Posts Tagged 'bronze'

Object: Bronze Incense Burner

Accession: E/1955/18/139

Name: Bronze Incense Burner

Location: Asia: Dynastic China

Date: Dynastic China

Materials: Bronze

Key Terms: Incense, Burner, Bronze, Dynastic China

This bronze incense burner from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History is a three-piece artifact dating back to Dynastic China. The base consists of an elephant with three attachments that sit on top of the back of the elephant; the top tier is missing, however, there are holes on the top attachment of the elephant where this piece would connect. The burner stands 24” high when assembled. It is made from bronze and each piece is hand painted in multi-color designs, including light blue, dark blue, teal, light green, dark green, purple, yellow and white. The incense burner was used to burn incense as remnants of this process are evident because you can hear the remaining fragments moving around inside the elephant as you lift the object. There is also proof of aging in the form of green discoloration on the insides of the attached tears as well as the top of the elephant, which is a result of the bronze oxidizing.

 

The period of the Shang and Zhou dynasties is generally known as the Bronze Age in China. During this time in China rituals that centered on incense burners like this one had an important social function, because these were so important for creating societal cohesion. Since these rituals were so valued most objects used were made from bronze, which represented the superior sectors of society, as bronze was highly valued. Therefore, the material used to create this burner leads us to its cultural significance, as bronze burners are the most precious. The rituals this burner was used in became increasingly religious over time and were used to communicate with gods, spirits, and deceased ancestors. [1, 3]

Shang_Dynasty_1600_BC_-_1046_BC

Map courtesy of Arab Hafez licensed by CC-BY

Although we cannot pinpoint the exact date this incense burner was created, I am led to believe that it was likely constructed sometime during the Bronze Age (Shang and Zhou dynasties). Research shows that excavated Han Dynasty tombs had depictions of incense burners and elephants, therefore, the significance of these symbols in this culture was created before the Han Dynasty. This incense burner was likely to have been constructed in the orange/yellow region of the map on the right because that is where bronze paraphernalia used for rituals was being created at the time of the Bronze Age. The remnants found in incense burners excavated from tombs also prove that China was engaged in the global economy through international trading at the time these burners were being used because some of the spices found in the remnants were not grown in China. [2]

 

These burners were historically used to burn incense and spices for religious purposes and are contemporarily used for the same reasons; however, the religious symbolism has evolved over time. Earliest documented scent culture emphasizes simplicity and the belief that complex aromas were inherently suspicious because of the extravagance the original purity of virtues is lost. The original simple scents and spices used were intentionally unpleasant to avoid the corruption the pleasant but complex scents were thought to bring. Over time a change occurred and the idea of antique simplicity died off. Today, diverse incense and spices are used in combination with different religious ceremonies or rituals. [3]

 

The authenticity of this bronze incense burner is affirmed in its physical structure and visual signs of aging. Feet elevate the burner above the table surface, which is a requirement of an authentic incense burner, as without them the object would not be able to function correctly. The green discoloration on the top of the elephant also exemplifies its age as bronze greens from oxidation. This burner was undoubtedly handmade as the intricate designs that appear throughout the artifact are hand painted. Although the process for molding these bronze burners may be derivative, I would assert that these designs are unique to this particular burner, and exemplify the maker’s creativity and originality. The time put in to paint this complex design on such valued material denotes the importance of this object. [4]

 

((Kayla Grudzielanek))- Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

Works Cited:

  1. Department of Asian Art. “Shang and Zhou Dynasties: The Bronze Age of China.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. 2004, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/shzh/hd_shzh.htm.
  2. Kim, Minku. “CLAIMS OF BUDDHIST RELICS IN THE EASTERN HAN TOMB MURALS AT HORINGER: Issues in the Historiography of the Introduction of Buddhism to China.” Ars Orientalis, 44, 2014, pp. 134-154., http://www.jstor.org/stable/43489801.
  3. Milburn, Olivia. “Aromas, Scents, and Spices: Olfactory Culture in China before the Arrival of Buddhism.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 136, no. 3, July 2016, pp. 441-464., http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7817/jameroriesoci.136.3.0441.
  4. Stone, Elizabeth Rosen. “A Buddhist Incense Burner from Gandhara.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, 39, 2004, pp. 69-99., http://www.jstor.org/stable/40034602.

