Hu: Wine Storage Container (demijohn)
Sung Dynasty, A.D. 960 – 1279
This bronze vessel from the Sung Dynasty in China was created not as much for ritual purposes, but for practical use. During this time in China, more and more people had adopted the Buddhist traditions and bronze vessels that had before been used only to hold sacrifices in ceremonies were now being used for more routine purposes. These bronzes were still highly prized as valuable objects used by the wealthy, but within courtly society, these vessels would be utilized instead of set aside for ceremony. One use that might have been applied to this vessel was as a demijohn, or wine-fermenting container. Demijohns were used to make and store wine that was consumed on special occasions by the wealthy.
This vessel is modeled after the much more ancient hu vessels used in ancestor worship rituals in the height of the Bronze Age around the 11th century B.C. It has zoomorphic designs and a central dragon motif that reflects earlier styles, but the incised designs are more refined and realistic in style than ones that came before it. The vessel is small, only 9 ¼ in. high which suggests its more practical purpose. Ceremonial bronze vessels in the height of ancestor worship were often larger in order to be more impressive. The refinement in bronze casting technology also allowed for this vessel’s thin and delicate nature.
Though the ancient Chinese had mastered the process of the making of alcoholic beverages long before, they learned the art of winemaking when on a diplomatic mission with western countries around 138 B.C. After this introduction, the farming of grapes for wine slowly became a widespread practice. Wine became popular with the royalty and they started requiring the use of wine as sacrifices in the temples and to be consumed during ceremonies. This elevated the status of wine in the society and increased the need for production of ceremonial bronze vessels. In 1122 B.C. when the Zhou Dynasty gained control, wine drinking was looked down upon because people felt it upset the gods. The production of bronze vessels for wine storage declined after this. [Katrina Kassis]