Warring States Set of Nine Graduated Bronze Bells - H.521
Origin: China
Circa: 475 BC to 221 BC
Dimensions: 12.5" (31.8cm) high x 7.125" (18.1cm) wide
Catalogue: V17
Collection: Chinese
Style: Warring States
Medium: Bronze

Whereas before, war was characterized as a civilized contest between aristocratic armies, during the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.), war evolved into the chaotic conflict we know it as today. Kings and princes were replaced on the battlefield by infantries lead by military generals. Peasants were recruited to serve on the front lines. Warfare intensified, especially in terms of the duration of campaigns. New arms and armor were invented, including the halberd and crossbow. Chariots rode alongside archers outfitted in iron helmets and body armor. Defensive walls were erected in order to repel invaders. However, despite the turmoil of the times, the arts continued to thrive. Bronze casting was revolutionized by the introduction of the lost-wax technique, while the alterations of kiln structures enabled new firing techniques that resulted in fully developed glazes.

Bells and vessels of ancient China were impressive for both their size and intricacy. They were used to embellish tombs or were commissioned to be used in ceremonies for which there was some sort of audience. In a world of competing courts, conspicuous display of every kind was the order of the day. Court furnishings included not just ritual vessels, but bells and other musical instruments. The vessels and bells illustrate methods of mechanical production that had become the norm. The designs with which these bronzes are covered were produced using pattern blocks, allowing for production of identically designed pieces. Rows of identically decorated groups of bells were produced in this way and must have been intended to impress an audience. This set of nine bells is representative of this process of production as well as the ancient custom of courts entertaining audiences to impress in order to amass political strength. The size of the bells ranges from seven inches to just over a foot. Each bell is decorated in a horizontal pattern of three knobs, possibly impressed with a flower motif, separated into registers by horizontal decorative bands. One vertical band separates the three-knobs groups in the center. The bottom third of the bell is partially impressed with intricate decoration or inscription. An animal motif creates the two bases of the handle, forming a hollow, oval support. Normally, the bells are presented suspending from large lacquered frames with vertical bronze supports in the form of human or animal figures, adding to the impact of its sight and sound. It is likely these bells formed a spectacular ensemble, as they continue to impress and fascinate those before them. - (H.521)