The TT Tsui collection of Chinese ceramics
Shang dynasty – Zhou dynasty c.16th to 11th centuries BC – c.1050 to 221 BC
Fu [ritual vessel]
8th century BC
This lidded container is covered with symbolic motifs whose origins date from the Shang dynasty, a period when extraordinary skills in bronze casting were developed.
The vessel consists of two symmetrical halves and when opened, both sides can be used as offering containers. The design pattern found on the base and top of the container, with its raised central ‘eye’ is a further abstraction of the animal designs which were a prominent motif on bronzes of the Shang period.
There are decorative spirals around the rims while the sloping sides are covered with a highly stylised design of a pair of dragons seen in profile. The feet are cast in the form of a stylised animal while each handle is more recognisable as an animal swallowing a bird’s head.
Ritual bronze vessels were used by the living to make offerings of food to ancestral spirits. They were later buried with their wealthy owners so they could continue sacrifices in honour of their distinguished ancestors even though they were now ancestors themselves.