CHINESE & TIBETAN BRONZES

We Buy & Appraise Chinese Antiques.

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Knowledge of Shang society is derived mainly from the oracular texts inscribed on bones and the shells of tortoises. A detailed study of this ancient society would be tedious and altogether too vast for the present. So a rapid summary of the main elements will be given.  Read a lot More…

The Zhou dynasty is the longest in the history of China.It continued for over eight centuries from the eleventh to
the third century B.c. Despite the longevity of the dynasty,it is proportionally better documented than the Shang.

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In 206 B.c. after a period of confusion, a small landowner named Liu Bang [Liu Pang] founded the new dynasty of the Han. This dynasty, which ruled China until a.d. 220, apart from a short interruption when Wang Mang usurped power (a.d. 9-22), was an extremely refined civilization, achieving territorial expansion and commercial exchanges. Read a lot more...

After the fall of the Han dynasty, China suffered a period of confusion and invasion during which ephemeral dynasties arose. This troubled era saw the introduction into China of Buddhism, the religion that was to be an inexhaustible source for Chinese art during future centuries. Read a lot more…

a.d. 581, the year in which the Sui dynasty came to power, is considered one of the great dates in the history of China because of the reunification of the country from the Yellow River to the Blue River. The date is also important because it marks the formation of a purely Chinese empire in place of the barbarian kingdoms of the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries and the restitution of the administrative unity of China. Read a lot more…

The pottery horses and other figures of the Tang dynasty have made it perhaps the best known of all periods of Chinese culture. Yet the art of this dynasty covers many fields, including ceramics, goldsmiths’ work, sculpture and bronzes. Read a lot more…

As at the end of the Zhou dynasty, the fall of the Tang dynasty was followed by a decline in the art of bronze in China. However, great encyclopaedias were compiled, inventories were made and ancient ritual vessels published by eminent Song archaeologists in an effort to reestablish and revive the ancient rites and traditions, with the result that there was a renewal of the art of bronze and the casting of vessels in the classical style. Read a lot more…

Chinese Bronze Examples. Read More…

This type of writing, which is much better known than the jiaguwen, is less interesting in so far as the Shang civilization is concerned but provides some information on the Zhou dynasty. Read a lot more…

Weapons used by high officials are quite often extremely beautifully decorated, the ornament sometimes being heightened by inlays of precious stones. Read a lot more…

Fibulae or clasps form the most representative body of Warring States and Han art. These precious adornments for clothing combine the art of the bronze-founder and that of the goldsmith. Read a lot more…

After the fibulae, mirrors constitute the second most representative category of the art of bronze under the Warring States and the Han. But they had a much longer life: having made their appearance towards the end of the Shang, they were still in production up to the beginning of the twentieth century. Read a lot more…

Method of casting. Read More…

INTRODUCTION

The Chinese viewpoint as its basis. From earliest antiquity, i.e. from the sixteenth or fifteenth century b.c., the Chinese looked upon bronze as the noblest and most venerable substance. It was evidence of power and of riches, and it possessed a supernatural and religious quality. Later, from the fourth or fifth century a.d., the religious aspect, arising out of the introduction of Buddhism into China, continued to maintain bronze in its place among the noble substances.ting1a

We assume a Western point of view. Chinese bronzes, and more particularly the ancient vessels from the end of the Shang and beginning of the Zhou dynasties, are considered by connoisseurs to be the major art of ancient China. For these purists the high point of this art occurred in the twelfth to eleventh centuries B.c.

We recognize the fact that we have no introduction to Chinese bronzes from the beginning to the Ming period. At present, the art-lover in search of a general conspectus of the history of Chinese bronzes has to extract his information from many different books in English, French and particularly in Chinese and Japanese.

Leaving out of account the Song, Yuan and Ming pieces, which art-lovers consider to be archaizing and over-decorated, Chinese bronzes can be divided into two distinct groups: a) ancient bronzes made between the fifteenth and the third centuries b.c:.; b) Buddhist bronzes, made mostly between the fourth and ninth centuries a.d.

