This small three-legged Chinese vessel, called a li, is covered with an animal-like mask motif that features horns, ears, eyebrows, and a prominent pair of eyes. The li is part of an artistic tradition that can be traced back to Neolithic times. Early bronze vessels such as this one were primarily used to hold wine during ritual feasts honoring a family's ancestors. Eventually, vessels like the li were used to hold food as well. The motif on the surface of this vessel is a commonly called taotie. Though taotie appeared frequently on bronzes of the Shang period (16th to mid-11th century B.C.), the significance of this imagery remains unknown. Experts have suggested that taotie are symbolic of the spirits of ancestors and supernatural protectors, or mythical beasts. Although they tended to follow a general form, the appearance and specific components of taotie masks varied by period and place of production.


Cataloguing data may change with further research.

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Artist
Chinese
Title
Ding
Tripod Ritual Vessel
Date
13th century BC
Medium
Bronze
Dimensions
6 7/8 × 5 1/2 × 5 1/4 in. (17.5 × 14 × 13.3 cm)
Credit Line

Museum purchase funded by the Friends of Asian Art, Nancy C. Allen, the Patrick Welder Robinson Charitable Trust, Drs. Ellin and Robert G. Grossman, Barbara E. Butler, Marjorie G. Horning, Mr. and Mrs. Meredith J. Long, Milton D. Rosenau, Jr. and Dr. Ellen R. Gritz, and Mr. and Mrs. Philip J. John, Jr.

Current Location
The Caroline Wiess Law Building
109M JONES GALLERIES
Accession Number
2007.747
Classification
Metalwork
Provenance

Research ongoing