Ritual Wine Vessel (Guang)
The Chinese were one of the first cultures to develop sophisticated bronze casting technology. Most of the early Chinese bronzes that have survived were found in tombs, where they were placed to serve the dead in the afterlife. The vessels made in this period were probably used in rituals, rather than for everyday functions; an unusually large number were reserved for the preparation and serving of wine. Unlike other bronze wine-pouring vessel types, which were made in clay thousands of years before their first appearance in bronze, the form of the ovoid-shaped guang did not have a ceramic prototype and was relatively short-lived, made only from the late Shang and into the Western Zhou dynasties (circa eleventh to ninth centuries).
This guang is an exceptional example of the vessel type, with its lid in the form of a toothy bottle-horned dragon, and a taotie (monster mask) frieze on the body of the vessel. Animal imagery often covers early Chinese bronzes; the images are thought to represent Shamanic ideals and powers. Whereas the Brooklyn guang may not be as flamboyant as certain contemporaneous examples, it is superbly cast and elegantly designed, its contours and decorative reliefs sensitively integrated into an organic whole.
13th-11th century B.C.E.
late Shang Dynasty
6 1/2 x 3 1/4 x 8 1/2 in. (16.5 x 8.3 x 21.6 cm) (show scale)
This item is not on view
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alastair B. Martin, the Guennol Collection
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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
overall, 72.163_bw.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 1987
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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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