The Eastern Zhou period is divided into the earlier Spring and Autumn Period (770-470 BC), named after the historical records of the time, the Spring and Autumn Annals of the Eastern State of Lu, and the Warring States Period (471-221 BC). Although as a whole this part of China’s history is characterized by hostility between competing states and by an accompanying political, social and economic instability, it was also to give rise to a cultural and material exchange between the states that existed beyond and within the borders of China at this time.
A significant part of this exchange was concerned with maintaining the bronze tradition that was so important to the Shang and the Western Zhou. The continuation of bronze production represented more than the adoption of an aesthetic tradition, and because of the association of bronzes with ceremonial and ritual activities in this earlier period, access to them was strictly reserved for Shang and Zhou royalty. They believed that they had a direct line of communication to their ancestors through ritual practices, in which bronzes had an integral role to play, and therefore the power to allay the malignant forces of unhappy ancestors.
This magnificent ritual vessel used for holding food is comprised of two equal parts, meaning the lid could be used as a second vessel in its own right so as to create a pair of offering dishes. The entire surface is decorated with bands of interlocking scrolls, creating the impression of texture. Both vessel and cover are adorned with dragon head handles and the cover with taotie mask tabs at the rim. A vessel of this kind would have been part of a large set of vessels, each with a specific purpose. They were used in ceremonies for sacrificial offerings of meat, wine, water, and grain, primarily to the spirits of ancestors, especially those of the ruler and his family, and in some cases were buried with the owner.
Private Collection (B.K.), New York, 1970s.
Private Collection, New Jersey, 1990s.