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Gallery Text

Although there are no contemporaneous records explaining the meaning of the decorations on Shang bronzes, the preponderance of zoomorphic motifs and the emergence of animal-shaped vessels made of bronze or jade are clear indications of the importance of animals in the repertoire of Shang artisans. The principle Shang motif was the animal mask, referred to in later texts as a taotie. This enigmatic image (seen repeatedly on vessels in the adjacent cases) is not identifiable as any one beast but appears to be a composite of creatures both real and imagined, with two stark eyes, horns, ears, and fangs. During the late Shang period (14th–11th century BCE), animal-shaped vessels began to be cast, perhaps in response to zoomorphic bronzes introduced from southern China. The guang wine vessel displayed here is a magnificent example — it cleverly incorporates a tiger at the front of the vessel and an owl at the back handle; the animals’ heads are represented on the lid and their more subtly rendered bodies are on the vessel.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
'You' Covered Ritual Wine Vessel in the Form of Two Addorsed Owls
Work Type
14th-11th century BCE
Creation Place: East Asia, China
Shang dynasty, c. 1600-c. 1050 BCE
Level 1, Room 1740, Early Chinese Art, Arts of Ancient China from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age
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Physical Descriptions
Cast bronze
H. 17.2 (with lid) x W. 15.0 x D. 13.9 cm (6 3/4 x 5 7/8 x 5 1/2 in.)
Weight 1628.68 g
[Yamanaka & Co., New York, April 22, 1941] sold; to Grenville L. Winthrop, New York (1941-1943), bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1943.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Publication History

Exhibition of Ancient Chinese Bronzes and Buddhist Art Dating from Shang Dynasty 1766 B.C. to Yuan Dynasty A.D. 1367, auct. cat., Yamanaka & Co. (New York, NY, October 1938), p. 43, no. 001

Chen Mengjia, Yin Zhou qingtongqi fenlei tulu (A corpus of Chinese bronzes in American Collections), Kyuko Shoin (Tokyo, Japan, 1977), A 577

Robert W. Bagley, Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Arthur M. Sackler Foundation and Arthur M. Sackler Museum (Washington, D.C. and Cambridge, Mass., 1987), p. 115, fig. 153

Exhibition History

Re-View: S228-230 Arts of Asia, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/31/2008 - 11/23/2008

32Q: 1740 Early China I, Harvard Art Museums, 11/01/2014 - 01/01/9999

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu