c. 1250–1046 BCE
Overall: 50.8 cm (20 in.)
John L. Severance Fund 2005.54
Ancient bronze vessels are ritual and religious in nature, linked inextricably to political legitimization, and are source materials for Chinese historiography and traditional antiquarianism.
This large wine vessel (or jia) is among those very rare, monumental pieces uncovered from Anyang, the last royal capital of the Shang dynasty (c.1700–c.1100 BCE). Probably very few monumental bronze vessels were ever made; each of them must have cost a fortune and was used to designate high-ranking (often royal) status. Even fewer have survived. This wine vessel was used for the ancestral rites of the Shang. Its three splayed legs supported the cup over a fire, suggesting that the wine might be heated.
Offering wine and food to their departed ancestors was an essential ritual practice performed by the Shang royalty and aristocracy. The Shang people believed that their ancestors were able to intercede with the high god to confer fruitful harvests and victories in battles. Their ritual actions involved communication with the supernatural realm (and this was further supported by the practice of divination with the use of a tortoise shell or a cattle shoulder blade). Here, the animal mask on the bronze vessel stares frontally at the viewer and serves symbolically as a messenger of communication with the ancestors. It conjures up the potency of mystery, whereas the static monumentality of the bronze vessel lends an air of dignified solemnity to the ritual ceremony.
The information about this object, including provenance, may not be currently accurate. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email [email protected].
To request more information about this object, study images, or bibliography, contact the Ingalls Library Reference Desk.
All images and data available through Open Access can be downloaded for free. For images not available through Open Access, a detail image, or any image with a color bar, request a digital file from Image Services.