ˇ@ˇ@Bronze is the alloy of natural copper and other metals. As it has a grayish green color, it is called (green) bronze. Tools and living appliances cast with bronze raw materials are generally termed as bronze objects. The history of bronze objects in China started around 2,000 B.C. and went through from Hsia, Shang and Chou dynasties to the periods of Chun Chiu and the Warring States, which is 16 centuries approximately.
Proved by the archaeological data, bronze objects were first discovered at Erh Li Tou, a spot of historical remains of the Hsia dynasty. Meanwhile, unearthed objects included small tools, such as bronze Jue, shovels, bronze Tsu and knives, etc. These bronze objects had no decorated patterns with a small and thin, but complicated structure.
Drinking vessels are the primarily discovered items in the former period of the Shang dynasty, including other bronze farm implements and tools, such as Jue, Ying, wine vessels (Gu), Ti, Ti Liang Hu and Ho, etc. Besides, types of bronze weapons are at presence mostly.
Contrary to those bronzes discovered at Erh Li Tou, bronze objects during the Shang dynasty are usually decorated with patterns of straightforward and uninhibited lines and intense and compact pictures. Abstract animal patterns corresponding to both sides are also adopted. In addition to the master patterns, the most complicated patterns include intangible bird patterns and other patterns. For example, dragon patterns and cicada patterns are served as subordinate decoration patterns. There is even one small animal on the bird patterns of both sides for some certain subordinate patterns. This is so called the animal design pattern. Both eyes of the animals on the animal design patterns are usually apparently protruding and the designs are characterized with solemnity, whose style is always outstanding, compared with bronzes afterwards. One of the features for the bronze objects during the Chou dynasty is that they are cast with long inscriptions. Though inscriptions also show up on the bronzes of the Shang dynasty, the total amount of them is quite few. The content of the inscriptions upon the bronzes of the Shang dynasty mainly deals with the records of the emperorˇ¦s martial merits and achievements as well as awarding rewards. However, previous inscriptions (prior to the Shang dynasty) are usually concerned about casting ceremonial vessels for ancestry worshipping. Inscriptions of recording events did not show up until the end of the Shang dynasty. After the West Chou period, long inscriptions of event recordings are generally cast unto bronzes, which not only provides adequate emphasis and development, but also becomes a type of system. It goes without saying that they also offer extremely precious first-hand information for the studying and researches on the historical facts of the West Chou dynasty.
Bronze objects during the early stage of the West Chou dynasty carries on the tradition of the Shang dynasty. That is to say that decorated patterns consist of complicated style and simplistic design. Patterns are applied all over the objects for the former style; whereas, simple string patterns or striped patterns with dragons, thunders and clouds are applied under the mouth or at the neck of the objects for the latter style. Designs and patterns of the bronzes during the late period of the West Chou dynasty are more simple and plain, which tends to be a stereotype. Combination objects become a new characteristic as the number of manufacturing tools increases.
The biggest difference between the bronze objects of the Chun Chiu period and those of the West Chou is most of the bronzes of the latter belong to royal vessels; however, all of the existing bronzes of the former are national objects. This situation implies that the status of the royal family along with hierarchical officials is decreasing. As bronze objects at the first hundred years during the early phase of the Chun Chiu period continue the natural tradition of the latter stage of the West Chou dynasty, emperors and their followers need a plenty of bronzes to boast of their own lineages and families for promoting individual status.and priviledges.
As manufacturing techniques were improved at this time, bronze craftsmanship had new developments. Mixed casting progressed to separate casting. Adoption of the welding method enriched modeling of the objects. The loose wax approach was invented later, which is to make molds with wax and to fill the exterior and interior with clay for reinforcement and then to inject melting bronze liquid to force wax to be melted and flow out. Shapes and designed patterns will be formed at the areas of melting wax. Complicated and hollow-out objects can be produced with this method, which is not only easy, but also precise. As the surface of the objects is smooth and requires no polishing, it is truly a great invention for casting metals in our country in old days.
As for the varieties of the objects, Tou, Pen (basins) and jars with lids/covers were added and the amount of weapons increased significantly. Belt hooks and bronze mirrors became popular and coins began to cast as well. Splendid gold-inlaid silverwares appeared later on. Crafts of parcel-gilt and gold and gems inlay techniques started to show up. Designs and patterns for decoration during this period were elegant and delicate and popular designs were like dragon and snake patterns.
The early stage of the Warring States still carries on the formation tradition in Chun Chiu period and casting of bronze objects was still at the peak at that time. Though the iron smelting industry began to boom and replaced bronzes gradually, bronze still had its function and maintained its position for miscellaneous articles of daily living and engraved decorations. As for the designs and patterns for decoration, the religious mysterious atmosphere was rid off slowly and animal patterns turned into abstract geometric designs. In addition, subjects reflecting the daily life at that time, such as parties, hunting and warfare, etc. began to appear as well.
Unearthed bronze objects during the former period of the Warring States include bells, standing Dings, vessels with covers, vessels for amphibious warfare, Ge, plates and Huan, etc. Unearthed objects of the middle and latter periods of the Warring States consist of object rests with tiger eating deer patterns, winged dragons, rhino holds and stands with dragon and phenix designs. These luxurious gold inlay silverwares have different inlaying skills and patterns from those during the former period of the Warring States. The excellent craftsmanship and vivid style are beyond comparison with other articles.
The amount of unearthed bronzes of the Chin dynasty is few, which is related to the short duration of mere 15 years. The design proportion of the bronze cart unearthed from the emperorˇ¦s tomb is extremely precise with a collection of various bronze casting techniques. As Chin Shih emperor united China, superb technical skills were concentrated. Technically speaking, bronze objects of the Han dynasty have no new renovations. Basically, bronzes and gold-inlaid silverwares of the Han dynasty have the same techniques of the Warring States period; nevertheless, processed bronze craft has its own characteristics. For example, bronze objects unearthed from the husband and wife tomb in Chung Shan of the West Han period reveal that bronze casting skills at the first decades of the Han dynasty still maintain a high level. Compared with the techniques of manufacturing gold-inlaid silverwares at the Warring States period, lines, patterns and designs are more smooth and lively. The parcel-gilt skill has already well developed in the West Han period, which should be deemed as a great artistic achievement of bronze processing. The long parcel-gilt lantern unearthed from the tomb in Man city is the most outstanding example.
Bronze objects of the Han dynasty have a tremendous variety, such as belt hooks, seals and living utensils. The greatest achievement for craftsmanship and pattern designs is casting of bronze mirrors. As a result, the mirror casting industry became prosperous at that time to meet great demands. More new achievements were accomplished in the Tang dynasty. Casting skills of bronze mirrors reached to the top during the early and middle periods of the Tang dynasty. After the North and South periods, subjects of bronze casting were mainly Buddha figures. The development of Buddhism contributed a great deal to the development of bronze casting, especially for the most common parcel-gilt Buddha figures. This trend lasts through the Sui Tang, Sung, Yuan, Ming and Ching dynasties.
Author Tsai Wen Hsiung
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