM ANCIENT LANDS

Shang Dynasty Bronze Jue - AM.145
Origin: China
Circa: 1250 BC to 1100 BC
Dimensions: 7.5" (19.1cm) high x 6.7" (17.0cm) wide
Collection: Chinese
Style: Shang
Medium: Bronze

This elegant bronze vessel was made during arguably one of the most important dynasties in Chinese history. The Shang (or Yin) was based in northern China, lasted for over 500 years, and ended in 1046 BC. The first non-mythical dynasty, it was preceded by the semi-legendary Xia dynasty (2100-1600 BC), and followed by the Zhou dynasty. It is highly important to historians of ancient China for the large amount of historical information recorded on “oracle bones”, although more recent dynasties also recorded a great deal about it. It was in this period that real cultural coalescence was reached, with considerable achievements in politics, economy, culture, religion, geography, astronomy, calendar, art and medicine. The comparatively small amount of information available in written documents – especially compared with that of later dynasties – makes social interpretations difficult; even the existence of the dynasty itself was in question until written records proving it were uncovered at Anyang. What is apparent is that the Bronze-Age polities of the time were highly warlike, with considerable defence architecture as well as monumental architecture and social complexity/stratification indicated through varying grave wealth. One of the most important industries of the time was that of bronze casting, as Chinese populations were by far the world’s most advanced when it came to the manipulation of this valuable metal. At this time, only the most socially elevated and wealthy of citizens – usually the royal court – could afford such luxuries, although its use spread until the arms too was plentifully equipped with bronze weaponry and accessories such as chariot-fittings.
The Jue is one of numerous forms that were produced for diverse functions; in this case it was designed to be used for wine, although for a more ritual than secular function. While Xia bronzes do exist, the quality, complexity and decoration did not compare to the bronzes of the Shang dynasty, which were cast in a dazzling array of forms and stages of decoration. The jue is noted for its delicacy and elegance, and ancient examples were already highly prized by collectors during the Song dynasty (10th to 13th centuries AD). There are of course numerous versions of the jue, but this one is unusually complex in terms of construction, and frivolous decoration has been kept to a minimum in order to accentuate the form of the piece.

This jue stands on tripod legs formed like broad blades, stemming from the lower one third of an approximately egg-shaped vessel. There is a single handle that leads into the leg with the greatest angular disparity from the pouring spouts (see below). The form of the body narrows superiorly, giving rise to an elaborate double spouted apex that broadens to a flat dished spatulate surface on one side, and a deeper, semi-concentric pouring spout on the other. The neck where the latter spout joins the body of the vessel is surmounted by an ornate double-coned decoration. Other than a triple band of detail at the vessel’s narrowest point, the surface of the bronze is unadorned except for the stunning multitonal patina that testifies to the piece’s great age. The ancient Chinese populations who made and saw this piece would have viewed it as magical. While we may not have this regard, it can certainly be described as a beautifully conceived and executed piece of ancient art. - (AM.145)

 

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