China, Shaanxi Province, Late Western Zhou Dynasty / Mr. Lai's Bell (Lai Zhong) / c. 900-800 BCChina, Shaanxi Province, Late Western Zhou Dynasty
Mr. Lai's Bell (Lai Zhong)
c. 900-800 BC

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Dates/Places: China
Creator Active Place: China
Creator Name-CRT: China, Shaanxi Province, Late Western Zhou Dynasty
Title: Mr. Lai's Bell (Lai Zhong)
Title Type: Primary
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: -90
Creation End Date: -80
Creation Date: c. 900-800 BC
Object Type: Decorative Arts and Utilitarian Objects
Classification Term: Metalwork
Materials and Techniques: bronze
Dimensions: Overall: 70.3cm
AMICA Contributor: The Cleveland Museum of Art
Owner Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
ID Number: 1989.3
Credit Line: Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund
Context: By the ninth century BC, bells had become highly sought-after aristocratic possessions in the urban centers of northern China. Frequently created in graduated sets of eight members, they were designed to be hung on wooden racks from loops near the base of their shank. Because they lacked clappers, they must have been played by musicians who struck them on the outside with mallets. Their tones were not random but corresponded to notes in the ancient Chinese musical scale, allowing them to join in large orchestral ensembles. The technical sophistication of these instruments is compounded by the fact that the unusual lens-shaped cavity of the bells allowed each to yield two different notes, sometimes designed to be one-third apart. The popularity of these objects, possibly accompanied by the advent of a new kind of formal music, was part of a shift in the function and significance of bronzes in ancient China. No longer made solely for serving the dead, Western Zhou bronzes acquired growing importance in the world of the living. Cleveland's bell, the finest in the West, beautifully reflects these musical, art-historical, and cultural advancements. The importance of the piece is augmented by the lengthy 118-character cast inscription that covers much of the undecorated surface on one side of the bell. Extraordinary in its own right, this inscription celebrates a man's appointment to royal service in a ceremony conducted by the Zhou emperor himself. Comprising portions of a statement presumably read by the recipient at the time of the event, it states: Lai proclaimed: "Great and illustrious was my august late father who made his heart clean following the disciplined virtue of his forefathers and dutifully served the past king. I, Lai, now succeed him in service and dare not fail. Respectfully, from dawn to dusk I will earnestly--even unto death--serve the Son of Heaven, taking as a model the obligation of my forefathers." I, Lai, was presented with many things. Then came the [king's] gracious command: "Managethe fisheries and forests of the realm." "I, Lai, dare to respond to the great, illustrious, sagely, and gracious favor of the Son of Heaven, extolling him and using this as cause to make for my august late father Gongshu a set of harmonized bells. Ding,dong, bing, bong, ding, dong, bing, bong. May they be used in acts of piety, reverently gladdening past luminaries. May the past luminaries who dwell on high help perpetuate this command, sending down upon me good fortune, tranquility, and purity. May I,Lai, live long in service to the Son of Heaven." May sons' sons and grandsons' grandsons forever treasure these [bells]. As one would expect, this bell is part of an eight-bell set identified by shared decorative motifs and a common inscription text. Onesmaller member of the set is in a private collection in New York. Another smaller bell is reported to be in a Hong Kong collection. A very large bell and four smaller ones, excavated in 1989 at Mei xian, Shaanxi Province, are other members. Measuring 80 centimeters in height, a fairly standard size for the largest bell in such sets, the large member in China must be the first bell, followed by the one in Cleveland. K.W.
AMICA ID: CMA_.1989.3
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, The Cleveland Museum of Art

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