This wine container is important to the Eastern Zhou dynasty, Spring and Autumn period (770–ca. 475 B.C.E.), early 5th century B.C.E. because it represents one of the Chinese ritual vessels used at this time, something very important to the leaders of the Zhou at the start. It is important people understand that the bronze was an important metal at this time, before iron and steel metallurgy became more prominent, and that the ritual vessels were usually made of bronze as this one was.
Overview- This wine container is made of bronze, and although some of the vessel has corroded and oxidized, causing it to turn green, other parts of the surface were preserved, leaving its golden metallic shine. There is clearly a decorative pattern on the surface of the vessel, and the wine container is separated into three sections, between the top and base.
Parts- The top of the vessel appears to have a removable lid, which makes sense as it holds wine, with 3 animals represented on the top of the lid, which could possibly represent the “animal style” art influenced by contact with nomadic cultures at this time. The remainder of the top has what appears to be triangle peaks equal in shape and size, and a band of decorative, intricate patterns wraps around neck of vessel. The body of the wine container, separated by three raised rings, is completely covered in extremely detailed animal masks and interlacing bands ending in dragon heads and feathered tails. The handles on either side possibly allow the vessel to be held without direct contact with container, or could simply be for decoration. The base of the wine container has the same type of decorative band as the top, and allows the ritual vessel to stand.
Title- The title of this piece of artwork, Wine container (hu), explains that the vessel shown was used as a wine container in the religious rituals of the time. It also suggests that wine had an important role in the rituals since its purpose was to hold wine.
Interpretation- The intention of creating this piece of art was to have it hold wine in the religious rituals the kings held. It was also meant to aid in the rituals of divination and the worship of ancestors. The bronze it is made out of was meant to represent wealth and power.
Context- At this time in history, bronze was still used to make these ritual vessels, but the Chinese were also progressing and starting to use metals other than bronze, such as copper, silver, and gold. The use of these ritual vessels also became less common as the Zhou period progressed because the Kings now held the Mandate of Heaven, which justified a king’s actions enough that divination and rituals were no longer found necessary. A separation of religion and politics during the Zhou period also explains why these wine containers made of bronze are used less in this time.
Conclusion- The wine container of the Eastern Zhou dynasty was an essential unit of the religious rituals the kings performed before any decisions, at least before the political and religious aspects of 5th century B.C.E. China became more separated. It is important to what we are studying because the vessel holds many pieces of the Zhou period’s important history in it, including the decreasing use of bronze, a change in political power, and the use of symmetry and geometry in the making of ritual vessels similar to this wine container.
More about this piece can be found here.