Due to surface accretions it is difficult to fully decipher the pictograph which appears to have three characters, the central one being a clan sign.
Fangyi appear to be a distinctly Shang bronze vessel form which was made from the early to late Anyang period. During this period there were minor differences in the shape and decoration, but no major evolution appeared to take place, as one sees in some other vessel types.
This vessel is a fine example of Anyang casting with its successful combination of elegant proportions and shape and unified design. For a full discussion of the evolution of the fangyi see R. Bagley, Shang Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, 1987, pp. 428-44. The earliest fangyi, as represented by those in figs. 77.7-77.9, have a distinctly defined foot with larger arched openings, the body does not have flanged corners, and the covers seen in figs. 77.7 and 77.9 have a straight cant. What may be considered a slightly later group is represented by the current example: there is no distinct demarcation between the foot and the body, but instead a straight tapering profile, there are flanges at the corners as well as dividing the sides, and the covers have a slightly convex profile. The last group have a more robust, more sharply tapering shape, still have flanges, but seem to have reverted to the more distinctly defined foot and the straight canted cover of the earliest type. This type is represented by no. 79, pp. 440-44.
The decoration on all fangyi is arranged in registers, with a large taotie mask on the body, small dragons or birds on the foot and above the mask and either a large taotie repeated on the cover or, in at least one instance, a bird. See d'Argencé, The Hans Popper Collection of Oriental Art, Japan, 1973, no. 2, for the latter. In some instances the decoration is flat-cast or the decorative motifs are filled with leiwen scrolls. The present fangyi is very similar to one in the Hakutsuru Art Museum, Kobe, illustrated by Umehara, Nihon Shucho Shina Kodo Siekwa, Osaka, vol. IV, pl. CCLXXVI.