Western Zhou dynasty, 8 Century BCE
13 x 8-11/16 (diam.) in.
SOLD to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1994.
WEISBROD Chinese Art, Ltd., New York (sold to Indianapolis Museum of Art. 1994).
Anthony Carter, Ltd., London (sold to WEISBROD)
The long inscription in this container is famous because it is the earliest mention of melting down older vessels to make newer ones rather than using raw material. This method of recycling ritual bronzes has been generally condemned because it destroys items from the past.
The translated inscription inside the neck reads: Zeng Boji used auspicious metal from old vessels and he made this pot for ritual wine for entertaining guests. May his virtue be without flaw, thereby being filial, thereby feasting [his ancestors], and thereby being given long life. May his descendants thereby receive limitless great blessings.
The forty-one-character inscription inside the neck of this container—there is an identical one on a similar vessel in the Palace Museum, Taipei—is famous for being the first to mention the recycling of earlier bronzes in order to make other vessels. The older bronzes were melted down at the behest of Yi, a nobleman who lived in south central China, near today's Wuhan in Hubei province. The inscription in the container continues, explaining that Yi's vessel held “ritual wine for entertaining guests. May his virtue be without flaw; thereby being filial, thereby feasting [ancestors], and thereby being given long life. May his descendants thereby receive limitless great blessings.” The “wine” was a grain-based alcoholic beverage.
The style of their bronzes shows that the people of the Zhou dynasty modified many of the traditions they inherited from Shang artisans. Where Shang containers are often elegant in shape, Zhou vessels become more squat and massive while the bold, animal-based decoration of the earlier objects gradually yields to designs of a more abstract and fluid nature, like the wavy grooves that encircle this container. The numerous creatures of earlier times are here reduced to two: a small head holding a ring on either side of the neck.