Bronze Lecture

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					       It did not take us long to visit Inuyama Castle, which
is the only privately owned castle in Japan. To the east of
the castle is the Uraku-en garden housing the most important
traditional teahouse of Japan. , the Jo-an. This is a national
treasure and was originally built by Oda Norbunagas’
brother, Oda Uraki, a leading tea master. The teahouse has
yellow walls and has floor space of just over 3 tatami mats.

       We had a wonderful time since there were so many
things for us to see. Needless to say, we also enjoyed a lot of
good Japanese cuisine and came home with as much
shopping as we could manage to fit in during the busy
traveling schedule.

                                                  Marina Lo

                                                                       Bronze Lecture

Bronze Lecture by Anthony Hardy, 29 January 2002                                                If art is the flower of culture then it may be said that China’s bronze
                                                                                         culture helped shape the culture of the Chinese and since Chinese culture is
CHINESE ARCHAIC BRONZES                                                                  an important part of Asian or Eastern culture, in fact its mainstream, one
                                                                                         might rightly assume that the quintessence of Asian culture in its early stages
       It has sometimes been remarked that there is very little interest in              was in bronze-ware.
Chinese bronzes amongst HK collectors. I think this was perhaps the case in
the past generation for the reason that Chinese collectors of that and earlier                  More particularly two products of the Shang Dynasty, which
eras were purported to be superstitious about items, categorised as Ming Chu,            period we will be talking a lot about this evening, had a profound
which have been buried in tombs. The late Dr. P. P. Chiu was an exception;               influence on the cultural history of China. First was the Book of Changes
he assembled a very fine collection which unfortunately was dispersed                    in its three versions, the second was bronze-ware. Thus two great events
through sale and auction after his death. As a non-Chinese collector myself,             signalled China’s entry into the age of civilisation. Materially it was the
I was not inhibited by such stigmas. Indeed I have always seen these                     making of bronze-ware and spiritually it was the appearance of the Book
magnificent artefacts as items of ritual and later functional significance rather        of Changes, both flying the banners revealing the basic elements of
than burial items to accompany the deceased into the next world. In helping              Chinese culture.
the Museum with this exhibition, I have been happy to establish that, in fact,
there are now amongst the next generation of local collectors several who are                   In my talk I will be explaining to you how bronzes developed political,
earnest and knowledgeable collectors in this field. Indeed what you see here             religious and aesthetic values. In ancient times rites, as in rituals, and war
in this Gallery is a selection taken from no less than eight HK collections.             were two important activities of any community. Bronze vessels were
                                                                                         associated with both.
       Before showing you individual pieces in the exhibition, I would just
like to place archaic bronzes into context with cultural evolution, history and          RITUAL VESSELS
                                                                                                I am assuming that most of you have some knowledge of the
       One finds that when primitive society which lasted millions of years              development of bronzes in China, their useage through the main bronze
exited from that palaeolithic stupor and entered the age of civilization, various        periods, the ceremonial ritual of the Shang and Western Zhou, leading into
communities began going their own way and with remarkable speed the                      the glamour of Eastern Zhou bronzes, the weaponry, inlaid chariot refinery
culture of each embryonic nation began to reveal styles and characteristics              and personal adornments of the Warring States period and then the
distinctly different from other cultures. Just as newborn babies are basically           domestication and simple, refined lines of Han bronzes. I will not therefore
alike, when they reach childhood they begin to reveal distinctive idiosyncrasies         do more than just remind you of a few pertinent facts in bullet point form as
in appearance and character; and so the cultures of the world passed through             I wish to devote most of the time we have available to walking and talking
an age comparable to childhood. It was a vitally important age, as it formed             you through the collection:
the basic character of a nation’s culture and determined how a nation would
progress in generations to come. This childhood of world culture was probably            1.     The earliest bronze finds so far in China have been dated to about
the Bronze Age (which corresponded to slave society) which all nations have                     1900 B.C. and were found in the Hebei Province belonging to the
likely passed through at one time or another in their history.                                  Longshan culture.

