Art History Essay Introduction(revised)

Topic: Chinese Tomb arts and Shang bronzes


Ancient Chinese tombs are valuable historic evidence of the life in the past.  The belief in afterlife prompted the royal family to build tombs as their palaces in another life. All sorts of objects, animals and even human beings were buried with their owners as to provide a comfortable afterlife. Among them, bronzes were commonly found in various types including ritual vessels, tools, weapons, musical instruments and etc. Chinese bronzes dates back from the late Neolithic era 2000 BCE, matured in late Shang dynasty (C. 1500-1050) and this period is called the Bronze Age due to its advanced & sophisticated standard in the world. “In China, as in other societies, the mechanism that generated social cohesion, and at a later stage statecraft, was ritualization.” The ritual bronzes served multiple purposes and reflect various aspects of the society. Development in technology, military and economy strengthened the ruling powers and enabled the bronzes from early to late Shang dynasty to change in shape, technique, design and etc. These changes also indicate the royalties’ pursuit of aesthetics and ideology for the ritual bronzes. Image one is a bronze vessel with beast face pattern from the early Shang. It is a ritual vessel used for heating & pouring wine, called ‘Jue’ in Chinese. In image two there are the famous square vessel with four rams from late Shang (1300-1046 BC) and the close-up of the patterns. It is called “Zun” in Chinese, it was also used for libation and it is the largest square bronze wineware intact.