The uses to which the bronzes in each of these categories were put were also different. The ancient bronzes were reserved for kings, emperors and the great ones of the realm: the common people were excluded. These appurtenances of the elite embodied religion in terms of the rites of ancestor-worship, religious as well as spiritual power acquired directly from ‘Heaven’ or from the Shangdi ISbang-ti/ (High Sovereign), coupled with a certain artistic brilliance if they were buried with the dead. More rarely, especially under the Zhou [Chou] dynasty, the casting of a vessel might commemorate an important event, such as a military victory, an act of bravery or a royal favor. Furthermore, the quality of the casting and the refinement of the ornament and workmanship would seem to vary according to the owner’s rank. Indeed, the quality of Shang and Zhou bronzes is very unequal. Some pieces are sumptuous, hut many are mere receptacles of no artistic or iconographic interest. Scientific excavation would appear to indicate and substantiate clear-cut class divisions in these primitive societies, and these are reflected in the considerable differences in the casting and the power of the ornament in ritual vessels made for ancestor worship.

Buddhist bronzes represent the second period of the art of bronze-founding in China. They were made exclusively for religious purposes and testify to the religious ardor of a people given over to a foreign belief. These bronzes were made for all social classes, and anyone could commission a founder to make a statue for his family shrine. These pieces, some of which are of great artistic merit, mark a total break with the art of bronze of the earlier periods. But they brought about a revival of the art of bronze, which had been declining rapidly since the middle of the Zhou dynasty and during the Period of the Warring States.

Despite many theories, none of them convincing, the origin of bronze-founding in the Chinese world remains enigmatic. Although there is as yet no explanation of the appearance of this technique, one thing is certain and has been proven by excavations at the sites of Zhengzhou |Cheng-chou] and Panlongchen [P’an-lung-ch’en]: bronze was being used towards the middle of the Shang dynasty (c. sixteenth-fifteenth century B.c.) to make ritual vessels and weapons.

Yet the scientific evidence relating to the bronzes unearthed at Zhengzhou, which has been corroborated by many excavations undertaken by Chinese archaeologists, has been contested. William Watson considers Zhengzhou to have been a religious centre contemporary with Xiaotun [H siao-t’un], the Anyang site, and states that ‘it is no longer so certain that the Zhengzhou style’ preceded that of Anyang. He goes so far as to add that the Zhengzhou style is one of ‘regional conservatism’. This rebuttal of the discoveries derived from the scientific excavations of recent years would seem to take us back some thirty years ago, to the days of the pioneers, when the existence of Zhengzhou, and presumably of the capital Shang Ao, was no more than a literary reference and was viewed with scepticism. Watson adduces no proof to support his theory apart from an explanation apparently connected with the encircling wall and the shape of the city. This provides him with a pretext for stating that Xiaotun/Anyang did not receive the status of royal capital and that its role was purely religious, because it is situated close to the royal graves. If we extrapolate from Watson’s assertions, we are faced with the conclusion that Xiaotun was the religious capital of the Shang while Zhengzhou was their royal capital. Further, since these two cities were contemporary at a certain period, it would be reasonable to conclude that the Zhengzhou and Anyang bronzes were contemporary. Prudently, Watson does not draw this conclusion, since all the scientific evidence and the literary and historical texts prove the contrary. One thing is practically certain: Zhengzhou was founded at the latest in the seventeenth century B.C., while Anyang was founded in about the fourteenth to thirteenth centuries B.c. Since the top cultural stratum at Zhengzhou is contemporary with Anyang, it is probable, even certain —as the R 2012 and R2017 gu unearthed at Anyang would seem to prove —that pieces of similar type, i.e. of the style known as Zhengzhou, were made in about the fourteenth to thirteenth centuries at both Zhengzhou and Anyang.

These differences of opinion over the earliest Chinese bronzes need not detain us, for the history of the art of bronze is relatively simple and changes with the variations in religious practice.

During the Shang period, an extremely complex and highly organized from of ancestor-worship governed the whole working of the state. While bronze weapons were the exclusive property of the elite and of the ruling class, the purpose of bronze vessels was purely religious or ritualistic. As the inscriptions would seem to indicate, the latter were usually made to honor the memory of an ancestor. (The short Shang inscriptions are of the type ‘made for Father X’, ‘precious sacrificial vessel made for so and so’, etc.) With the advent of the Zhou dynasty, the purely religious purpose of bronze vessels seems to diminish, and their role becomes much more commemorative or honorific. Thus some Zhou inscriptions are of the type ‘so and so has had this precious sacrificial vessel made for so and so’; others commemorate a journey, a military campaign, a hunting expedition, an official ceremony or some other religious or secular event in the kingdom.

