Bronze zun (ritual wine vessel)
Possibly from Hunan province, southern China
Shang dynasty, 13th-12th century BC
This bronze ritual wine vessel (zun) takes the form of a pair of rams supporting a jar. Southern China borrowed the Shang-dynasty form of bronze casting and also the practice of making wine vessels. However, the forms and styles of decoration were often quite distinct from the metropolitan types, and realistic creatures such as these are an example of provincial tastes and skills.
The rams, with their freely curving horns, are more lifelike and convincing than the taotie, or monster faces, which decorated most ancient Chinese vessels. The horns were probably cast first and then inserted into the moulds used for casting the rest of the vessel.
The taotie seems to have been less important in southern China and perhaps less well understood than at Anyang (the major centre of the Shang dynasty from about 1300 BC, in Henan province, northern China). There is a taotie on this zun, below the lip of the container. Its eyes are clear, but its other features are just a maze of lines.
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)