Late Shang / early Western Zhou Dynasty
11th - 10th century BCE
Length: 22.9 cm.
Published and Exhibited
Archetypes and Archaism, Spring 2001, Weisbrod Chinese Art Ltd.
The bronze vessel is of elongated, bellied form with a spout formed by the mouth rim extending up and outwards at one end. Each side of the body is decorated with a large bird with a long, hooked beak, plume, wing and tail feathers enclosing c-curls. Above the wing of the large bird in another very small bird in flight. Between the birds under the spout are two kui dragons with hooked beaks and claws. At the opposite end is a handle springing from a bovine head just under the rim looping back under the belly of the vessel. An oval straight-sided high foot with two pairs of birds facing forward toward the spout on each side supports the body. The zoomorphic cover with bottled-horned dragon extends over the mouth of the vessel. A snake, with turned up tail, crawls along the spine, emerging between the horns on the forehead of the dragon.
Snail curls emerge from each side of the dragon’s nose and enlarged leiwen patterns define the eyebrows and cheeks. A bird with long tail feathers decorated with c-curls is on each side of the cover, which terminates as the head of a beast or bird having large round eyes, horns with c-curls and a protruding tongue.
Archaic bronze guang are extremely rare although several exist in museum collections of differing size and design. The guang vessel was used to pour wine. While the history and origin of the vessel are obscure, the form seems to appear only in late Shang and to have disappeared during the Western Zhou dynasty. During the Shang dynasty, bronze vessels began to take on new and dynamic shapes and animal décor that were once cast in compartmentalized bands began to flow into one another. In the lid of this guan. the dragon’s body or tail metamorphoses into an animal head, probably a bird.
Two similar guang, are published with the dominating bird motif on the body and the trade-horned dragon lid. The example in the Avery Brundage Collection: The Ancient Chinese, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, California, plate 21b, and the well-known late Shang dynasty guang in the Shanghai Museum, with a higher foot, illustrated in their catalogue, pls. 69 and 70, have subtle structural and design differences.
Another Shang guang with a more elaborate lid is in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, illustrated in Hat-Lai H-View Chinese Art Overseas Collections, Bronzes II, pl. 61. An earlier Shang guang, of similar size, with compartmentalized designs against leiwen background, is in the Norton Gallery and School of Art, West Palm Beach, illustrated in Ritual Vessels of Bronze Age China, pl. 34.
(Ark Restoration & Design Ltd.’s conservation report available upon request.)