Fang Ye. Ritual food container. House shaped.
SHANG DYNASTY Anonymous
12th c BCE Chinese Shang Metalwork
(1527 BCE - 1027 BCE)
1200 BCE-1100 BCE
12th c BCE
Washington D.C. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
The Chinese were the first to develop bronze into a true artistic medium, as we see in this magnificent ritual vessel that was found in a tomb. Several centuries earlier the peoples of the Yellow River Valley had been brought together under the rule of one tribe, the Shang; and it is with them that many date the coming of civilization to China. In addition to creating the first unified state, the Shang developed writing. The first characters were found on bones that are thought to have been used for divination, which is foretelling the future. The characters also appear on the bronzes themselves.
The Shang used bronze to create a whole variety of bronze vessels: containers for food, water and wine as well as ritual objects that were placed in tombs to provide for the deceased in the next life. They were all richly decorated, some with geometric curls and spirals, others with animal designs and human heads. These were ceremonial, divine objects and they were done with extreme care. This particular container was intended to provide food for the deceased.
Notice the profiles of animals on the upper section and the strange face on the center section. The two round circles form the eyes and the central crest of the nose. Eyebrows or horns are indicated above. This strange face, known as the T'ao-tieh mask, the "Glutton," will appear on many Shang bronzes. It represents a type of monster spirit, and it has a long history. It appears much later and in diverse places, for instance above the entrance gates of temples in Bali where, as the "face of glory" it represents time which devours all; as the fierce Greek gorgon's face; as the powerful serpent spirit Sisiutl of the Northwest Pacific Coast Indians; and on small bronze and silver objects carried across the steppes of Central Asia by nomads to early Medieval Europe where it appears as a decorative motif.
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