About the Artwork
This ding tripod vessel is a specific type of object used for rituals in early China. There are many different types and shapes of ding vessels (four-legged, three-legged, round, and square), and their purposes varied. Some were used as cooking vessels or containers for wine or water, while others like this early ding were used in rituals to honor ancestor spirits. The relationship between the living and the dead carried great importance in Chinese religion. Embodying li, an abstract Confucian idea or philosophy that represents interaction among humans, nature, and objects, this vessel made it possible for the spirits of the deceased to have the sustenance of food and drink—a ritual sacrificial activity performed by living heirs and granting power to the deceased. Bronze vessels such as this were often found in tombs and temples, illustrating the symbolic use of these types of containers. This ding reflects the liyu style, named after the location where vessels of this type of decoration were first excavated in 1923, and contains a decorative frieze that uses an abstracted version of the ancient taotie (ogre mask) motif, a type of zoomorphic mask. Although the exact meaning and function of the taotie beastlike face designs are disputed, some scholars assert that it symbolizes fear and force, as well as protection for the owning tribe member or clan. Others believe the taotie may refer to Chi Lou, a tribal leader of the ancient Li tribe who was beheaded—his image was engraved on sacrificial vessels as a warning to those who coveted wealth and power.
About the Artist
The unknown artist who created this ritualistic object lived during the time period of The Hundred Schools of Thought in China (770–221 BCE), an era of cultural and intellectual expansion, and a time when philosophy schools flourished. The maker of this ding, a ceremonial vessel used in early China, likely formed it using the lost-wax method of bronze casting. This process involves creating a wax core of the fabricated original object and then encasing the wax copy in a hard mold using a material like hard packed sand or clay. Molten bronze (an alloy of tin and primarily copper) is then poured into the hard mold, thus melting the wax. This technique allowed artists such as this one to mass-produce objects like the ding.