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Home > Display > Gallery of Chinese Ancient Bronze
Gallery of Chinese Ancient Bronze
As a symbol of China's ancient civilization and cultural heritage, bronze artifacts have been regarded as important treasures ever since the Shang and Zhou dynasties. When you step into the gallery, you will feel being surrounded by a mysterious and artistic atmosphere in which ancient bronze artifacts are displayed in plain and archaic wooden showcases and set off by different levels of illumination. More than 400 pieces of exquisite bronzes are shown within the space of 1,200 square meters, providing an overall perspective of bronze art in ancient China.
Initial Stage
Around the 21th century B.C., China entered the Bronze Age. The Erlitou culture of the late Xia dynasty was the earliest bronze culture so far known in China. Bronze containers, musical instruments, weapons, implements and ornaments, as well as foundry features have been found at the site. Ritual bronze artifacts of this period were thin-walled and cast by skilled technique. Their styles began to display certain standardization. The manufacture of these bronze artifacts symbolized that ancient China stepped into civilization.
Formative stage
During the early and middle Shang dynasty, bronze casting technology fully developed. Ritual system represented mainly by wine vessels was established. Many bronze artifacts were decorated by animal image motifs, complex designs and bold, deeply cut linear elements. The mold-casting technique was getting sophisticated. Many vessels with complicated designs were cast separately, which laid a solid foundation for the further development of bronze craftsmanship.
Mature stage
Bronze technology reached its apex during the late Shang and early Western Zhou dynasties. Ritual system characterized by bronze wine vessels became more sophisticated. The entire body of vessels was often covered with both high and low relief, showing marvelous and elegant patterns. They also expressed dignity and mystery by using animal image and deity motifs. Inscriptions first appeared on the late Shang bronzes. Then long inscriptions characterized the Western Zhou bronzes.
Transitional stage
During the middle and late Western Zhou dynasty, food vessels gradually dominated ritual system. This system was characterized by using a series of bronze such as tripods Ding, bells and other bronze vessels to indicate stratification. New bronze artifacts with imposing and elegant style emerged. Decorative motifs consisted of modified animal designs expressed by either flowing curvilinear lines or single straight strokes. Bronze inscriptions were very popular. Some important large vessels usually have long inscriptions. During the early Spring and Autumn period, bronze artifacts continued the traditions of the middle and late Western Zhou period.
Renewal stage
Chinese bronze reached the second climax from the middle Spring and Autumn to the Warring States Period. Along with the development of bronze industries in feudal states, local products with unique styles appeared. Bronze of the States Jin and Qin in the North, those of Qi and Ru in the East, and those of Chu in the South reflected mutual exchange of ideas and technology and great artistic achievements. Along with a trend of practical use in daily life, the ritual function of bronze vessels gradually diminished. Many new bronzes with delicate styles appeared. Characters used for inscriptions were beautiful. The lost-wax casting technique and the use of impressed molds enabled artisans to obtain rich inlay decoration of extraordinary delicacy and intricacy.
Bronze arts of minorities in the frontiers
During the Eastern Zhou, Qin and Han dynasties, bronze casting technology flourished among the minority peoples living in the frontiers. Yue minority in the South, Ba-Shu in the West, Yi in the Southwest, and Xiongnu in the North all developed their own bronze industries. Their bronzes were deeply influenced by the Shang and Zhou traditions in the Central Plains, but also showed unique features and styles.
Bronze metallurgy
The high achievement of ancient bronze metallurgy depended on the efficient mining of ores and the development of sophisticated foundry technology. Bronze was the first alloy used in China. The appropriate proportions of copper, tin and lead was well controlled and gradually refined. Stone, clay and metal molds were widely used. Among these techniques, clay piece-mold was particularly highly developed. Combined casting techniques of compound metals indicated a perfect alloy-making process. Surface treatments such as inlaying and gilding were also highly refined. Lost-wax casting was an important advance in foundry technology. Magic bronze mirrors of the Western Han, with their extraordinary optical feature, could be described as a last afterglow of China's brilliant Bronze Age.
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