Zhou Dynasty: Bronze Bowl (Ding)
ca. 1122 BCE – 256 CE
This object is a large cast bronze bowl on three round legs. The body of the bowl is decorated with a band of low relief engraving and six vertical high relief bands. The design on the vessel is typical of designs found on other bronze bowls from the late Eastern Zhou dynasty. The zoomorphic design, or “taotie,” forms a mask on the body of the bowl. The eyes lie on other side of the section ridge with the decoration of the upper portion of the leg representing a down-turned mouth. The lid is also decorated and has three rings on its top, with a central knob that elevates the lid off the ground when inverted. The body has two rectangular handles. Bronze articles exposed to high humidity or buried underground undergo a natural change in which they develop a bright and beautiful coating, or “patina,” as is seen on this bowl. The patina serves to protect the metal underneath from further damage. The color of the patina may range from emerald green to sapphire blue.
The ding was a standard vessel for divinatory ceremonies associated with the sacrificial food that was to be placed in the tomb of its owner. The ancient Chinese believed in an afterlife and the ability of the dead to affect the lives of the living. Bronze containers similar to this one held food and drink for the ancestor in the afterlife, as well as provided an offering for the gods who would be escorting the dead ancestor. During the ancestor’s lifetime these objects were used to hold cooked food for the royal meals and feasts. Many such items have been recovered from royal tombs throughout China. The number of dings owned by an individual was determined by their rank in the social and political hierarchy of the area. An example of the ding used in temples as a container for burning incense can be seen here.
Bronze vessels such as this ding were cast using a process known as the “lost wax method.” The lost wax method involved fashioning a wax model that was incised with the intricate designs. The model was then layered with clay and heated until the wax melted. The clay mould was finally filled with heated liquid bronze. The ancient Chinese had discovered that by adding lead to the bronze it allowed for a longer liquid state and a slower pouring rate. The addition of lead allowed the bronze worker to work more slowly and pour more evenly into the mould which eliminated the possibility of trapped air bubbles that would leave voids in the designs.