- Museum number
Bronze ritual vessel of the type fang yi, used for wine. The small container has a roof-shaped lid topped by a knob that is roof-shaped itself and decorated with an inverted animal face. The main part of the body is divide into two registers, the top of which features symmetrically opposed dragon-like creatures in high relief. Like all decorative depictions of creatures on this vessel, the creatures themselves, their bodies covered with loose spirals, stand out clearly above a low relief background of tight spirals known as leiwen. The larger part of the body shows a taotie design whose facial features, such as eyes, brows, ears, mouth and nose, are clearly visible but disconnected. To the left and right it is framed by dragon-like creatures facing toward the foot of the vessel, on which similar creatures are depicted. The taotie is topped by another set of dragon-like creatures, this time with small bottle-horns. The lid has a decor that is almost identical to that on the main register of the body. The differences are that it is missing the two dragon-like creatures to the side of the taotie and that is inverted, almost like a mirror-image of the main decoration on the body. Vertical flanges run along all edges as well as the middle of the four sides of the vessel.
- Production date
- 12thC BC (circa)
Height: 27.50 centimetres
Width: 17 centimetres
Depth: 14 centimetres
- Curator's comments
This covered container is a rectangular version of a ceramic covered jar. Most of the bronze ritual vessel shapes were ultimately based upon ceramic forms, but by making some bronzes with flat sides, the casters created inmediately visible distinctions between the two. The features of the 'taotie' faces in the four panels are separated by a background pattern of spirals known as 'leiwen'.
Fang yi occur in Fu Hao's tomb (Fig. 7) and perhaps originated slightly before that date. The British Museum's example is later, its decoration belonging to an advanced stage of the Anyang period. Faces, their main features in relif, appear onboth lid and body. They lack a bounding line: eyes, brows, nose, jaws and horns stand out in a sea of leiwen. Whereas the two previous taotie had distinctly animal characteristics, here neat pupils filling the eyes hint at a semi-human being. However, the dragon-shaped horns are completely fantastic.
Additional dragons fill space either side of the faces. These profile dragons carry small bottle-horns and sharply angled tails converted from a taotie's body, such as than on no. 4. A similar transformation made the dragons in the register just below the lid. They consist of half a taotie, employing both half its face and one of its bodies. This device of reusing elements first designed for one creature to make another has contributed misleadingly to the notion that the taotie can be understood as being made up of two confronted dragons.
The vessel's decoration is articulated both by vertical flanges and by narrow horizontal divisions. These breaks in the surface focus attention on the motifs displayed within the compartments of the vessel.
- On display (G33/dc3b/s2)
- Exhibition history
2012 Sept - Dec, London, Royal Academy of Arts, 'Bronze'
- Acquisition date
- Registration number