Bronze inlaid with composition of bone black and lacquer
Diam. 8 1/4 in. (21 cm)
Purchase, Bequest of Dorothy Graham Bennett, 2006 (2006.117a,b)
Three small animals cast in the round embellish the dome-shaped lid of this bronze dui, or ritual food container. The animals also function as feet when the lid is inverted to serve as a tray. The surface of the vessel, a round bowl supported on a ring foot, is elaborately decorated with paired dragons and rolling curls. The composition of bone black and lacquer that fills the cast depressions of the design enhances the interplay between figure and ground. The sumptuous decoration was a major innovation in China's bronze tradition during the late Eastern Zhou dynasty, when Chinese craftsmen, inspired by the nomadic art of the steppes, added rich, colorful, and sophisticated designs to the surfaces of otherwise austere bronzes. By then, the function of bronze vessels had also changed, and they were seen more as symbols of wealth and status than simply as paraphernalia for solemn rituals.