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Gallery Text

Like their Shang predecessors, the Zhou produced sets of bronze ritual vessels for use in state rites and burial in tombs. In style, form, and function, the earliest bronze vessels from the Western Zhou period were virtually indistinguishable from those made by the Shang, for the Zhou sought to legitimize their ascension over their defeated rivals by closely replicating the tangible symbols of Shang power. Before long, however, traditional Shang decorative motifs such as the taotie animal mask began to evolve, and new forms emerged, such as the confronting dragons on the inscribed gui food vessel (far right) or the elephants on the covered you wine vessel (near left) displayed here. Inscriptions on these objects expanded, from single clan marks to longer memorializing inscriptions, signaling a shift in the function of bronze vessels from purely sacred objects belonging to powerful Shang clan members, to status symbols commemorating the accomplishments of Zhou kings and nobles.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Openwork Plaque with Coiled Dragon (probably the front of a scabbard)
Weapons and Ammunition
Work Type
11th-8th century BCE
Creation Place: East Asia, China
Zhou dynasty, Western Zhou period, c. 1050-771 BCE
Level 1, Room 1600, Early Chinese Art, Arts of Ancient China from the Bronze Age to the Golden Age
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Physical Descriptions
Bronze with turquoise inlay
H. 18.6 x W. 10.3 x D. 2.9 cm (7 5/16 x 4 1/16 x 1 1/8 in.)
Grenville L. Winthrop, New York (by 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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Exhibition History

S427: Ancient Chinese Bronzes and Jades, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 10/20/1985 - 04/30/2008

Re-View: S228-230 Arts of Asia, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/31/2008 - 06/01/2013

32Q: 1600 Early China II, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

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