This vessel is based upon an original bronze vessel from the Western Zhou period. A bronze vessel very similar in shape to the current cloisonné example was excavated from the tomb of Guo Zhong (827-782 BC), the king of the State of Guo, at Shangcunling, Sanmenxia, Henan province in 1993 (see Gems of China's Cultural Relics, Wenwu chubanshe, Beijing, 1997, no. 58). The xu is one of the imperial sacrificial vessels illustrated in the Da Qing Huangchao liqi tushi (Illustrated Explanations of Imperial Ritual Vessels). Ritual vessels based on bronze prototypes were also made in porcelain in the Qing dynasty, and the National Palace Museum, Taipei, has a set of Qianlong moon-white porcelain ritual vessels (see Liu Liang-yu, A Survey of Chinese Ceramics - 5 - Ch'ing Official and Popular Wares, Aries Gemini Publishing, Taipei, 1991, p. 38, upper image). In porcelain the vessel closest in form to the xu was made with a high foot and was commonly called a gui.
The current vessel shares decorative elements with a similar Qianlong cloisonné ritual xu-shaped censer in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 43 - Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 2002, p. 120, no. 116) and another xu in the Uldry Collection (see H. Brinker and A. Lutz, Chinesisches Cloisonné - Die Sammlung Pierre Uldry, Museum Rietberg, Zürich, 1985, no 271). The sides of both vessels, the edges of the covers, and the splayed bases are decorated with horizontal double-gourd forms rendered in concentric bands of colour. On the smaller xu vessel, however, all the gourds face in the same direction, while on the current, larger, xu vessel they are either confronted or addorsed at the centre line.
The Beijing and Uldry xu vessels both have four small feet extending below the oval foot. This in keeping with a Song-Ming archaistic bronze xu in the National Palace Museum (see Through the Prism of the Past: Antiquarian Trends in Chinese Art of the 16th to 18th Century, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2003, p. 94, no. II-07). It is also in keeping with a vessel illustrated in the late Ming dynasty Sancai tuhui, (see ibid., p. 266, fig. 2), where it is called a gui, and the AD 1588 edition of Boruzhai zhongxiu kaogu tu, originally compiled by Lu Dalin in the Song dynasty (AD 960-1279) (see ibid., p. 91, no. II-03). The excavated 9th-8th century BC, Western Zhou dynasty, bronze vessel, is like the current cloisonné xu and stands on its oval foot, without any extensions.
The design on the top of the lid of the current xu is derived from the archaic taotie design, but here is used in a very decorative way with each of the four masks facing towards the rim of the lid so that the top of their heads meet in the middle. The interior of the vessel provides a complete contrast to the rest in terms of colour and style. On the interior a delicate scrolling floral design, that is neither geometric nor archaistic, appears in gilt against a plain turquoise ground.