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Yu (Ritual Food Vessel)

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Yu (Ritual Food Vessel)

Later Shang or Early Western Zhou
12th century BCE - 11th century BCE

9 1/4 in. x 6 3/8 in. (diameter) (23.5 cm x 16.19 cm)

Bryn Mawr College
Accession Number: TN.127
Geography: Asia, China
Culture/Nationality: Chinese
Description: Bronze vessels were the most highly valued objects of the Zhou period. These vessels were used in rituals as symbols of power, status, and wealth.

Zhou Dynasty Chinese bronzes were made by piece-mold casting. This method allowed for decorative patterns to be carved or stamped directly on the inner surface of the mold, and thereby permitted sharpness and definition in even the most intricate designs.

This yu, a ritual vessel for food offerings, incorporates many images popular in Shang and Zhou Dynasty bronzes, including taotie (zoomorphic mask) and kui (dragon) motifs, as well as stylized, geometric designs such as the nipples encased in square lozenges that cover the body of the vessel.

Keywords Click a term to view the records with the same keyword
This object has the following keywords:
  • Asian - Refers to the cultures of the continent of Asia, which is in the eastern hemisphere, and is bounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, and is generally considered to be delimited on the west by the Ural Mountains. It also refers to the numerous islands off the coast of Asia.
  • bronzes - Collectively, the class of sculptures, containers, or other objects executed in bronze, especially artifacts or works considered to be art. When possible, use the material term "bronze (metal)" plus a more specific object name, such as "bronze" + "figurines" or "bronze" + "bowl."
  • Chinese - The cultures, styles, and periods characteristic of China. To specifically refer to the cultures of ancient Chine, use "Ancient Chinese."
  • inscriptions - Words, texts, lettering, or symbols marked on a work, including texts, legends, documentation notes, or commemoration. For standardized symbols or notations on objects that convey official information, use "marks (symbols)."
  • Shang - Refers to the culture, style, and period of the first Chinese dynasty of which we have certain knowledge, both archaeological and historical. The Shang ruled from ca. 1600 BCE to ca. 1050 BCE and their culture was centered on the Yellow River plain although their power extended at times over modern northern Henan province and parts of modern Shandong, Shanxi, and Shaanxi provinces. This period is notable for its advances in bronzeworking and other technologies, all of which led to a higher level of civilization. The Shang had large armies with a wide variety of weapons and armor. Bronze was also used for ritual objects such as bells and stands. Decoration on Shang bronzes was highly schematic with the 'taotie' animal mask a preferred motif. Shang religion and ancestor worship featured the use of so-called oracle bones (jiagu), inscribed animal bones and tortoise shells. Nearly 100,000 oracle bones have been uncovered since scholars recognized their significance. Oracle bones are the oldest form of Chinese historiography, establishing a list of kings in agreement with later written histories. The Shang writing system was quite sophisticated; some Shang characters are still in use today. Shang pottery came in a variety of colors and was wheelmade or coiled, often featuring impressed patterns. The earliest known Chinese glazes were made in the Shang period. Marble and limestone sculptures of both real and mythical creatures have been found. Shang urban settlements have shown that the basic forms of Chinese architecture already existed; noteworthy settlements include those at Erlitou, Zhengzhou, and Yin (at modern Anyang), all of which served as the capital at different times. The late Shang rulers were hedonistic builders of luxurious palaces. The Zhou, a more warlike people who effectively used the chariot, succeeded the Shang.
  • yu - Chinese bronze ritual vessels with a basin shape, similar to gui, but without handles, common to the Erligang and Anyang period. The style ends in the Western Zhou.
  • Zhou - Refers to the the culture, style, and period of the Zhou dynasty, a period spanning ca. 1050 to 256 BCE. The Zhou dynasty succeeded the Shang dynasty. The area ruled by the Zhous was very large but their rule was not direct and so was often challenged. The Zhou period is divided into the Western Zhou (ca. 1050-771 BCE) and the Eastern Zhou (771-256 BCE). There was a great deal of regional diversity in the Zhou period, but overall it was a time of noteworthy political, philosophical, religious, and social changes. Many basic Chinese traditions were established and the earliest Chinese literature dates from the Zhou period, including the writing of Confucius. The population increased at this time and iron tools became more widespread, leading to agricultural advances. The rise of a merchant class and the development of coinage created a bigger market for artistic wares, of which bronzes remained the most important, becoming more secular and serving as symbols of status, wealth, and authority. Longer inscriptions are found on Zhou bronzes and are now valuable records of early Chinese history. The decoration of bronzes became more abstract, geometric, and colorful with an increased use of relief and precious inlay. The many small states of the Zhou dynasty became virtually independent of central authority and it was the Qin who eventually defeated the other states to establish the first unified Chinese rule.

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Additional Image TN.127_BMC_i.jpg
Additional Image TN.127_BMC_i_2.jpg

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Exhibition List
This object was included in the following exhibitions:
  • Worlds to Discover: 125 Years of Collections at Bryn Mawr College Bryn Mawr College , Sep 24, 2010 – May 28, 2011

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<ref name=BMC>cite web |url= |title=Yu (Ritual Food Vessel) |author=Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections |accessdate=6/7/2023 |publisher=Bryn Mawr College</ref>

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