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Shang Dynasty (about 1550-1050 B.C.)

Shang Dynasty (about 1550-1050 B.C.)

Traditionnal history begins with the Xia royal house (about 2070-1600 B.C.?). By about 1700 B.C., ambitiou bronze casting appeared in the Erlitou culture named after a type site discovered in western Henan. Northern Henan province is firmly connected with the Shang Dynasty. Ritual bronzes made with fireclay moulds are the most distinctive trait of this dynasty. Depending on elite patronage, they were probably used to prepare and display food and drink offered to the deceased in ceremonies of great religious signifiance. Between 1550 and 1300 B.C. (Erligang period), the capital is Ao - present Erligang - in Henan. At that time, ritual bronzes are in the thread relief style with volute line patterns  and the principal motif of the two-eyed animal-like pattern unit conventionally called taotie, a kind of greedy animal with prophylactic gifts.

By about 1300 B.C. (Anyang period), the Shang Dynasty ruled at Yin, north-east of the present village of Xiaotun, near modern Anyang (Henan). Vessel shapes - connected to high-relief which restores emphasis to designs - grew richer. Motifs drawn directly from nature within the animal kingdom can now be set next to the imaginary animals : taotie, animal masks, dragon kui, grasshoppers, birds. On the ground patterns appear the fine spirals conventionally called leiwen, thunder motif. At the end of the Anyang period (about 3000-1050 B.C.), the bronze decoration becomes dense and particularly strong. The Shang Dynasty of traditional history is acknowledge by the oracle-bone inscriptions on the back of cattle scapulas or on turtle shells.

The Shang was but one of several contemporary communities which might have influenced each other in terms of political rivalries. One of them, in modern Hunan, provides exceptional bronzes with animals copied from nature as well as invented ones. Another one, in Sichuan, reveals astonishing bronze life-size human statues. Yet present information does not go very far toward explaining them.

In the middle of the 11th century B.C. the Western Zhou (from Xian in Shaanxi), the successor to the Shang, still display important features in common.

  • You vessel in the shape of a feline
    You vessel in the shape of a feline Late Shang - Bronze
  • Fanglei vessel
    Fanglei vessel Anyang Era (approximately 1300 – 1050 B.C.) - Bronze
  • Zun vessel
    Zun vessel Anyang Era (approximately 1300 – 1050 B.C.) - Bronze
  • Figure
    Figure Anyang Era (approximately 1300 – 1050 B.C.) - Nephrite