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Wine-Warming Vessel: Wenjiazun
China; Western Han period (206 B.C.E. - 9 C.E.), 1st century B.C.E.
Gilt bronze
H. 6 1/4 in. (15.9 cm); D. 8 1/4 in. (21 cm)at mouth
Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection of Asian Art
Cylindrical vessels supported on bear-shaped feet were introduced around the 3rd century B.C.E. and were probably based on lacquered wood prototypes. Some of these were used for cosmetic boxes, but inscriptions on some bronze versions define them as wenjiazun "wine warming zun." Instead of the stylized dragons and geometric patterns that cover earlier Chinese bronzes, the decoration here consists of realistic imagery -- hunters and anthropomorphic figures with bear-like heads pursuing tigers, bears, and griffins among rolling hills. In one scene, two figures carrying long poles and conical hats walk through the mountainside. Landscape and hunting scenes were common in the art of the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.-C.E. 9), reflecting the importance of hunting as a sport for royalty. The presence of humanoid and animal mythical creatures exemplify the intense interest in auspicious omens (xiangrui) that are frequently cited in Han dynasty literature. The mythical imagery had been particularly strong in the southern state of Chu, and it is possible that some of the motifs were borrowed from the south. The bear motifs, on the other hand, are thought to be of northern derivation. The gilding which covers this vessel was a Chinese invention of the 4th century B.C.E. and was effected by covering the surface with gold dust suspened in mercury. When the vessel was heated, the mercury evaporated and the gold was deposited as a thin layer on the surface, giving the effect of a solid gold vessel.
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