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Chinese Shang & Zhou Dynasties (1766-256 BCE)

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Yuan (wine cup) with face of glory.
16th-11th c BCE Chinese Shang Metalwork

SHANG DYNASTY Anonymous (1527 BCE - 1027 BCE) Primary
1527 BCE-1027 BCE
16th-11th c BCE
cast & incised
Paris. Musée Cernuschi.
A Chinese wine vessel almost identical to the one shown on the left was discovered in 1941 in a field near Ostia, the ancient port city for Rome. That vessel is currently in the National Museum of Oriental Art in Rome. We can only speculate about the many hands that the vessel went through to find its way from China across the vast Steppes of Central Asia through the Middle East and finally to Rome. Both that vessel and the one pictured here are decorated with the Tao Tieh or Dragon mask, a motif that made its way across the Steppes as well, transforming itself as it went. We shall encounter it and related motifs later when we study the art of the nomads. On the right was the type of mirror that the Han Emperor Wudi sent out with the trading expeditions to the West. Mirrors like this were used for divination. They were made of highly polished bronze, and thus, were both valuable and easily portable. Similar mirrors have been found in the tombs of nomad chiefs in Siberia and can currently be seen in various Russian museums. The pattern on the mirror might almost be an illustration of a 3rd century Chinese text that describes the four sons of heaven, the emperors of the four quarters of the world. To the north was the ruler of the horses; to the south the son of heaven of the elephants, that is the sovereign of India; to the east was the son of heaven of men, that is the Chinese themselves; while to the west was the son of heaven of richness, or the sovereign of the Roman empire.

Caption: SHANG | Yuan (wine cup) with face of glory. | 1527 BCE-1027 BCE | Chinese | Shang

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