Hu: Wine Storage Vessel
West Chou Period, 1122-480 B.C
This vessel is called a you or hu vessel and was used as a ritual wine vessel in Dynastic China around the period of 1122-480 B.C. This and many other bronze vessels of the time were shaped like earlier ceramic Neolithic vessels that were used for every-day cooking and food storage. When bronze technology emerged, many of these forms were created in bronze as ritual vessels.
Bronze was made by combining tin and copper into an alloy, and was an extremely important metal to societies at this time. Bronze was good for making metal objects like weapons, tools and art because it was workable when hot and hard after it cooled. This technology was widespread throughout Europe and Asia around 1500 B.C., the Bronze Age. Chinese artist used simple tools but developed a method of bronze casting that allowed them to create beautiful and intricate art. This method, called the “Lost Wax” process, involved making a wax model of the object they wished to create with the decorations already incised on the surface. Then a two-layer mould was made around the wax model. This caused the decorations of the wax model to be imprinted in relief on the inside of the mould. After the mould had hardened, the wax was melted and removed leaving a hollow shape inside the cast. Molten bronze was then poured inside and allowed to cool. The mould was then broken away revealing the finished bronze object.
The you or hu vessel was one of the earlier types of bronze vessels created by Chinese artists. At this time, 771-221 B.C., the Zhou had conquered the Shang people and condemned their practice of wine drinking, calling it excessive. Fewer wine vessels were produced after this time and inscriptions in the vessels recounted the name of the maker and occasion of the making rather than deeds of the ancestors. Styles began to change under the Zhou rulers with a trend toward more abstract designs and less zoomorphic themes.
This vessel is relatively plain with only one band of decoration incised around the center. It is created in the traditional shape for hu wine vessels with two handles and a round base. The animal heads that usually adorn the top of each handle are not recognizable as animals, but are more like mythical creatures. The decorations are also more abstract. [Katrina Kassis]
For more information on Chinese bronze see: