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Ritual Wine Vessel (Guang)

Asian Art

On View: Brooklyn Museum, BMA, EXHIBITION-2, Asian 2W41
This Shang-dynasty guang is the finest early Chinese ritual bronze in the Museum’s collection. The lid is shaped like a dragon with a maniacal, toothy grin and protruding horns, while the handle forms another beast. Two demon masks (taotie) with horns, fangs, and bulging eyes decorate the sides, while another two are found under the chin and tail of the beast. In total, twenty dragons, birds, and mythical creatures morph into each other on the lid and body of the bronze. They illustrate the spiritual transformation that the ancient Chinese believed occurs when communicating with ancestors, or when leaving this world for the afterlife to become an ancestor oneself. Such vessels were used for pouring wine offerings on ancestral altars or in ritual banquets by Shang kings, who served as the link between the living and their ancestors.
MEDIUM Bronze
  • Place Made: China
  • DATES 13th-11th century B.C.E.
    DYNASTY late Shang Dynasty
    PERIOD Shang Dynasty
    DIMENSIONS 6 1/2 x 3 1/4 x 8 1/2 in. (16.5 x 8.3 x 21.6 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Asian Art
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Brooklyn Museum, BMA, EXHIBITION-2, Asian 2W41
    ACCESSION NUMBER 72.163a-b
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alastair B. Martin, the Guennol Collection
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Ritual Wine Vessel (Guang), 13th-11th century B.C.E. Bronze, 6 1/2 x 3 1/4 x 8 1/2 in. (16.5 x 8.3 x 21.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alastair B. Martin, the Guennol Collection, 72.163a-b. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 72.163a-b_SL1.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 72.163a-b_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Oblong wine pouring vessel in the shape of a mythical animal, mold-cast in bronze with high-relief decoration of stylized animal and geometric forms. Brooklyn's Shang Dynasty bronze "Guang" is the Museum's finest early bronze. Truly sculptural in its conception, the "Guang" combines striking animal imagery with finely cast geometric designs. The rituals of the Shang kings were elaborations of banquets that included serving food and wine, and this superbly cast "Guang" is a type of wine vessel. Like other bronzes, it is a symbol of authority, and possession of the best artistic products is directly linked to social and political prestige. The decoration of animals and animal masks raises the much debated question of meaning in Shang bronzes. One writer has suggested the animals represent spirits that possessed Shang shamans during ritual, but this question, which is fueled by the extraordinary sophistication and assurance of Shang animal ornament, has no simple answer.
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