Chinese Bronze Height: 8 3/8 inches Gift of Mrs. Virginia Kettering 1950.24
Stronger than iron, bronze meant power. The Shang dynasty used bronze weaponry to subjugate its enemies, and bronze ritual vessels like this one were perceived as weapons in their own right; weapons against evil spirits and natural disaster. The three legs of this jue, or ritual wine vessel, elevated it above hot coals so that heated wine could be offered in tribute to the ancestors’ spirits.
According to Michael Flanigan, an appraiser for Antiques Roadshow, "patina is everything that happens to an object over the course of time. The nick in the leg of a table, a scratch on a table top, the loss of moisture in the paint, the crackling of a finish or a glaze in ceramics, the gentle wear patterns on the edge of a plate. Patina is built from all the effects, natural and man-made, that create a true antique." Though some artists carefully and intentionally apply a patina to their works to give them a more finished or decorative appearance, the patina on this ancient bronze vessel is the result of thousands of years of contact with dirt and other elements that have gradually caused a chemical change on its surface.
Looking at the patina here as a part of a work of art, do you prefer to see the evidence that this piece is thousands of years old, or would you rather see it as it was when it was freshly cast?
Q: Form follows function in this carefully balanced ritual vessel. Can you guess what the mushroom-like posts on top of the vessel are for?
A: They were incorporated into the design of the vessel so that it would be well-balanced even when upside-down during the casting process—bronze was too precious to be wasted if the whole thing tipped over!
The great ancient Chinese poetry collection “The Book of Songs” vividly portrays much of daily life and moral values from the Shang dynasty. This poem recounts a ritual in which wine was heated in bronze vessels- like the Dayton Art Institute’s jue vessel- to be offered as a sacrifice to the ancestors in exchange for their blessings and protection.
“The musicians go in and play,
That after-blessings may be secured.
The [meats] are passed round;
No one is discontented, all are happy;
They are drunk, they are sated.
Small and great all bow their heads:
“The Spirits,” they say, “enjoyed their drink and food
And will give our lord a long life.
He will be very favored and blessed,
And because nothing was left undone,
By son’s sons and grandson’s grandsons
Shall his line for ever be continued.”
The sections of clay used to create a piece-mold bronze cast were broken apart when the metal was cool, which meant that each mold had to be crafted individually. In your opinion, does a work of art have to be one-of-a-kind to be a masterpiece?