     Illustration i (Bronze)

                                                                                                                                                  Illustration ii (Bronze)

Illustration iii (Bronze)

                                                                                                                                                Illustration iv (Bronze)

2.         There is no evidence to suggest that foreign influences introduced                   and the highest beings in their religious pantheon on the other. In
           bronze making into China. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case.                this spiritual role you can well understand how those with the
                                                                                                necessary wealth and influence to master the complex technology of
3.         The early forms of bronze vessels grew out of well established Neolithic             ore mining and refining, smelting, mould-making and casting to
           pottery forms - pots, bowls, ewers, tripods, etc.                                    produce these fine bronze ritual vessels could influence and control
                                                                                                their people and thereby acquire for themselves the right to rule.
4.         Had it not been for the advanced skills of Chinese potters in the
           Neolithic period of 5000-2000 B.C. the Shang could not have devised             7.   With bronze weapons the Shang and Zhou were also able to control
           and executed the pottery moulds which were the principal key to                      the neighbouring clans and states.
           casting bronze vessels.
                                                                                           8.   We should not overlook the importance also of archaic Chinese bronzes
5.         It was only in the early Eastern Zhou period that the lost wax method                in the formation of the Chinese written language. Initially simple
           of casting bronze was invented or introduced. That made it possible                  pictograms in bronzes eventually developed into lengthy inscriptions
           to achieve some remarkably delicate, fine and filigran bronze work.                  recording events and texts intended to be long remembered. These
           We will see the change in design brought about by lost wax casting as                inscriptions today, thanks to the longevity of bronze as a material,
           we progress around the gallery.                                                      serve as important data in studying China’s ancient history.

6.         The great ritual bronzes of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties were created           9.   As we walk past the various showcases, do try to look for and identify
           for the kings, princes and great families of the period. Bronze                      the various forms of animal design cast into and onto various bronzes.
           ownership in those early times conferred considerable power and aura.                The meaning of such recurring zoomorphic elements is hotly debated
           Through ritual offerings with the use of bronze vessels which the kings              and contested amongst international scholars of Chinese bronzes.
           and princes offered to the gods and ancestors, they interceded as a                  Aside from the tao tie or bovine masks, you will no doubt pick out the
           high priest or shaman on behalf of their communities on the one hand                 dragon in its various abstract forms, the Xiao bird, the cicada, the

       silkworm, the owl, the fish, the phoenix, the frog and, more rarely             A.   We are now looking at ritual vessels which were used for the storage
       perhaps, the rhino, the hare, oxen, tigers, bears, horses and wild boar.             or ceremonial drinking of wine.

