The seven-character inscription cast inside the vessel may be deciphered: 'Shu made [for] Duke Dan [this] precious sacral vessel.'
Fangding date from before the Anyang period of the Shang dynasty to the second half of the early Western Zhou dynasty. One type of fangding shares design elements that are similar to those found on the present vessel: a rectangular field surrounded on three sides by rows of bosses below a decorative band, flanges at the corners to accentuate the body shape, and dragon or bovine masks at the tops of the legs. Sometimes the rectangular field is left plain, as seen here, and sometimes it is filled with a leiwen pattern. The decorative band above is usually birds or dragons of varying types. A fangding illustrated by Chen Peifen, Ancient Chinese Bronzes in the Shanghai Museum, London, 1995, p. 50, no. 23, has leiwen in the rectangular field below a band of pairs of birds confronted on a flange. A fangding from the Doris Duke Collection, sold in these rooms, 21 September 2004, lot 150, is very similar to the Shanghai vessel. Another fangding excavated in 1984 at Shingzhou Zuang, Shandong province, illustrated in Zhongguo Qingtongqi Quanji - Western Zhou, vol. 6, no. 2, Beijing, 1997, p. 73, no. 75, has a plain field below a pair of long-tailed dragons confronted on a small flange. Still another group has a bifurcated or split snake in the band above the field with small roundels with raised dots incorporated into the leiwen ground. See J. Rawson, Western Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, vol. IIB, Washington, DC and Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1990, pp. 234-5, no. 6, and others illustrated pp. 238-40, figs. 6.6-6.9.
The slender, elongated bird-headed dragons with long curled tails and trailing crest found in the upper band of the present vessel appear to be quite unusual, unlike any of the decorative bands seen on the published examples.