Here are some of the photos I took at the Freer and Sackler Galleries during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. The galleries are the Smithsonian’s museums of Asian art and are home to a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions of contemporary and ancient Chinese, Japanese, Persian, Islamic, South Asian and Himalayan art. Among the many treasures on display are dozens of stunning bronze ritual vessels, bells and weapons dating back to China’s Shang (c.1600-1046 BC) and Zhou (c.1046-256 BC) dynasties.
The majority of these vessels were likely used by the nobility in banquets in which the living would honour their deceased ancestors through ritual offerings of millet wine, meats, and grains. As you can see from the photos above, the vessels are mostly decorated with intricate geometric designs and animal motifs. Recurring themes include water birds, owls, tigers, snakes and elephants as well as mythical creatures such as dragons, phoenixes and the mysterious taotie (饕餮), a zoomorphic mask motif that may date back to Neolithic times.
To my knowledge, Chinese bronze vessels have yet to make an appearance in the Tomb Raider series but Lara came across a couple of Zhou Dynasty bronze helmets during her time on Yamatai (Tomb Raider 2013). These will be dealt with in a future edition of Arte-Factual so keep an eye out for that!
More information on Chinese ritual bronzes can be found on the websites below:
- Chinese Ritual Bronzes (Wikipedia)
- Ancient Chinese Bronzes (Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institute)
- Slideshow: Ancient Chinese Bronzes (Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institute)
- Animals in Bronze (Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institute)
- Chinese Arts: Ritual Bronze Vessels (ChinaKnowledge.DE)
- Shang and Zhou Dynasties: The Bronze Age of China (Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
- Bronze Age China (National Gallery of Art)
- Shang Ritual Bronzes (Indiana University)