Shang Dynasty, 13th/12th Century B.C.
the tall pear-shaped body of oval section with wide, slightly flaring mouth, cast low on the neck with a bowstring band above a wide frieze of elaborate taotie masks composed of crested kui dragons on fine leiwen grounds, arranged in pairs and confronted on central flanges, with large raised eyes and with long hooked tails extending out to either side, the frieze further embellished with small stylized birds with protruding eyes shown under each dragon’s tail, arranged in pairs flanking vertical lug handles each curved to repeat the profile of the vessel and cast as the head of a fantastic beast with curled ram’s horns, bulging eyes and open jaws showing pointed fangs, the steeply rounded base raised on a slightly splayed high hollow foot decorated with a frieze of stylized birds on leiwen grounds, matching the birds flanking the handles, each shown in profile with a hooked beak, bulging eye and raised talon, lined up in four pairs confronted on two central flanges, below four large quadrangular openings, two aligned with the lug handles and two aligned with the central flanges, the lightly encrusted green patina attractively mottled with reddish cuprite areas.
Height 13 3⁄4 inches (35 cm)
A Shang bronze hu of closely related form and similar design, with less elaborate decorative bands, was excavated in 1977 in Xiejiagou, Qingjian county, Shaanxi province, and is illustrated in Shaanxi chutu Shang Zhou Qingtongqi, (Shang and Zhou Bronzes unearthed in Shaanxi province), Vol. I, Beijing, 1979, pl. 75; another similar example excavated at Anyang Gaolouzhuang is illustrated in Kaogu, 1963, No. 4, p. 215, fig. 3:2; another Shang hu of this same form decorated with a taotie band on the neck and kui dragons around the foot is illustrated in Ancient Chinese Arts in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1989, pl. 80; and another example with taotie and kui dragon bands is illustrated in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Shang and Chou Dynasty Bronze Wine Vessels, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1989, p. 111, pl. 25, from the imperial collection, previously illustrated in a wood block print in the emperor Qianlong’s catalogue of ancient bronzes; another smaller vessel of this type with similar decorative bands is illustrated by Bagley in Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Washington D.C., 1987, p. 346, no. 59; and another related example, also of smaller size, is in the Musée Guimet, illustrated in Bronzes Archaiques de Chine by Girard-Geslan, Paris, 1995, p. 115, no. MA442.