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Ritual wine vessel (the so-called Yayi jia), approx. 1300-1050

Ritual wine vessel (the so-called Yayi jia), approx. 1300-1050

Ritual wine vessel (the so-called Yayi jia), approx. 1300-1050. Shang dynasty (1600-1050 BCE). China; Henan province. The Avery Brundage Collection, B61B11+.

What is this object?
This is a tripod vessel used to hold wine for ritual ceremonies of the Shang  (approx. 1600-1050 BCE) dynasty rulers. Yayi is a reading of the graph that appears inside the vessel, possibly a clan mark. Jia (jee-ah) refers to the vessel type. Jia are cup-shaped vessels with three blade-like legs, a handle and several small posts above the rim Jia appear from the early Shang but disappear after the middle Western Zhou (1050-771 BCE) dynasty.

How was it used?
The large size of this jia is quite impressive. Bright and shiny when it was first cast, it must have been a proud possession. Jia were usually pouring or drinking vessels, but the immense size and weight of this vessel suggests that it was used more for display purposes, or perhaps carried in some way. The tripod shape is based on ceramic prototypes that allows heating of the vessel’s contents. The two posts at the top of the vessel are a bit of a mystery. Possibly they were used to help carry the vessel, or simply decorative, similar to the stumped horn shapes on animal heads of animals. Another theory is that they held netting to keep the contents of the vessel unadulterated.

What is the significance of the designs on this vessel?
The surface of the jia is completely covered with designs. This style helps to identify the vessel as Anyang period (late Shang). The style is typified by a set of dominant design motifs that are raised above the background designs, creating a rich surface texture. While the taotie mask face assumes the central position in the body of the vessel, other interesting features emerge such as the intricate lines along the sides of the legs, the central flanges that are echoed along the length of the legs, and the interplay between two animal forms, one with large horns devouring the other, that make up the handle.

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