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Ritual vessel (fangyi), approx. 1300–1050

Ritual vessel (fangyi)

Ritual vessel (fangyi), approx. 13001050. Shang dynasty (16001050 BCE). China. Bronze. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60B997.

What is this object?
Fangyi is a type of bronze vessel used by the Shang dynasty (approx. 16001050 BCE) in ritual ceremonies. The vessel is a small rectangular box used for holding wine (“fang” means square). Such vessels were in use from the Shang through the middle of the Western Zhou dynasty (approx. 1050771 BCE).

How was it used?
Fangyi were also used in ritual offerings. Shang kings made sacrifices to the ancestors to sustain good fortune and avert evil. Fangyi have been found in the tomb of Fu Hao indicating that they were in use during the late Shang period at Anyang. Bronzes in Fu Hao’s tomb appear to have been used, so we can assume that bronzes such as these served both ritual functions in life as well as in burials. The roof-shaped lid on this vessel is removable. There has been some debate about whether this vessel was used for wine or food, the prevailing view seems to be the former.

How was it made?
Fangyi were made with ceramic piece molds. The simple square shape of the fangyi with its four corners has suggested to many observers that the flanges (ridges that rise above the surface of the vessel) mask the area where the ceramic piece molds were connected. Some scholars have argued against this interpretation in favor of the idea that the flanges were created to accentuate discreet areas of the vessel and compartmentalize the design.

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