       This begs the question:                                                              Probably the most reproduced and attractive shape is that of the Jue.
       - why did the bronze makers of the Shang and Zhou so consistently                    You can see the progressive shapes of this wine pouring vessel
       use animal designs for decoration?                                                   represented here, starting with this exquisite Erligang Period vessel
       - what functions did these designs serve in Shang ideology?                          with a slightly bulbous lower section carrying the tao tie mask and
       - why was there such variety?                                                        note the single post, unlike most other Jue which usually have two
                                                                                            posts protruding upwards apparently to facilitate the lifting of the
       To me it seems totally feasible that there is an iconographic meaning                vessel from the heating coals.
       invested in the animal forms of early bronzes. Past studies have indeed
       pointed either to familiar totems or to mythical deities being                  B.   The Jia, also a tripod for wine, has no spout and therefore presumably
       represented by specific animals. In contrast there are those who claim               had another function to ceremonial pouring, perhaps for pre-heating.
       that animal forms developed out of geometric forms, as an after-                     There are four examples here ranging from Erligang in early Shang
       thought as it were, and that therefore they have no meaning. I would                 through to late Shang.
       argue that because of the spiritual and mystical ritual we know was
       the background for the use of these early sacrificial vessels, it is            C.   The Jiao is somewhat similar to the Jue but without the pouring
       compelling to believe that there must be meaning behind the repetitive               spout. Also a wine vessel of a very rare kind, always designed
       zoomorphics on these vessels. For many years I had hoped that a                      with a cover. You will notice this particular Jiao has a very smooth,
       Chinese version of the Rosetta stone might be unearthed to resolve                   worn-down patina, which is typical of a few notable examples
       this, on occasions, heated argument.                                                 which were dug up by chance in antiquity, collected or used and
                                                                                            handed down from generation to generation. Many of such
       One very pertinent text in the Tso Chuan (of 606 B.C.) does however                  collected archaic bronzes came into the Imperial Collection of
       exist which, depending upon the translation of two particular                        Emperor Chien Lung. This Jiao is recorded as being in a wellknown
       characters, would appear to clear up this fascinating question:                      collection in China in 1842.
       “In that year King Chuang of the Chiu State went on a military
       expedition against the Jun tribe. When he reached the Zhou capital              D.   The serious drinking seems to have revolved around the elegant
       in Lo-yang, King Tung of Zhou sent an emissary Wang-Sun Man                          trumpet-shaped Gu, of which there are two examples here. The
       to welcome the King of Chiu, who impudently asked Wang-Sun                           early Shang Ku was rather thicker at the waist whilst the late Shang
       about the size and weight of his King’s bronze tripod, the royal                     Ku became very slim-line and like a yard of ale, very difficult to
       symbol. Wang-Sun Man’s pointed reply is quoted as having been                        drink from as the contents rushed down the narrow bore gushing
       as follows:                                                                          over the trumpet lip and cascading in all directions if one wasn’t
       “Ting-tripods do not matter; virtue does. In the past when the                       careful.
       Hsia dynasty was distinguished for its virtue, the distant regions
       put into pictures their distinctive wu (translated as animal                    E.   The shape of this late Shang Hu (see illustration i) with lug handles
       offerings) and the nine pastors sent in the metal of their provinces.                was probably influenced by a prototype wine bag of leather. The
       The ting-tripods were cast, with representations on them of those                    bulging shape at the bottom and the strap-like belt at its waist rather
       wu. All the wu were represented, and (instructions were given)                       gives one that impression.
       for the preparations to be made in reference to them, so that the
       people might know (the distinctions) between the helping and                         Now compare the wonderfully subtle almost tattoo-like design, so
       the harmful spirits. Thus the people when they went among the                        typical of the later Shang period, of this Hu with the very slack design
       rivers, marshes, hills and forests did not meet with the injurious                   of this Spring and Autumn period Hu. A very different standard of
       things, and the hill spirits, monstrous things, and water sprites                    artistry and yet, whereas the Shang Hu only has a simple one character
       did not meet with them (to do them injury). Hereby a harmony                         pictogram (no doubt a clan sign), this 700 year later Hu has a long
       was secured between the high and the low (or heaven and earth),                      inscription of 32 characters in six lines on the inner wall of the mouth.
       and all enjoyed the blessings of heaven.”                                            It tells us, amongst other things, that the son of the Duke of Cai called
                                                                                            upon Shu Tang to make this wine vessel.
       We know that from the Eleventh Century B.C. edict called the “Lu
       Hsing” that at an earlier time the great sage Ti Shun had                            If you look closely at all these late Shang and Western Zhou vessels
       commissioned communication between heaven and earth to be                            you will notice various forms of dragons, birds, animal masks, even
       severed. From then on men and women on earth and the spirits of                      silkworms cast onto their surfaces, sometimes concealed like an eye-
       their ancestors and the gods could no longer intermingle and                         test card into the overall pattern of background lei-wan.
       communicate. This then brought into being the role of shamans and
       shamanesses who supervised the position of the spirits at the                   F.   After Spring and Autumn came the Warring States period and this
       ceremonies, sacrificed to them and otherwise handled religious                       brought with it a great revival in the art of bronze making.
       matters. It is likely that the kings and rulers of clans, tribes and
       indeed dynasties reserved for themselves the right to appoint the                    The Bian Hu (or flat Hu) was introduced during this period. This
       shaman and shamaness in their community and in most cases no                         fascinating vessel has a feather scroll design which could only be
       doubt assumed that role themselves in order to hold total political                  effected with the use of the lost wax method of casting, the
       and spiritual power over their people.                                               introduction of which seems to date to about 440 B.C. It also has
                                                                                            copper inlay which is perhaps difficult to determine from a
Let us look at some individual pieces within this new Bronze Gallery display:               distance.

     Although probably cast in the North of China where other examples               -    Another interesting shape is this ‘you’, also for wine storage, distinctly
     were found, the dense interlace of volutes is reminiscent of Southern                Western Zhou in style with a magnificent bird design in high relief
     styles that had appeared over a century earlier. With this type of                   casting. Nature has left it with an interesting melange of cuprite,
     new decoration clearly zoomorphic elements, if indeed they are still                 azurite and malachite patination.
     present, are replaced by an interest in creating an encrusted, textured
     surface.                                                                        J.   We all know of the ritual washing of hands from our reading of the
                                                                                          Bible and other early books. The Chinese ten, fifteen hundred years
     As we approach the beginning of the Han Dynasty simplification of                    before Christ used two vessels to perform such ablutions: the Pan,
     form produced some elegant but perhaps less exciting bronzes. This                   this shallow bowl which contains one of the most elaborate castings
     large Fang-Hu or square Hu shows the experimentation with alloys                     of a central snake or dragon with a large head or mask. This diamond-
     including gilt bronze surfaces with which this period grappled and                   backed dragon with bottle shaped horns must have looked very
     which this vessels displays.                                                         menacing and mysterious during the ceremony particularly when it
                                                                                          was magnified by the clear water which was poured into it by the
     With this Shang Hu we have left the high point of Shang wine vessels                 Guang or the Yi. And don’t forget that recently cast bronzes were the
     and you may be asking yourself where have the wine drinking cups                     colour of gold or brass. So additionally it would have sparkled. The
     gone? - no more jue and no more ku. Well the answer to that is that                  Pan and the Guang are of the Anyang period of late Shang whilst this
     we know that the downfall of the Shang, which for 700 years had                      elaborate Yi is of the late Spring and Autumn period of Eastern Zhou
     held sway over a China in formation, was partially due to                            some 600 years later. Now look carefully at the design and casting on
     degeneration which set in as a result of the ruling families becoming                the Yi - here again we see the effect of cireperdue or lost wax being
     over-bibulous through the excessive use of wine in the ritual                        used in China. The detail they could thereby achieve on the surface of
     ceremonies which they conducted on behalf of their people. The                       the bronze is amazing.
     Zhou who knocked the Shang off their perch were shrewd enough
     to maintain some of the Shang rituals, no doubt as a means of trying            K.   The Guang or Gong is one of the rarest vessels. Normally a Guang
     to appease and retain the loyalty of the people they had vanquished                  has an overpowering cover sometimes depicting in bold relief up to
     - but there was one thing missing from the Zhou rituals, wine                        eight Zoomorphic figures. In this example, the cover is missing
     offerings. So you will note that the large array of wine vessels and                 leaving the vessel looking rather like a modern day gravey boat rather
     paraphernalia which had prior to 1050 B.C. been of central                           than the spectacular vessel it would have been with its highly
     significance in the ceremonial ritual of the Shang, now began to                     decorative cover.
     disappear from the Western Zhou altars. Vessels for storage of wine
     perpetuated but, from the absence of drinking vessels, it is apparent           L.   This He, perhaps the fore-runner of today’s teapot, is also embellished
     that the drinking of wine dropped from the rituals.                                  with copper inlay.

