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Fang ding (“square tripod” cooking vessel) with taotie mask and gui dragon design

Accession Number
1961/2.82

Title
Fang ding (“square tripod” cooking vessel) with taotie mask and gui dragon design

Artist(s)
Chinese

Artist Nationality
Chinese (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
12th century BCE

Medium & Support
cast bronze with malachite patina

Dimensions
10 3/8 in. x 7 5/8 in. x 6 1/8 in. ( 26.3 cm x 19.3 cm x 15.6 cm )

Credit Line
Museum purchase for the James Marshall Plumer Memorial Collection

Label copy
The "ding," an object used for offering food to ancestors and for cooking, was the most important food container among ancient Chinese ritual bronzes. The form of the square "ding" was probably derived from a wooden prototype. The "t'ao-t'ieh" mask design on this piece is the most prevalent decorational pattern found on ancient Chinese bronzes. "T'ao-t'ieh" was a mythical animal which had a head but no body. No matter how much it ate, it could never get enough. Such a mask on a food vessel might be a caution against overeating.
Metalworking emerged around 2000 BCE in China, with bronze vessels appearing around 1600 to 1500 BCE in what is known as the Shang dynasty (DATES). Shang society followed the Neolithic societies of Northern China and is the first historically recorded civilization of China. Chinese writing was invented by the Shang and the short inscriptions they left on oracle bones and bronze vessels, along with extensive excavations, show a complex and highly organized society headed by a king and his family, administered by officials, and serviced by craftsmen, slaves, and prisoners of war. The dynasty occupied three capitals in Henan province, the last of which, Anyang, (ca. 1300-1050 BCE) was located south of present-day Beijing. It was in Anyang that some of the world’s greatest masterpieces of bronze art came into being.
The ding was the most important cooking vessel in the Shang, used for offering food to ancestors and for cooking. Most ding vessels are round in form and stand on three legs. This four-legged variant with a rectangular body, known as a fang ding (square ding), is thought to have been for the exclusive use of royalty. The square form was probably derived from a wooden prototype.
The taotie mask design on the center is the most prevalent decoration found on Shang bronzes. Taotie was a mythical animal that had a head but no body. No matter how much it ate, it could never get enough. A taotie mask on a food vessel might be a caution against overeating. Above the taotie is a register of with two pairs of confronting kui dragons. These legless creatures have been identified in Shang pictograms as the form for the Chinese word long or “dragon.” The interior of this square ding has two incised characters reading “fu (father) ji (name of day),” followed by a symbol of a chariot, possibly a clan emblem.
(Label for UMMA Chinese Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)

Subject matter
known as the ding tripod for cooking and presentation of food, usually animal meat, in ancestral rituals of early China. The narrow upper register of the body of the vessel is decorated with Kui dragons, face-to-face around the top. The dragons have open mouths, long thin bodies that end in curled tails. The body of the vessel is decorated with tao-tie masks with staring eyes and above which are broad, curving horns. The nose is formed by the raised flanges that divide each mask in half. At the bottom is the open, hook-like jaws. The upper sections of the legs and the two loop handles are also decorated with zoomorphic designs of masks and dragons.

Physical Description
square ding (ting) tripod with four legs, the body as well as the upper portion of the four legs is decorated with "t'ao-t'ieh" zoomorphic design. One of the leg was recast after the rest of the body has been completed, thus had a less refined craftmanship and joint line at its base. The double loop handles are also decorated with zoomorphic design. A group of three inscription is cast on the upper portion of the interior wall, which reads as Fu (father) Ji (day name), followed by an symbolic representation of a chariot, possibly a clan emblem. The interior is plain, the animal bone remains attached to the bottom and variations in patina patterns with a line running through the middle indicates that the vessel was once filled with cooked meat offerings, presumably in a Shang elite burial in late second millennium B.C.E.

Primary Object Classification
Metalwork

Primary Object Type
vessel

Additional Object Classification(s)
Ritual Object

Collection Area
Asian

Rights
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Keywords
cooking tools and equipment
rituals (events)
vessels (containers)

3 Related Resources

Fourth Grade Tour: Material Matters
(Part of: Visit UMMA: Curricular Tour Descriptions for Teachers)
Fourth Grade: Material Matters
(Part of: Docent Curricular Tours)

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