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Ritual food vessel (ding), approx. 1300–1050

Ritual food vessel (ding)

Ritual food vessel (ding), approx. 13001050. Shang dynasty (1600-1050 BCE). China. Bronze. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60B1030.

What is this object?
Liding is the name of a type of bronze vessel used in rituals by the ancient Chinese ruling elite. The liding is a vessel based on two forms–the li and the ding, both originally ceramic vessels. This liding consists of two handles, a bowl like center-portion, and three legs. Ding were food vessels used from the Shang (1600-1050 BCE) through the Han (25-220) dynasties. Based on surviving texts from after the Shang dynasty, they were considered very important vessels. Possession of a special set of nine large ding vessels legitimized the rite to rule, and were believed to have been passed from ruling dynasty to ruling dynasty.

How was it used?
Bronze ritual vessels were used during the Shang in banquets connecting the Shang elite with their ancestors. Ancestors were believed to exert continuing influence on the fate of the living, therefore it was felt that offerings had to be made to the ancestors.

A five-line inscription was cast into the inside wall of this vessel. The right side of the inscription reads “Father I” (a name or title used only after death). The left side consists of three lines representing an ear, a foot at the center of a crossroads, and a man. The meaning of this symbolism is not clear, but it probably stands for a clan name.

How was it made?
Ritual bronze vessels from the Shang and Zhou dynasties were made using ceramic piece molds. Molten bronze was poured into the space between the various mold pieces. The decoration seen on the vessel was either incised on a ceramic model or on the individual piece molds (or a combination of both) which then appeared on the final cast vessel. The raised tripod shape of the vessel probably had its origin in vessels that were meant to be heated underneath by hot coals.


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