     Before we leave the Shang behind us, I just want to point out a few             M.   As we turn the corner we see a long show-case exhibiting in approx.
     examples of different shapes - all of the high Anyang period of the                  chronological order the types of ritual vessels used for the offering of
     late Shang, in my opinion the zenith of Chinese bronze design and                    meat and grain. Of a slightly later date than the small Jue you have
     casting:                                                                             been handing around, about 14th Century B.C. found in Zhungzhou
                                                                                          in Henan province, is this tripod Ding with simple abstract animal
G.   This Fang-Lei is of fine majestic proportions, also intended for the                 mask wrapped around the neck of the cauldron. Not a particularly
     storing of wine. A vessel always made with a cover (although they                    beautiful vessel but one which so obviously straddles the pottery to
     often parted company over the centuries); this vessel was formerly                   bronze divide. It is strikingly reminiscent of the early Shang pottery
     housed at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.                                       cauldron or Ding of slightly earlier period. The three conical legs
                                                                                          visually carry the weight of the vessel. Incidentally, the legs of tripod
     Some of you may remember the huge Fang-Lei, at least twice the size                  and quadruped vessels were used to thrust into glowing coals in order
     of this one, which was sold at Auction in New York last Spring for a                 to heat or cook the sacrificial meat in the case of a Ding or the
     world record price of about US$9 million. Not only a record for a                    rectangular version, the Fang Ding, or to heat wine or a form of mead
     Chinese bronze but apparently for any Asian work of art. And that                    as I suspect it probably was in the case of wine containers such as the
     Fang-Lei was missing its cover which lies snugly and inaccessably in                 Jia and Fang-I or the Jue you have already inspected. The largest
     the Hunan Museum in China!                                                           Fang Ding or square Ding I have ever had the occasion to inspect was
                                                                                          in the conservation department at the Museum of History in Beijing,
H.   This large Tsun is also for wine storage. A spectacularly bombastic                  every bit of 5 feet high. Since we know that human sacrifice was
     bronze with great detail in its shallow casting divided by five flanges              practiced during the Shang period, one has to conclude that the size
     running up the side of the vessel up to the three chunky ram’s heads                 of the ritual vessel was proportionate to the size of the offering. You
     positioned on the shoulder below the large trumpet mouth.                            probably also know that during the Shang Dynasty and possibly well
                                                                                          into the Zhou, close members of family and entourage were buried
I.   The Fang-Yi which together with the next three vessels is amongst                    alive with an important deceased dignatory. This all changed when
     the most rare. The Fang-Yi is like a tabernacle on an altar, central to              Emperor Chin ruled over a united China and prescribed the more
     each ritual. It looks like a piece of architecture empirically designed,             humane but nonetheless phenomenal practice of replacing humans
     solid and heavy. This example (see illustration ii) has stuck to its                 with terracotta effigies of such companions, family, servants or army
     inner walls solidified malachite remnants of the evaporated mead                     to accompany the deceased into the after-life.
     which it must have contained 3500 years ago. The typical Shang
     pictogram cast into the base is also repeated on the under-side of its               Whilst on the subject of accoutrements buried for use in the after-life,
     cover.                                                                               whereas I believe it is true to say that during the Shang and Zhou

