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A VERY RARE MINIATURE BRONZE RITUAL WINE VESSEL AND COVER, YOU
A VERY RARE MINIATURE BRONZE RITUAL WINE VESSEL AND COVER, YOU
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A VERY RARE MINIATURE BRONZE RITUAL WINE VESSEL AND COVER, YOU

LATE SHANG DYNASTY, 12TH-11TH CENTURY BC

Details
A VERY RARE MINIATURE BRONZE RITUAL WINE VESSEL AND COVER, YOU
LATE SHANG DYNASTY, 12TH-11TH CENTURY BC
The pear-shaped body of oval section is raised on a foot encircled by a band of stylized dragons and is finely cast on each side with a large taotie mask formed by a pair of dragons confronted on a flange, their raised, hooked tails positioned above small dragons separated by further flanges, all below pairs of birds centered by the animal-mask terminals of the arched handle which is cast on top with parallel grooves. The cover is cast at each end with further taotie masks above beak-like projections and a band of stylized dragons on the vertical sides, all below a segmented, conical finial. The bronze has a dark greenish-grey patina and minor malachite encrustation.
4 ½ in. (11.5 cm.) high with handle
Provenance
Sotheby's London, 14 March 1972, lot 10.
J. T. Tai & Co., New York.
Arthur M. Sackler Collections.
Else Sackler.
Elizabeth A. Sackler.
Literature
D. H. Delbanco, Art from Ritual: Ancient Chinese Bronze Vessels from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Washington, D.C., 1983, pp. 58-59, no.17.
R. W. Bagley, Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Washington, D.C., 1987, pp. 378-81, no. 65.
Exhibited
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Arts of Ancient China, 1973-1977.

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Olivia Hamilton (高麗娜)
Olivia Hamilton (高麗娜) Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art

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Lot Essay

This you is one of the smallest among Shang dynasty you vessels. Its size is about half to one third of a regular you, and yet the elegant and architectural proportions, the precise casting, and the thick walls are of the same caliber as the finest of it’s regular-size relatives. Such miniatures are very rare. The you of this type first appeared in the late Yinxu phase II (c. 1200 B.C.), and thereafter became one of the most important wine vessels of the late Shang-early Western Zhou period. It was part of the bronze ritual paraphernalia used during ceremonies of offering wine and food to ancestors. However, the exact function of miniatures like the present example is unclear. One most plausible theory is that they are nongqi (vessels for play). A tiny bronze fangding lid (6.3 x 5.2 cm.) bearing a four-character inscription, wang zuo X nong, was found in 1975 at Anyang and is illustrated by R. W. Bagley together with a you vessel (20.2 cm. high) bearing the same inscription in Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Washington, D.C., 1987, pp. 380-81, figs. 65.2 and 65.3 respectively. Archaeologist Zheng Zhenxiang suggested that nong means nongqi, or toys, and translated the inscription as “Made by the king for X to play with,” however, Bagley raised objections that there is a wide variation in sizes among bronzes identified by inscriptions as nongqi and nong can also be interpreted as 'use', ibid,p. 380. In any case, the fact that the fangding lid was made by a wang (king) for a female (the indecipherable character X contains the radical for female) attests that these rare miniatures must have been reserved for the highest ranking members of the elite.

A regular-sized you (22 cm. high) of similar proportions and with similar cast designs, but now missing its handle, is also illustrated ibid, 1987, p. 372, no. 64. Another regular-sized you (29.8 cm. high) of similar form and decoration was sold at Christie’s New York, 21 September 2004, lot 147.

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