Picture:

“Ancient Chinese Dynasties: Advancements and Achievements.” Ancient Chinese Dynasties: Advancements and Achievements – The Zhou Dynasty, anchientchinesedynasties.weebly.com/the-zhou-dynasty.html.

E/1955/18/139 in the Sam Noble Museum Ethnology Collection

 

Additional Reading:

Maguer, Sterenn Le. “Typology of Incense-Burners of the Islamic Period.” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, vol. 41, July 2010, pp. 173-185., http://www.jstor.org/stable/41622131.

 

Object: Bronze Food Bowl

E_1963_4_8Accession Number:           E/1963/4/008

Object:                                      This is a cast bronze food bowl with a lid. It has two handles and an inscription inside. It is in very good condition for being roughly 2500 years old.

Location:                                 This object comes from the Chou dynasty of ancient China.

Date:                                          Exact date unknown, but roughly 800 B.C.E

Material:                                  Cast Bronze

Keywords

Chou Dynasty, Zhou Dynasty, Bronze, Food Bowl

Object Background

This item is notable for its intricate patterns, inscription on the inner surface, and animal motifs. The intricate patterns point to the fact that the food bowls served more than a utilitarian purpose. These objects were used in a ceremonial or ritual context, so their designs had to be aesthetically pleasing. An inscription on the inner surface of the bowl is common amongst Chinese bronzes. The inscription could signify who made the bowl, who it was for, or the purpose of the bowl [1] [2]. Last, the animal motifs are commonly seen amongst other bronze objects. The taotie symbol is one that is animalistic but does not look like any one particular animal. It has feline and bovine characteristics and was a universally understood symbol at the time even though its meaning has been lost [3]. Last, a ram is seen on the handles of the bowl. Rams were often used to symbolize good luck and happiness [4].  So, this bronze food bowl could have been used in a ritual as a form of celebration of a god or deceased ancestor.

Cultural Background

The Chou (Zhou) Dynasty ruled from 1122 B.C.E – 256 B.C.E and was the longest ruling of the ancient Chinese dynasties. In addition to its long tenure, this dynasty is notable for its intricate bronze figurines, food containers, and other similar items [5]. Primarily used by wealthy and noble people as a ceremonial object, these bronze objects also served other purposes. Bronze bowls, in particular, were important for their aesthetics and their multifunctionality.

Discussion

While it is difficult to know the specific purpose of this bronze food bowl due to the large possibility of uses, it is very similar to other collected artifacts from ancient China. This helps to understand how it could have been used. It is very likely that this bronze food bowl saw use due to the fact that a white line, similar to a water line, is visible near the bottom of the interior surface. This could imply that food or drink sat stagnant in the bowl for a very long period of time. Based on this assumption, the aesthetics and symbols of the bowl, and the possible functions, it is probable that this bowl held a sacrificial offering. This offering was likely used in a ceremonial manner in which one was asking for happiness and good luck either for themselves, a god, or a deceased relative. The various symbols throughout the bowl are tied to Chinese religion, and these bowls were commonplace in rituals.

Furthermore, this bronze food bowl helps demonstrate the overall culture of ancient China. Since these bowls were used for sacrifices or rituals, it tells about the religion. For example, this shows that the religion of early China was somewhat similar to that of the Mayans with the use of sacrificial offerings. It also parallels that of ancient Egypt with the use of burial objects to provide food or other things to ancestors during the afterlife. Moreover, these objects show how a largely agrarian culture behaved and their everyday life was intertwined with their religion.

Last, it is important to note that many of these bronze vessels were reserved for nobility or the wealthy. Bronze was very expensive and valuable so it could not be purchased by all people. These items demonstrate that, as is expected, the upper class had a different way of life than the peasants. They were able to be in touch with their ancestors and provide for their deceased relatives even through the afterlife. The bronze bowls can serve many purposes in ancient China, but they were primarily used by the rich in a ceremonial context.

 

Works Cited

[1] Lippe, Aschwin. 1950. “A Gift of Chinese Bronzes.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 9(4): 97-107.

[2] Magurn, Blanche. 1945. “A Collection of Chinese Bronzes.” Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum 10(3): 87-92.

[3] Ho, Wai-Kam. 1964. “Shang and Chou Bronzes.” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 51(7): 175-187.

