Browse Lots

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
A RARE BRONZE RITUAL WINE VESSEL AND COVER, NV MU YOU
A RARE BRONZE RITUAL WINE VESSEL AND COVER, NV MU YOU
A RARE BRONZE RITUAL WINE VESSEL AND COVER, NV MU YOU
A RARE BRONZE RITUAL WINE VESSEL AND COVER, NV MU YOU
3 More
PROPERTY FROM THE WU MAODING FAMILY COLLECTION
A RARE BRONZE RITUAL WINE VESSEL AND COVER, NV MU YOU

LATE SHANG DYNASTY, 12TH-11TH CENTURY BC

Details
A RARE BRONZE RITUAL WINE VESSEL AND COVER, NV MU YOU
LATE SHANG DYNASTY, 12TH-11TH CENTURY BC
The vessel of oval section has a pair of loops attached to the rope-twist handle, and is decorated on each side with a pair of kui dragons confronted on an animal mask, all reserved on a leiwen ground-band set between two rows of circles. The cover is similarly decorated beneath a segmented finial. Both the interior of the vessel and the cover are cast with a six-character inscription, reading nv mu zuo fu ji yi. The surface has light malachite and cuprite encrustation.
11 ¼ in. (28.8 cm.) high
Provenance
Wu Maoding (b. 1850) Collection, and thence by descent within the family.
In the United States prior to the 1990s.
Literature
Luo Zhenyu, Sandai jijin wencun (Surviving Writings from the Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties), 1936, vol. 6, p. 35.
Liu Anguo, 'Yongbao tongqi xiaoqun tushuochangbian' (Illustrated Eassy on the Baoji Bronze Group), Shaanxi wenshi congshu (Shaanxi History and Literature Books Series), 1983, no. 4, p. 21.
Yan Yiping, Jinwen Zongji (Corpus of Bronze Inscriptions), Taipei, 1983, no. 2172.
The Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Yinzhou jinwen jicheng (Compendium of Yin and Zhou Bronze Inscriptions), Beijing, 1984, no. 10562.
Wang Xiantang (1896-1960), Guoshi jinshizhi gao (Draft of the Institute of National History's Records of Bronzes and Stone Stelae), Qingdao, 2004, no. 1525.
Ren Xueli, Baoji Daijiawan diqu chutu Shang Zhou qingtongqi de zhengli yu yanjiu (Compilation and Research on Shang and Zhou Bronzes Unearthed in Baoji Daijiawan Area) (master's thesis), Shaanxi Normal University, Xi An, 2008, p. 103.
Wu Zhenfeng, Shangzhou qingtongqi mingwen ji tuxiang jicheng (Compendium of Inscriptions and Images of Bronzes from the Shang and Zhou Dynasties), Shanghai, 2012, vol. 9, p. 27, no. 4254.

Brought to you by

Michael Bass
Michael Bass

Check the condition report or get in touch for additional information about this

Condition Report

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

A Lost Treasure from the Second Baoji Group: Nv Mu You
Baoji, the ancestral land of the Zhou people, has the reputation of being the “home place of Chinese bronzes”. The discovery of two bronze altar sets and associated bronze vessels, known as the first and second Baoji groups, ranks among the most remarkable discoveries of bronzes made in Baoji. The first Baoji group, comprising a large bronze altar and twelve ritual vessels, was discovered in 1901, and soon entered the collection of Duanfang (1861-1911), then governor of Hubei province. (See. Shanghai Museum ed., Noble Life of the Zhou, Shanghai, 2014, p. 248) After Duanfang’s death, this famous group was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, through a missionary scholar, John C. Ferguson, and is still housed at the museum today. In the late 1920s, another bronze altar was discovered in Baoji, together with a large number of ritual bronze vessels. From a black-and-white photograph in the Academia Sinica, Taipei, we learn that besides the centerpiece-bronze altar, which is now in the collection of the Tianjing Museum, the second Baoji group also included the four-handled gui vessel, the you vessel with projecting flanges, and the pedestaled gui vessel with phoenix pattern now in the Freer and Sackler Galleries, Washington D.C. as well as a gong on a rectangular base in the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen. (Fig. 1)