     periods, at least the prime purpose of casting ritual vessels, weapons,           P.   Let me finish off the food offering vessels by introducing the
     etc. was for ceremonial, ritual or practical reasons in daily life, many               Gui which comes in several forms. Here you see the earless
     such bronzes which had been used for the purposes intended and                         Gui of the high Anyang period of Shang. Although the body
     were often handed down from one generation to the next, did actually                   is of a simple S shape, the sharpness and intricacy of the casting
     find themselves buried sometimes generations later in the burial tomb                  is as good as you are likely to observe anywhere. Note the
     of an important nobleman, prince or king. Others were buried in great                  hairline pressure fissures, the result of the technique of casting
     haste under quite different circumstances when, for instance, a clan                   such wonderful pieces under considerable pressure. If this
     was being attacked by its neighbours and the all-important and                         bronze were to be dropped onto the floor, you might be
     valuable clan paraphernalia for conducting religious and political ritual              surprised to see that it would break into as many pieces as a
     were buried in the woods or in hillsides to prevent them from falling                  porcelain bowl dropped from the same height; archaic bronzes
     into enemy hands - only to be washed out perhaps hundreds of years                     of the late Shang, unlike bronzes of later periods, tend to be
     later by rainstorms, landslides or three thousand five hundred years                   extremely brittle.
     later by Western engineers cutting through the countryside whilst
     building railways across China in the early 1900s.                                     This earless Gui has a beautiful melon-skin patina with cinnibar
                                                                                            dust from the burial chambers caught inadvertently in the
N.   You will note the various forms of Ding vessels. The Ding and the                      diamond grid design surrounding the multitudinous nipples
     Guei, which we shall see later, were perhaps the most frequently                       a feature of this particular late Shang bronze.
     produced of the ritual vessels. Here we see a Ding with flat legs or
     blades vaguely resembling a bird or perhaps a dragon with a shallow                    I have always maintained that the most collectable ancient
     body more like a crucible. Note the strong animal mask on this Li-                     bronzes should pass my 4-Ps criteria - Patination, Pictogram,
     ding angled to look out over each of the three legs. You can see                       Precision and Provenance but that will be the subject of some
     clearly the protruding button eyes, the ears, the large horns and the                  future lecture.
     tail of what we believe to represent a dragon with its claws below.
     Now look at the same more flattened dragon on this slightly more                  Q.   Here now we are looking at the first of several examples of
     bulbous Ding. Another late Shang Ding has very prominent cicadas                       eared Gui - or Gui with handles. The broad flat leiwan across
     along its bulging body. Similarly this square Ding or Fang Ding.                       the central body is unusual. The upright feathers over the body
     The cicada may well have a similar significance in Chinese ritual as                   of the abstract dragon extend to the base of the vessel. This
     the scarab in Egyptian funerary ritual - that of transporting the spirit               Shang Gui, which we believe was unearthed at Panlongcheng
     into the heavens in after-life. [Outside the entrance of this Gallery                  in Hubei Province, was documented in China as early as 1539.
     there is a showcase containing predominantly a set of miniature                        It has a very sharp pictogram in the base of its bowl in the
     bronzes. Amongst them is a compact Fang Ding which has an                              shape of a hand-held plough, presumably a clan sign.
     important 11 character inscription cast into the inner wall of the vessel
     stating that a certain Gong Si was bestowed a reward of cowries                   R.   The next eared Gui I want to show you (see illustration iv) is a
     (which were money in those times) which in turn was used for                           superb example of early Westen Zhou bronze design and
     making a set of ceremonial vessels. We have traced the same                            casting. Strikingly more freedom of style is evident compared
     inscription to a large Ding and a Ku, both in the Royal Ontario                        with the very formal perfectionism of the late Shang. Both the
     Museum. All three vessels were bought by the renowned Bishop                           birds in the main register around the body of the vessel and
     White from C. T. Loo in Beijing in 1947, the vessels apparently having                 the elongated bird motifs around the next section are distinctly
     been excavated at Dongshihe-cun in Henan province a few years                          less abstract and more recognisable as birds than they would
     earlier.]                                                                              have been five hundred years earlier in the late Shang.