[4] Von Erdberg, Eleanor, and Wen C. Fong. 1978. “Chinese Bronzes: From the Collection of Chester Dale and Dolly Carter”. Artibus Asiae. Supplementum 35: 152-153

[5] Walker, Paul. Unknown. “Bronze Food Bowl.” Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

Works Referenced

Bagley, Robert. 2006. “Ornament, Representation, and Imaginary Animals in Bronze Age China.” Arts Asiatiques 61: 17-29.

Hay, John. 1999. “Questions of Influence in Chinese Art History.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics (25): 240-262.

Sterckx, Roel. 2013. “Food, Sacrifice, and Sagehood in Early China.” Asian Ethnology 72(2): 336-339.

Xu, Jay. 2006. “Food Vessel (Fangding).” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 32(1): 28-29.

 

((Austin Bashaw)) Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

Object: Bronze Foo Dog

 

E/1975/4/1
Foo Dog/Lion Statue
Asia
Unknown Date
Materials: Bronze

This is a bronze Foo Dog statue from Asia. It is 18” in height, 30.5” in width, and 10.5” in diameter. It has a detachable tail. Its mouth is open and there is a globe located under its right paw.

 Lion-Dog or Foo Dog statues can be found throughout Asia and Southeast Asia and are made of everything from porcelain to bronze. Historically, lions have represented wisdom, royalty, pride, and protection in many cultures around the world. These Lion-dog or Foo Dog statues are highly symbolic in Buddhism. Lions are viewed as iconographic figures in Buddhism because they protect “cosmic law and order,” serving as guardians for monasteries and shrines. One ancient story involves Buddha taming a wild lion. This tame lion would follow at Buddha’s heels like a “faithful dog.” Additionally, Buddha’s teachings are often referred to as the “Lion’s Roar” because of their power and strength.

Foo Dogs also feature prominently in ancient Chinese culture. During the Han Dynasty (206 BCE- 220CE) people began placing two lion statues in front of an image of Buddha. However, it was not until the beginning of the Heian period (794-1185 CE) that Lion-dog statues began to appear outside of temples and shrines. These statues were meant to honor the Buddha and protect the inhabitants of the site.

Since the Han Dynasty, Lion-dog statues are usually found in pairs: one female and one male. This bronze Foo Dog is also part of a pair. It is considered a male because of the globe located under its paw, which signifies protection of its territory and home. An open mouth on a male Foo Dog usually indicates an ending. On the other hand, for Female Foo Dogs, an open mouth symbolizes beginnings. Female Foo Dogs also have a cub under their left paw symbolizing strength and protective maternal instincts.

Foo Dog statues can still be found throughout Asia and Southeast Asia today, many still guarding homes, temples, and palaces. They appear in various shapes, sizes, and colors, and continue to symbolize protection. It is not uncommon to find Foo Dogs or other guardian statues outside of homes all around the world.

[Bryanna Evans]

References:

http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-BH/bh117490.htm

http://www.sfweekly.com/exhibitionist/2013/05/31/recent-acquisitions-the-asian-art-museum-now-guarded-by-bronze-lions

http://rohsska.se/en/om-rohsska-museet/historik/1261/

http://art.thewalters.org/browse/community/19/

http://www6.miami.edu/lowe/collection_art_of_asia.html

Object: Manuscript Box

E/1955/18/252
Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
ca. 19th Century
Materials: Bronze, Gold Gilding, Precious Stones, Persian Turquoise, Wood

Manuscript boxes like this one were used throughout Southeast Asia by both Hindus and Buddhists to store important religious texts. Their design varies with respect to materials and form. They all show intricate and ornate design work.

The top of this particular box shows the goddess Durga slaying Mahishasura (the buffalo demon), the theme of a famous Hindu story. No man, not even a god, could kill Mahishasura. The trinity of gods created Durga and gave her their weapons to defeat him. The battle of Durga is important in Hindu mythology and ancient art, and it is still told today.

Manuscripts featuring the story of Durga are considered amulets. They are valuable items that can protect their owners from some evil influences. This box is nailed shut, keeping its mysterious contents both safe and secret.