The provenance of the present Nv Mu you can be traced to the second Baoji group, based on its inscription, form, and patina, which makes it one of a few pieces from that remarkable find still remaining in private hands. The inscriptions on the present vessel, Nvmu zuo Muji yi (Nvmu made this ritual vessel for Consort Ji) is exceptional given that both the commissioner and recipient of this piece are females, which rarely occurs with ritual bronzes. An ink rubbing of this inscription was first published by Luo Zhenyu in his seminal work, Sandai jijin wencun (Surviving Writings from the Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties) in 1937, and later included in the Yinzhou jinwen jicheng (Compendium of Yin and Zhou Bronze Inscriptions) in 1984. (Fig. 2). Although the inscription has long been published, the form of this piece was unknown to previous scholars, so that it was categorized as an unknown vessel in the Yinzhou jinwen jicheng, and the entry suggested that it was from Fengxian county, Shaanxi province. Further research finds a brief reference of Nv Mu you, together with other bronzes from the second Baoji group, in a 1983 publication, Yongbao tongqi xiaoqun tushuochangbian (Illustrated Eassy on the Baoji Bronze Group) compiled by a local scholar in Shaanxi, Liu Anguo. The reference says “with a six-character inscription ‘Nv Mu’…the patina is fine and ancient and the decoration is intricate, however, the photography is not very clear.” (Fig. 3) This record also provides the measurements of the you: 28 cm. high overall; 21.5 cm. high excluding the cover; and 11.1 cm. deep x 14.3 cm. wide at the oval mouth. Comparing these data with the present you vessel, we find the measurements, especially the size of the mouth, are slightly different. It is possible that either the you published in Liu Anguo’s essay is a companion to the present you, or there is some error in Liu’s record. In Western Zhou archaeology, you vessels are often found as a set of two, with similar form and decoration but of different size. The practice of casting you in sets of two is very common in the Baoji area. In fact, two you vessels in the first Baoji group are a set. In a recent excavation of a Western Zhou tomb in Shigushan, Baoji city, archaeologists also found three sets of you vessels. However, the ratio of heights between the large you vessel and small you vessel of all the aforementioned examples is 0.67-0.72. (See ‘Shigushan xizhou muzang chutu tongqi chutan’, Wenwu (Cultural Relics), 2013, no. 4, p. 62, chart 2). According to this ratio, the difference between the measurements of the present you and Liu’s record is too small for them to be a set. Liu Anguo’s essay is based on five albums of photos of artifacts, including more than 100 bronzes from the second Baoji group purchased in Xian in 1945. By the time his essay was printed as one of the Shaanxi wenshi congshu (Shaanxi History and Literature Books Series) in 1983, his photos were all lost. Fortunately, in writing her master’s thesis, Baoji Daijiawan diqu chutu Shang Zhou qingtongqi de zhengli yu yanjiu (Compilation and Research on Shang and Zhou Bronzes Unearthed in Baoji Daijiawan Area), the scholar Ren Xueli found these photos in the Baoji Museum. A black-and-white image of the Nv Mu you reproduced in Ren’s thesis further substantiates that the present you is the one in Liu’s record, and therefore is from the second Baoji group. (Fig. 4)

You vessels of oval cross-section first appeared in the late Yinxu phase II (c. 1200 B.C.), and thereafter became one of the most important wine vessel types in the ritual vessel repertoire. From the late Shang period to the early Western Zhou, oval-sectioned you vessels underwent several changes. Firstly, two sides of the body along the long axis became more and more rounded, and eventually developed into a rectangular cross section with round corners in the Middle Western Zhou period. Secondly, the handle evolved from a rope-twist form to a strap shape with elaborate surface decoration, and with relief animal heads at the junction between handle and the rings on the body. Lastly, the knop changed from acorn shape to a ring shape. The stylistic traits of the present Nv Mu you indicate that it is a rather early example. A closely related you vessel, but with an additional band of plantain motif on the sides of the cover, was excavated from Liujiazhuangbei M1, Anyang, and illustrated in Zhongguo qingtongqi quanji (Compendium of Chinese Bronzes), Beijing, 1997, vol. 3, p. 127. The Liujiazhuangbei M1 is assigned to the Yinxu phase IV. Given that the decoration on the present you vessel is relatively simpler than the Liujiazhuangbei you, and the one ring end of the handle has a knop to prevent the handle from swinging over, the dating of the Nv Mu you is slightly later than the Liujiazhuangbei example, which puts it to the very end of the late Shang dynasty. In terms of the inscription, the deeply cast characters with varying stroke widths also indicates a late Shang date. It is interesting to note that the titles of both the commissioner and recipient of this vessel, mu and fu, are for female aristocrats of the Shang royal family. This inscription therefore raises the question of why a Late Shang bronze vessel belonging to the Shang royal family was discovered in an important early Western Zhou site. In fact, a myriad of Shang clan signs were found on bronzes in both the first and second Baoji groups. This contrasts sharply with typical Western Zhou bronze groups that usually belong to one family lineage, and made some scholars question the validity of the two Baoji groups being true sets, i.e., vessels used at one time by a single individual in the performance of ritual (see Jessica Rawson, Western Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Vol. IIA, Cambridge, 1990, p. 155). In 2012, archaeologists discovered a third bronze altar set in Shigushan, Baoji. This fascinating discovery confirmed not only the existence of bronze altar sets in the Baoji area, but also the coexistence of bronzes belonging to different clans in the same tomb. The Shigushan M3 yielded 31 bronze vessels, 16 of which bear inscriptions of 9 different clans (see Shanghai Museum ed., Noble Life of the Zhou, Shanghai, 2014, p. 23). The inscriptions on the vessels in M4 are more complicated and even contain a clan name, Shi, from the remote Shandong province, illustrated ibid., and as suggested by archaeologists Wang Zhankui and Ding Yan, p. 248, “the most proper explanation for this phenomena is that during the process of conquering Shang territory, Zhou people seized a great number of war trophies. Bronzes, including those belonging to the Shi clan, were brought back to Zhou territory and were awarded to noblemen." The present Nv Mu you was also made for Shang aristocrats, but was taken by the Zhou people during the conquest.

More from Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art part I

View All
View All