     By contrast you will see two Eastern Zhou Ding now with covers                         On the inside of the base is a 43-character inscription of
     which, when inverted, use the attractive three animals reclining on                    considerable historic importance. It describes how on the
     top as the legs of what then becomes a free standing plate or saucer.                  renshen day of chuji in the tenth moon the Yu Rong (a barbarian
     Note the elaborate silver inlay in this fine Warring State Ding. A                     tribe) launched a massive assault on the State of Kai. Hai
     technique which may have started with lacquers and was then                            (presumably a general of the State of Kai) counter-attacked
     emulated with great skill and success on a wide variety of bronzes,                    the Rong and was able to report that he had hacked off the
     not only on vessels but weapons, chariot fittings, belt hooks, mat                     Commander’s heads. The Marquis of Kai presented Hai with
     weights and items of personal adornment.                                               three horses, the household of a Minister and five peng (or
                                                                                            strings) of cowrie shells. Hai urged the Marquis to desist in
O.   Amongst the tripod ritual vessels intended for food offerings, this Li                 this and rather use these as treasured gifts for Kai Zhong (the
     (see illustration iii) is covered with perhaps one of the most fascinating             Kai State).
     designs. You will clearly see an ox head design on each bulbous
     section, made up of button eyes, fish as horns, very distinctive ears,                 What a gallant man Hai was. The reason that this bronze and
     an impressive prominent flange running down the nose and some                          its inscription are so important is that the State of Kai had been
     beautiful feathery leiwan across the face and jaw of the ox’s head.                    long forgotten after it had become enfiefed by the Western
     Sharp and subtle casting, so typical of the refined casting of the early               Zhou dynasty whereafter there was no reference to it made in
     Anyang kilns which represented the first high point of Chinese bronze                  any historical account. So it was only after this and one other
     casting skills. This piece has been in several important Collections                   matching bronze were uncovered this century that scholars
     since it was first exhibited in New York in 1939 by C. T. Loo and was                  started learning about the ancient State of Kai. This once again
     most recently sold at auction in London by the British Rail Pension                    underlines the importance of these early bronze vessels to
     Fund in December 1989.                                                                 modern understanding of pre- and early dynastic times.

WEAPONS                                                                           mainly European art. Thereafter it entered the famous Stoclet Collection
                                                                                  in Brussels - Stoclet was the Prime Minister of Belgium at the time, and
       Another category of often fine bronze workmanship was                      later it was owned by the British Rail Pension Fund which assembled
weapons. The Shang very quickly saw the revolutionary way in which                some masterpieces of Chinese art including that Li Ding over there and
warfare could be conducted with weapons made of bronze and later of               the now most famous Tang sancai horse which was sold at Sotheby’s
iron. Not all Chinese bronze weapons were however used in warfare.                for I think HK$ 9 million, a world record fifteen years ago.
Many axes, such as this Yue, were found in the corners of Shang
Imperial tombs which no doubt formed part of a burial ritual probably                    This cylindrical container of 5th Century B.C. is decorated with
suggesting specific association with human sacrifice. One similar in              birds, beasts, an archer and two dragons all executed in red copper
design to this axe was unearthed from the tomb of the famous concubine            inlay making this piece a technical and artistic achievement.
general Lady Fu Hao at Yinxu.
                                                                                  DOMESTIC OBJECTS
       It is perhaps interesting that whilst Fu Hao’s spectacular tomb
contained 210 ritual vessels out of a total count of 468 bronze artefacts,               Here in this showcase you see just a few examples of a wide
which would have been a normal ratio for the burial of a king or person           range of items which were designed and perfected in the late Warring
of highest importance in the late Shang dynasty, by comparison a                  States and Han periods for domestic use. Lamps, incense burners,
highly important tomb discovered at Xiu’gan along the Yangtze River               weights of all kinds, irons and scholars seals were amongst many types
in 1989 only possessed 50 bronze vessels out of a total tally of 486              of domestic bronzes unearthed over the centuries.
bronzes, 400 being classified as weapons or tools. In this case,
weapons were obviously of far great significance in the deceased’s                       I hope you can see the stand of this Warring States lamp
life than anything else. One might surmise that he was an extremely               fashioned in the shape of a supernatural beast with wings. No other
important military man.                                                           lamp of this type has previously been seen.

       Also this beautifully inlaid rapier (pi) and its accompanying                     These two lamps are of ingenious design as described on the
cylindrical ferrule is likely to have been a ceremonial piece of armoury.         overhead graphics above.
I also don’t believe that these gold inlaid arrow heads would have been
shot in anger or in action. They could even have been produced for                       The four humorous weights in the shape of seated male figures
show, as in the Warring State period it became very fashionable to                are all quite different in appearance. They remind one of Han pottery
display one’s wealth in the opulent armour, weapons, chariot fittings             figures of recitative performers that have been unearthed in Sichuan.
and items of personal adornment which represented the Louis Vuitton               These are actually mat weights which positioned at the four corners of
and Ferrari attrapments of its day. Observe also this exquisite bird-             your hessian floor mat or kang mat prevent it turning up at the edges.
shaped silver guard perched atop of this otherwise perfectly functional
Ge. If that is not showing off to the Joneses, I don’t know what is!                     This beautifully inlaid coiled tiger is also a weight as is this turtle
                                                                                  finely inlaid with gold and silver - no doubt someone’s proud possession
PERSONAL ADORNMENT                                                                in the third century B.C.

