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This set of bronze bells reveals the complex techniques mastered by metalworkers in the Zhou Dynasty, from roughly 1100 to 256 BCE. Bronze was a precious – and complicated – material to work with...a copper-lead alloy, first it had to be mined, then mixed, then poured into a clay mold. Once the mold was removed, the metal was polished. Bells like these are among the earliest bronze objects from China.


One of the remarkable things about Chinese bronze technology is that they chose to use the overwhelming tonnage of the bronze not for useful things like weapons and plows, but for ritual vessels and for bells, and for things that didn't really have a practical use.


Such bells were reserved for the aristocracy and were used during rituals where ancestors were shown reverence. The number of bells present indicated the power and status of the deceased. To get a sound, the bells were struck with a mallet in just the right place.

(Bell Tones)

In the same case, you'll see a set of bronze ritual vessels also used to honor the dead. They held specific items: wine, grains, meats, water. The tall pear-shaped vessels, called Hu, for example, contained alcoholic beverages consumed during a funeral ceremony. Don't miss the one that features two beasts on its handles.

Because, in part, of works like these, the Zhou Dynasty is considered one of the most fertile artistic eras of Chinese history. In fact, long after the Zhou Dynasty came to a close, its finely-crafted bronze works remained in demand.


The Zhou Dynasty gets idealized later and lots of people will claim that they want to return their customs or their form of government to the Zhou. Starting around 10- or 1100 AD people were already digging up these vessels and intellectuals really prized them. They would take a wine pot and stick a bunch of their painting or calligraphy brushes in it and put it on their desk, and then they could show it off to their friends.

Step30-Bronze Bells And Ritual Vessels


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