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Ritual wine vessel (hu), approx. 900-850 BCE

Ritual wine vessel (hu), approx. 900-850 BCE

Ritual wine vessel (hu), approx. 900-850 BCE. China; Western Zhou dynasty (1050-771 BCE). Bronze. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60B972.

What is this object?
Hu were ceremonial vessels used for holding wine that became popular during the Zhou dynasty (1050-771 BCE). Their shape is typically slender near the top of the vessel, sagging towards the middle. They include a lid, two handles and a base. It is possible that the hu vessel was based on the earlier you vessel.

How was it used?
The inscription inside the lid and neck of this vessel gives direct evidence of its intended use: “On the chi-mao day, the first day of the tenth month of the twenty-sixth year, Fan Chuseng cast this wedding hu to be used as a wedding present for his eldest child, Meng Feiguai. May his sons and grandsons treasure it forever.”

This vessel was created to be part of a dowry. This indicates a shift away from the strictly religious use of bronzes towards a more secularized use for personal reasons. It also reminds us of the expectations that fathers placed on sons–Confucian principles that stressed respectful, dutiful relationships.

What is the significance of the designs on this vessel?
The designs on this vessel are based on previous models, but show a clear move towards abstraction. Two taotie-like eyes, seen near the widest part of body of the vessel, have become isolated circular shapes. Whereas the split face had previously been divided by the nose, there is no clear break, and arching wave-like bands become the dominant design. The background has been simplified to thin lines, giving depth to the foreground without distraction. The design seems to move more freely around the shape of the vessel, less hemmed in by box-like divisions or projecting flanges. The curvilinear patterns of the wave motif are reflected in the twisted horns of animal-shaped handles and the delicate lines on the rings.