Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections

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The bronze ritual vessel, the defining artifact of early Chinese civilization, is the subject of this monumental study of Shang ritual bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections. A comprehensive introduction, the most thorough treatment of Shang bronzes in any language, lays the foundation for 104 catalogue entries, many of which explore in greater detail specific problems in casting technology, epigraphy, vessel typology, and provincial bronze styles. Color plates of all the Sackler bronzes are supplemented by rubbings, details, and more than 500 comparative illustrations.

Throughout the book the author has made systematic use of the astonishing archaeological discoveries of the last 15 years, discoveries which include major finds of pre-Anyang bronzes and the unprecedented excavation in 1976 of an intact Shang royal tomb. No less revealing, however, are technical studies of Chinese bronzes carried out in the West, including studies of the bronzes catalogued here, for Bagley shows technical factors to have played a crucial role in the development of the Shang artistic tradition. By giving special attention to the formative stages of the Shang bronze industry, he is able to trace in precise detail the complex interaction of technique and design which led from modest beginnings at Erlitou to the spectacular bronzes of the Anyang period (c. 1300–1030 BC). In the spirit of Jean Bony’s remark that “each moment has its right to be considered ultimate,” pre-Anyang bronzes are treated not as stepping stones to the more familiar bronzes of Anyang times but as objects deserving attention in their own right. Nevertheless, Anyang bronzes become at once less familiar and more intelligible when viewed in a developmental perspective, and the strict historical approach taken here calls into question current interpretations of their decoration.

Ten years in the making, this book will be of interest not only to students of Chinese archaeology but also to historians of technology, to art historians interested in the process of artistic invention, and to archaeologists concerned with the comparative study of ancient civilizations.

Arthur M. Sackler Foundation
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