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: A Bronze Ho of the Shang Period


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
To the Alfred F. Pillsbury Collection of Chinese Bronzes, whose presence in the Art Institute has lent such distinction to the Chinese galleries, Mr. Pillsbury has recently added a Shang ritual vessel of the ho type. The addition of this bronze is particularly noteworthy because it brings both a new form and a new scheme of decoration to a group already rich in both. The ho form is not common, and the all-over scale pattern of the body is, so far as is known at least, extremely rare on Shang bronzes.The vessel is supported by three straight cylindrical legs decorated with handing blades. Above them the body swells fully to the spout, where it begins to constrict slightly and then swings out a little to support the domed lid. The swelling section of the body is completely covered with a pattern of overlapping vertical scales filled with spirals in a design that may be meant to represent the cicada. This treatment of the scale pattern, which may be compared with a vessel of the hutype reproduced on page 374, Vol. 2 of The Bronzed of Shang and Chou, Harvard-Yenching Institute, Peking, 1941, is quite distinctive from the Chou scale pattern displayed on such bronzed as Mr. Pillsbury's ih and ssu vessels, and cannot be confused with it.The throat and lid of the ho are bare except for bands of bold eye and spiral motifs. Karlgren calls this the eyed spiral band, and suggests that it may be a further reduction of the dissolved t'ao t'ieh as it appears when compressed into a band. It might also represent the relics of a dragon. The handle, finished with a bovine head at the top, carries a pattern of spirals, as does the handle of the lid, which is attached to the body-handle by a plain looped hinge. The straight spout repeats the decoration of the legs.This ho bears a three-character inscription in duplicate—cast sunk within the lid and under the handle—which Dr. Rowsell S. Britton reads as follows: “This vessel is dedicated to Father Kuei of the Shih family.” Dr. Britton further states that a fairly large number of bronzes of this Shih family has been recovered, among them others with the three-character inscriptions dedicated to Fathers Yi, Ting, and Keng. These, together with the Father Kuei of Mr. Pillsbury's ho, would imply a spread of four generations and lends color, along with the quantity of Shih family bronzes discovered, to the supposition that this was an important and powerful family of the Shang period.The majority of the Shih bronzes recovered, however, bear only the single surname monogram, and it is to this group that Mr. Pillsbury's wide, shallow kuei with monster masks on a spiral ground belongs. It corresponds closely in feeling to the ho of the same family which has now come to join it. Both are sturdy, powerful pieces, with that monumental dignity characteristic of things and people associated intimately with the forces of nature. Their presence in the Pillsbury Collection reinforces the quality of the timelessness that is one of the most insistent notes in the message brought to this age through the medium of ancient Chinese bronzed, and the belief that through man may perish the things born of his spirit will not die.Referenced Work of Art
  1. Ritual bronze wine vessel of the ho type. Chinese, Shang period. Lent by Alfred F. Pillsbury.
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Source: "A Bronze Ho of the Shang Period," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 32, no. 23 (June, 1943): 76-77.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009