       Let us take a quick look at items of personal adornment and                       Rarely displayed in a bronze exhibition are seals of bronze of
domestic useage which in the mid-Eastern Zhou period began to take                the Warring States and Han periods. Later, seals were a very important
over as preferred items of bronze production once ritual practices                part of a household’s possessions particularly for the literati and people
started to play a lesser role in social and official life. Bronzes were           of rank. Some great examples do exist in various private and museum
then made more for secular, utilitarian and daily use. See, for instance,         collections. But these very early seals are likely to have had some
these fine inlaid belt hooks. Inlaid with gold, silver, turquoise, blue           communal votive significance to the Ba-shu people.
glass and sometimes cast around archaic jade several hundred years
older than the bronze or alloy itself.                                                   On view here are three examples all inscribed with Ba-Shu
                                                                                  hieroglyphs which, on the basis of their divergent shapes are designated
       Don’t miss this superb 3rd Century inlaid tiger head in                    the rhinoceros knob seal, the sacrificial calf seal and the Panlong or
miniature. Some chariot fittings were particularly splendidly adorned.            coiled dragon seal. Very few Ba-Shu seals were discovered prior to the
You have just to look at this fine set of inlaid finials. They are even           late Qing dynasty but a few have come to light in more recent times,
inlaid with the name “Lingli Guoshi” or Mr. Guo of Lingli, a                      but they are rare and in need of far greater research. For instance, there
personalised set of chariot ends. This wonderful pair of chariot fittings         had been doubt as to whether the strange glyphs that appear on the
with wild baroque-like silver and gold inlay also has a character inlaid          seals are indeed part of a written language. The fact that these seals
into it. This silver inlaid tube would have held a ceremonial umbrella            bearing unaccountable marks were discovered by archaelogists in tombs
in the centre of a burial chariot. This pair of inlaid brackets held a            together with seals of similar form bearing inscriptions in Chinese
crossbow within easy grasp of the chariot’s passenger. Lastly admire              character suggest that these Ba-Shu glyphs are indeed part of a written
these skilfully sculpted bronze heads of a chariot’s lynchpins. Not faces         language, albeit so far indecipherable. To complicate matters there are
one would immediately recognise as Chinese - perhaps from the outer               two types of Ba-Shu script: one type resembles a symbol similar to marks
regions of China, although to my eye they have distinctly African                 cast on bronze weapons, but clearly not clan pictograms; the other type
features. And just below them is a chariot fitting surrounded by                  resembles Chinese characters but are not Chinese characters. So, as
peacocks, not easily seen without side lighting but I point it out to you         you can see, there is still much work to be done on early Chinese
as it has a remarkable provenance. Originally it was in the collection            bronzes. The Ba-Shu culture, by the way, was centred on modern day
of the legendary art collector and critic Bernard Berensen in Florence -          Baxian county in Sichuan province.
in fact, it was the only Chinese bronze he had in his vast collection of

MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS                                                                           The earliest example here is of Western Zhou period, square in
                                                                                       shape, with openwork design, the mirror surface made of a different alloy
       The spectacular discovery of an ancient orchestra of 124 musical                would have been inset into the reverse and is now missing. This mirror is
instruments from the 5th Century B.C. tomb of the Marquis of Yi of Zeng                a wonderful example of an Eastern Zhou mirror with superbly cast 3-peak
unearthed in Hubei province in 1981, caused a wave of research in the area             mountain design or Shan-character. It displays 5 shan or mountains which
of ancient music and bronze bells. We have a few but interesting bells here            is extremely rare. This Spring & Autumn period mirror has intaglio dragon
in this exhibition, all very different examples, ranging from the late Shang           design called panchi, so typical of that period (722-481 B.C.).
hand-held Nao, through the Western Zhou hanging bells of Zhong and Bo
types, to the Duo which would have had a wooden handle connected to the                       Mirrors of the Han Dynasty are particularly fascinating and often
small shank. Of this latter type there is this unique Duo embellished with             need interpretation. Some Han mirrors such as these two display
sharp cone shaped nipples of gold. Finally there is this rather rare hand-             microcosms of the entire world in miniature, this one with a 12 character
held Zhong decorated with inlaid silver cloud design which was a military              inscription. Their concept of creation is hidden in these geometric forms
instrument used to sound the advance and retreat in the battlefield.                   which contain images of all within the myriad boundaries. Laid out in
                                                                                       quadrants according to the directions, it represents and calls upon the
       You should note that all these bells are without clappers and are               forces of nature and the heavens to help the bearer and bring him or her
designed to be beaten or played with the help of a wooden baton. Most of               blessings. Other Han mirrors seem to contain celestial symbols whilst
these bells with pointed eliptical cross section could produce two distinct            others depict in thin casting all sorts of animals often those of the Zodiac,
tones. Curiously, sometimes the name of the tones were cast directly into              as well as typical Han figures performing various rites. Of the Three
the designated striking points of the bells.                                           Kingdoms Period there is this gilded bronze mirror with a Queen Mother
                                                                                       of the West design. Sui dynasty mirrors are very sought after also for
       Literature of the period pointed out the crucial nature of music in             their interesting symbolism and when we come to the height of the Tang
ritual. Music was clearly a manifestation of virtue as described in the                dynasty, decoration ran wild. Look at this breath-taking Tang bronze
book of Mencius which states that “by viewing the rites of a ruler, we                 mirror richly decorated with a silver backing depicting birds, beasts and
know the character of his government. By hearing his music, we may                     grape in beautiful relief. Other Tang mirrors here have foliated rosette
know the character of his virtue”. Conversely, licentious music was that               design within scalloped edges. And this one with a rare floral design and
which was unrestrained by ritual or propriety and it possessed the ability             mother of pearl inlay. And here you have the 12 animals of the Chinese
to corrupt and to weaken. Doesn’t that ring a bell in terms of some forms              calendar running around the rim of this mirror. And, lastly, a sole rampant
of rave-type music today?                                                              dragon exuding great force and power.