During the Periods of the Spring and Autumn Annals and the Warring States, the use of bronze spread to wider sections of society. Rich merchants and landowners commissioned bronze vessels from founders, but the vessels’ role became exclusively funerary. Production increased considerably, and since the original purpose of the vessels had been forgotten, the quality of the decoration deteriorated. The art of bronze entered upon a period of decline. This became more noticeable under the Han dynasty, when only those objects that were made for princes and emperors retained their sumptuous character thanks to the fact that they were inlaid and gilded — survival of the wealth and ostentation of that period A minor and short-lived revival of the art of bronze accompanied the animal style that reflected the influence of the art of the steppes. The decline in the art of bronze in China would appear to be due to the disappearance c ancestor-worship, the spread of Confucianism an Taoism, the cessation of human sacrifices and the introduction of mingqi [ming-ch’ij tomb figures.

In the fourth century A.D., and subsequently under the Wei and the Northern Qi [Ch’i], the introduction an expansion of Buddhism in China was reflected in renaissance or revival of the art of bronze. Ritual vessels were abandoned, and this precious and venerable material was used to make gilded steles. These objects were purely religious in purpose and depicted the various Buddhas, bodhisattvas and other divinities of the Budhist pantheon, very often under the influence of Indie art. This religious art continued under the Sui and the Tang. But the anti-Buddhist reaction, initiated by the Taoists and Confucianists, culminated in 845 in the proscription of Buddhism. This brought with it a new decline in the art of bronze-founding. However, with the weakening of the influence of Greco-Buddhi Gandharan art, figures of Guanyin were made, and t influence of Persia, now growing as a result of many commercial exchanges, gave rise to vessels of new shape

Under the Song dynasty, the charm of the pa archaeological research and the study of the classic texts brought about a revival of ancient traditions and the art of bronze-founding. This was reflected in t creation of vessels in the style of the ancients but w clear reminders of contemporary taste.

Under the Yuan, the influences of Mongolian art a Buddhism were strong, but there was a minor revival the art of bronze with the creation of small Buddist figures and bodhisattvas.

The Ming returned to the spirit of the Song, who accounts for the great difficulty of dating works from these two periods and the brevity of the chapter on Song, Yuan and Ming. Nevertheless, the Ming occasionally created shapes that differed slightly from or w interpretations of the earlier shapes. Buddhist art un the Ming was powerfully influenced by Tibetan art; best pieces date from the reign of the Emperor Yon; They are strongly Tantric and are Sino-Tibetan.

The Chinese Bronze Age began in the Xia Dynasty (ca. 2070 – ca. 1600 BC). The Chinese inscribed all kinds of bronze items with three main motif types: demons, symbolic animals, and abstract symbols. We specialize in high quality bronze antiques from China and Asia.

Gautama Buddha, also known as Siddhārtha Gautama, Shakyamuni, or simply the Buddha, was a sage on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. He lived and taught mostly in northeastern India sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.

Very soon after Buddhism came to China, in the 500s AD, Chinese people developed their own kind of Buddhism, which we call Zen Buddhism. Zen comes from the Sanskrit (Indian) word dhyana, which means “meditation,” but the Chinese philosophy of Taoism might also be an influence on Zen. Zen philosophy emphasizes meditation and experience instead of words and explanations.

Under the T’ang Dynasty, in the 600s AD, Zen Buddhism became the main kind of Buddhism in China. Zen Buddhists built big monasteries in China, where both men and women lived as monks and nuns. Many of the powerful women at the T’ang court supported the Buddhist monasteries and helped them get tax exemptions and gave the monasteries money and land. The poet Bai Juyi was a Buddhist in a powerful position at the T’ang court.

But around the end of the T’ang Dynasty, in 845 AD, the Chinese emperor Wuzong turned against Buddhism. He began by persecuting Uighur refugees, who were Manichaeans, but soon the persecution spread to include other foreign religions –  Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Buddhism (but not Islam). Emperor Wuzong wanted all Chinese people to be Taoists. Buddhism was an especially good target because the Buddhist monasteries and temples were so rich, and when Emperor Wuzong destroyed them he got to keep their money. Emperor Wuzong’s troops killed many Buddhist monks and nuns, and destroyed many Buddhist monasteries and temples, artwork and books.

When Emperor Wuzong died, though, the persecution stopped, and Buddhism began to be more popular again. Under the Sung Dunasty, in the 1100s, many people in China were Buddhists. Zen Buddhism remained very popular at this time.