The Kathmandu Valley, where this box was made, has been an important site of cultural exchange since around 300 B.C. Located in Nepal, between India and Tibet, it contains a blend of both Hindu and Buddhist religions. An ancient trade route connected Asia, from Iran in the west, to China in the east. It linked cities in Pakistan, India, Burma and Thailand, and had a crucial stop in the Kathmandu Valley.

Artifacts from this area often reflect the diverse people that have passed through it. This box displays a Hindu goddess, but it contains inlaid turquoise from the Middle East and precious gems that are likely from Burma. It also draws on Burmese design, where manuscript boxes with feet were more common.

The spiral patterns and handcrafted details of this box are unique. They were created by the native people of Nepal, called the Newar. This box’s material, design and overall shape reflect the diversity of cultures, peoples, religions and materials that have existed in or passed through the Kathmandu Valley, from the 8th century to today. Watch the movie below to see a movie version of Durga slaying Mahishasura.

Work Cited

Jwajalapa.com
“The Newar Synthesis”. Accessed 1 October 2013, last modified 23 September 2008.  http://www.jwajalapa.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48&Itemid=61

Ratanapruck, Prista.
2007 Kinship and Religious Practices as Institutionalization of Trade Networks: Manangi Trade Communities in South and Southeast Asia. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 50(2/3): 325-346.

Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India
2013 Mythology of Durga Puja. SJFI: India. Retrieved from http://www.durga-puja.org/mythology.html

UNESCO World Heritage Association
“Kathmandu Valley—UNESCO”. Accessed 1 October 2013, last modified 2013. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/121/

[Elly Roberts]

Object: Bronze Dog

C/1957/14/35
Bronze Sleeping Dog
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze

This bronze dog is shown sleeping.  It is .5 in. (1.3 cm) high, 2 in. (5.1 cm) long, and 1 in. (2.5 cm) wide.  Details of fur can be seen on the ruff and tail.  The bottom of the statuette is flat except for one hollowed out area.  One ear is partially gone, but the other ear is flat down against the head.

Romans had dogs for hunting, herding, guarding, draught, performing, and as pets. In fact, a dog could be both a hunting companion and a beloved pet.  The strong bond between a Roman and their dog can be seen in artwork and poems commemorating pets.  Dog artwork was often created after the dog had died, and the artwork reflected the owner’s grief and anguish, feelings that people today can identify with upon loosing a beloved pet.

It is clear the Romans were aware of the loyalty of dogs to their masters.  In one account from 28 A.D., during Emperor Tiberius’s rule, Titius Sabinus was arrested and his dog stayed outside his prison door. When Sabinus was killed and his corpse thrown outside, his dog howled beside his body. When Sabinus’s body was thrown into the Tiber River, his dog jumped in after it in an effort to keep it from sinking.

This bronze dog figure from the Classics Collection is shown sleeping, and so is clearly not actively working in any of its possible occupations. This may mean that this is artwork of a pet dog that lounges around with its masters or may be a representation of dogs in general, which were common in the Roman world. As a small bronze figure it may have been decoration on a larger object or part of a shrine to a god. The hunting dog was associated with the goddess Diana (Artemis), so figurines of dogs may be part of a dedication to the goddess.

Video: To see a quick video of the cave canem (“beware of the dog”) mosaic at Pompeii take a look:

Works Cited

McKeown, J. C.

            2010 A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts                    from the World’s Greatest Empire. New York: Oxford University Press.

Toynbee, J. M. C.

            1973 Animals in Roman Life and Art. New York: Cornell University Press.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Object: Bronze Sheep

Bronze Sheep carrying Woolsack
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze

This sheep statuette is standing upright and carrying a triangular woolsack, or carrying bag, on its back.  It is 1 in. (2.5 cm) high, 1 in. (2.5 cm) long, and 1 in. (2.5 cm) wide.  It also has small curled horns on the sides of its head.

Some wild sheep (mouflon) were used in venationes (animal hunts).  These sheep had shaggy wool and curly horns. Romans imported wild rams from Africa, which they said had a marvelous color. A sheep breed from Spain was also renowned for their gold tinted wool. These wooled sheep were sometimes used for public spectacles. As with other types of animals, Romans imported sheep from around their empire. Unlike with some imported animals that were used mainly for spectacles, imported wild sheep were often kept on estates and tamed.