       Of great significance was the conviction that music was a natural               PROLOGUE
phenomenon, in harmony with Heaven and Earth and present at the
creation of all things. The 12 tones in ancient music correspond therefore                    Let me just end up by saying that over the last centuries, Chinese
with major cosmological phenomena. This view of music would compel                     scholars have devoted a great deal of study and connoisseurship to ancient
later generations of scholar-gentlemen to play the zither (qin) in order to            bronzes because they combine, as you will have seen this evening, technical
manifest their virtue and express their harmony with nature.                           mastery with awesome ritual significance and uncanny and mysterious
                                                                                       symbolism and they also provide a vital key in their pictograms and
MIRRORS                                                                                inscriptions to the birth of the Chinese language. As an art form they
                                                                                       represent the perceived “Golden Age” of antiquity to the later post-archaic
       And, finally, let’s take a look at this interesting array of 21 Chinese         cultures. It is therefore no surprise to see many centuries later, under the
bronze mirrors from across the 1.5 millenium from 600 B.C. to 900 A.D.                 Sung and subsequent dynasties, bronze vessels and designs were copied
                                                                                       in porcelain, jade and lacquer.
       The study of Chinese bronze mirrors is a vast subject in itself and
although much has been written about individual mirrors, no one has yet                       It is probably true to say that no other single art form has exerted
completed a definitive book on the wide range of Chinese mirrors. It is                such an all-pervading influence on Chinese art throughout the ages.
indeed a fascinating subject and I can only tip my toe in the water tonight.
Suffice it to say that the mirror has had great cultural and religious                        When it comes to comparisons with the outside world, well it is
significance in China through the centuries, rather than a use simply for              always a bit dangerous to try to make assertions of this kind but there are
purposes of vanity. Most of the scholarly research is concentrated in fact on          those who claim that the Shang and early Zhou ritual vessels and the silver
what is cast or worked into the back of the mirror rather than the reflective          and gold inlaid bronzes of the Warring States are the greatest achievements
face of mirrors. Some people are surprised that the reflective faces of archaic        in the history of bronze design and casting anywhere in the world. This
mirrors are in fact highly polished bronze or alloy surfaces which would               view point becomes even more compelling when you consider that the
have given a very adequate image of the desired person or object. Glass                heyday of Anyang Shang bronzes was almost 1000 years before the Western
mirrors, as we know them, were of course not invented till much later.                 world created sculptural masterpieces in bronze at the hands of Greek
                                                                                       and Roman artisans. And it was 3,000 years after the Shang that one could
       The earliest mirrors can be traced back as far as late Shang or early           say the outside world finally caught up with the high level of Shang/Zhou
Zhou although one solitary mirror with heptagonal star design was found                bronze skills when the Italian workshops of the Renaissance showed the
in a Qijia culture excavation in Qinghai Province, dated to about 2000 B.C.            world what they could do.
Mirrors became an important art form in the late Spring and Autumn and
the Warring States periods and gained particular importance during the                                                              Anthony Hardy
Han dynasty. They continued to serve in a variety of rituals and other                                                              Executive Committee Member
practices at least until the end of the Tang dynasty and in a lesser degree
even to modern times.