Bronze ding (ritual food vessel)

From China
Shang dynasty, 12th-11th century BC

An ancient ritual food vessel

Bronze vessels were first cast in China during the Shang dynasty (about 1500-1050 BC). Their purpose was ceremonial, rather than secular. Sets of vessels would be buried with their owners, for offering food and wine to the ancestors.

There was a large range of vessel shapes. This food vessel, with two handles and three round legs, is known as a ding. A short inscription names the maker or owner. There are two main registers of decoration. The main part is covered with squares, each studded in the centre. The top register shows a taotie, or monster-like mask. The taotie design evolved from this ribbon-like form to more elaborate styles over the centuries. Its full significance is still unknown.

This ding illustrates the mould sections required for casting a bronze vessel. The mould consists of three principal outer sections and a piece for the base, a core for the inside, three cores for the legs, a section between them, and a lid and base to contain the hot metal when poured.

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More information


J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

J. Rawson, Chinese bronzes: art and ritua (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)


Height: 20.300 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1954.5-11.1


Gift of P.T. Brooke Sewell


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