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HOME : Chinese Art : Masterpieces of Chinese Art : Western Zhou Bronze Yi Water Vessel
Western Zhou Bronze Yi Water Vessel - H.653
Origin: China
Circa: 1046 BC to 771 BC
Dimensions: 6.5" (16.5cm) high
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Bronze

Additional Information: SOLD

TL Lab Test, Art Logic--Private (Alzadarof Collection), Chicago

Location: Great Britain

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In 1122 B.C., at the battle of Muyeh, the rebellious Zhou tribe defeated the imperial troops of the Shang Dynasty, China’s first Imperial Dynasty. The Zhou Dynasty is itself composed of two periods that historians have dubbed Western (1122-771 B.C.) and Eastern (770-221 B.C.). During the Western period, the Zhou ruled from their capital Zongzhou (near modern X’ian). While the Zhou were highly influence by the Shang, over time, they developed their own unique style of decorating bronze and terracotta vessels. Perhaps their most important artistic innovation was the creation of primitive glazes. However, ambitious campaigns to expand their territory westward failed, and in 771, nomadic invaders ransacked Zongzhou, forcing the Zhou to flee eastwards to the city of Chengzhou, which became their second capital.

China was perhaps the most civilized culture of the ancient world. Their science, philosophy, art, and technology were all years ahead of most other cultures. One gains an idea of their sophistication and wealth when viewing this stunning bronze Yi. Once, long ago, before sitting down to a ceremonial feast, nobility would have washed their hands with this vessel, thus beginning the structured ritual of dining. Both the beauty and luxury of this work implies that it would have been the possession of the King, or perhaps a close member of his royal entourage. Quite simply, few people but the king could afford such a treasure. By far, the most unique, and charming, feature of this vessel is the legs and feet. The legs are shaped as stylized dragons with incised details while the feet depict four naturally rendered squatting bovine figures. The dragon motif reoccurs on the openwork “handles” attached to the two sides while a frieze of swirling patterns typical of the Zhou style covers the body. The proper handle at the back of the vessel is surmounted by a stylized horned dragon head.

Discovered inside an ancient tomb, this Yi was treasured as much in life as in the afterworld. During this era, the Chinese believed that the afterlife was an extension of our earthly existence. Thus, important people were often enshrined with their treasured possessions as well as works specifically commissioned to be interred. Although most Yi vessels of the rounded bottom type were created during the Eastern Zhou period, scholars believe that this form was introduced during the closure of the previous Western Zhou Dynasty, from when this vessel dates. Over the centuries, this work has acquired a fantastic and varied patina that only enhances the beauty and texture of the work. - (H.653)


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