There were native Italian sheep as well, the most famous of which were the Tarentines with their fat tails. Tarentines grazed on the Galaesus river banks. Romans praised the Tarentines for the quality of their wool, which they used for clothing. Another important use for sheep besides wool, milk, cheese, and spectacles was their role as sacrifices. Sheep were sacrificed to many deities, including Jupiter, Juno, Janus, Mars, Terminus, Faunus, and Silvanus. Sheep were part of the large state-sponsored sacrifices to the gods. One example of state sacrifices is the suovetaurilia, which called for the sacrifice of a ram, bull, and pig.

Sacrificed sheep were one of the most popular animals to use for divination. Haruspex priests, or diviners, inspected the entrails of the sheep, focusing mainly on the liver to predict the future.  Etruscans also practiced haruspicy. A bronze model of a sheep’s liver with Etruscan writing has been found, called the liver of Piacenza. By examining the liver, the haruspex would learn the will of the gods. Haruspices were used both by the senate and by private people. Later in Roman history, however, well-educated Romans looked down on consulting the haruspices. Emperor Claudius tried to bring back this practice and had the senate pass a decree for priests to look into reviving parts of haruspicy.

In art, sheep are most commonly shown in pastoral scenes. Mythological sheep scenes were created to depict the story of the golden ram carrying mythological figures Phrixus and Helle across the sea (which was termed the Hellespont after Helle fell into the sea). During the Christian era, sheep then became a common image in Christian art.

Sheep were useful in many ways for the Romans. In this bronze statuette, the sheep is shown in a practical role carrying a woolsack. The bronze sheep is therefore most connected to its role of giving wool.  This may be a depiction of one of the sheep popular for the quality of their wool, such as the Tarentines discussed above.

Works Cited

Smith, William

         1875 “Haruspices.” A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London: John Murray.   586-587.      <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/ Haruspices.html>.

Toynbee, J. M. C.

            1973 Animals in Roman Life and Art. New York: Cornell University Press.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Object: Bronze Head

E/1955/18/138
Bronze Head
Dynastic China
Location: Asia, China
Unknown Date
Materials: Bronze

We can learn a great deal by looking at the details of objects to uncover the mystery of what they mean. This Chinese statue is an excellent example. It is a large 32-inch tall hollow cast bronze head of a woman. By looking closely at the head, we can see she has an elaborate hairstyle with an ornate headpiece. The headpiece has a miniature figure of Buddha in front, over her forehead. Her eyes are closed, as if asleep, and she has a slight smile on her lips. There is no evidence that there was ever a body attached to this head. So what are we to make of this unusual object?

 

First, we look at how it was made. The process of bronze casting is very old, beginning in China around 1600 BC, in what was known as the Shang Dynasty. Bronze is an alloy, or combination, of copper and tin and forms a very durable metal. While we do not know how old this statue is, it certainly developed out of this long-standing bronze working tradition.

With her serene facial expression, this head may represent the figure of Kuan Yin (Kwan Yin) or “She Who Hears the Cries of the World,” goddess of mercy, compassion, kindness, and love in the Buddhist faith. This Chinese Buddhist goddess is said to be based on a real woman. According to one legend, Kuan Yin’s father murdered her and she went down to the underworld. When she got there, she recited words from the Buddhist holy books, preventing the god of the underworld from torturing the souls of the dead. He was not pleased, so he sent Kuan Yin back to be alive once more. After returning to the world of the living, she spent all her time studying Buddhist ideas and teachings, learning from the Buddha. As a result of her dedication and her compassionate nature, the Buddha made her immortal, and she became the goddess of mercy and compassion.

In paintings, Kuan Yin is often depicted as wearing white robes and sitting on a lotus flower, which also symbolizes peace. Sometimes she is even shown with a thousand heads and a thousand arms, so that she can more effectively bestow her mercy on the world. Stories about Kuan Yin seem to have begun with stories about a male Indian boddhisatva (holy person) called Avlokitesvara. By the 1st Century AD in China, Kuan Yin not only changed names, she also changed genders! She is known my many different name all across East Asia, and a wide range of different stories are told about her.

If you want to see this bronze statue for yourself, come by the Sam Noble Museum! It is currently on exhibit in our Orientation Gallery, the first gallery to the right after you enter the main part of the museum!

Take a look at this great video by the San Diego Museum of Art on the history of Buddhism:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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