The inscription cast within the neck of the vessel and inside the cover consists of the character mu (mother), followed by a collection of graphs, including xin, all enclosed within a house-shaped element. The inscription would appear to suggest that the bronze vessel was made for a female relative, Xin.
The lei vessel shape existed for a short period in late Shang to early Western Zhou as a container for wine. Prior to the appearance of the lei, the compressed, rounded vessel known as pou was the vessel designated for use as a wine container. There is a short overlap of pou and lei and by the late 12th century BC, pou had essentially disappeared. The lei did not long survive the Zhou conquest, however, and by the middle Western Zhou period had disappeared from the vessel repertory.
There are two types of lei, of round or square cross section. The ones in square cross section with strong casting, such as the present vessel, are among the rarest of archaic bronzes.
This striking fanglei is not only exceptional for its fine casting but also for its unusually small size. Only one other fanglei of similar small size appears to be published, by Sueji Umehara in Nihon Shucho Shina Kodo Seika, vol. 1, Osaka, 1959-1964, no. 20. That vessel, which lacks its cover, is in the Kurokawa Research Institute of Ancient Culture, Ashiya, and measures 24 cm. high. It shares with the present vessel similar cast decoration on the neck, shoulder and upper band below the shoulder. However, unlike the present vessel, which is decorated with large taotie masks on the lower part of the body on each side, the Kurokawa example is decorated with pendent blades filled with taotie and leiwen patterns. The Kurokawa fanglei also lacks the prominent notched flanges which line the four corners and bisect each side.
A Technical Examination Report is available upon request.