Chinese art: The Early Dynasties: Ritual Bronzes

During the Shang dynasty (c.1750–1045 BC), some of China's most extraordinary art was created—its ritual bronzes. Cast in molds, these sacrificial vessels display stylistic developments that began with early bronzes at Erh-li-tou and reached their apex at Anyang, the Shang capital city, where excavations in have yielded numerous ritual bronze vessels that indicate a highly advanced culture in the Shang dynasty in the 2d millennium. The art of bronze casting of this period is of such high quality that it suggests a long period of prior experimentation.

The ritual bronzes represent the clearest extant record of stylistic development in the Shang, Chou, and Early Han dynasties. The adornment of the bronzes varies from the most meager incision to the most ornate plastic embellishment and from the most severely abstract to some naturalistic representations. The Later Han dynasty marks the end of the development of this art, although highly decorated bronze continued to be produced, often with masterly treatment of metal and stone inlays.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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