Chinese / Wine-Warming Vessel: Wenjiazun / Western Han period, 1st century BCEChinese
Wine-Warming Vessel: Wenjiazun
Western Han period, 1st century BCE

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Name-CRT: Chinese
Title: Wine-Warming Vessel: Wenjiazun
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 0
Creation End Date: 0
Creation Date: Western Han period, 1st century BCE
Creation Place: China
Object Type: Decorative Arts and Utilitarian Objects
Classification Term: Vessels
Materials and Techniques: Gilt Bronze
Dimensions: H. 6 1/4 in. (15.9 cm); D. 8 1/4 in. (21 cm) at mouth
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.107
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Context: During the Han dynasty (206 BCE-CE 220), bronze was used to make a wide range of vessels as well as weights, tallies, tomb sculptures, lamps, censers, coins, mirrors, and other objects. This cylindrical vessel supported on bear-shaped legs is one of the most common forms used during the Han. Numerous examples were made in bronze and clay, and works made of jade are also known. The 1963 excavation of two bronze vessels in this cylindrical shape from a tomb in Yuyuxian in Shanxi Province provided useful evidence for determining the function of this type. One of the excavated pieces had an inscription that gave the date of its production as 26 BCE and described its function as a wine-warming vessel (wenjiazun). Such an identification of footed cylindrical vessels helps to distinguish these pieces from a type of flat-bottomed vessel also used during the Han dynasty as a container for cosmetics (lien). Both wine-warming vessels and cosmetic containers have been found with decorations painted on the interiors. The presence of such decorations, which would be covered by their contents, probably indicates that at least some of these pieces were intended as tomb goods.

The populated mountainscape on the body of this vessel exemplifies the type of decoration often found on clay and bronze wine warmers and cosmetic containers. Hunters and anthropomorphic figures with bearlike heads pursue tigers, lions, bears, and griffins in a landscape of rolling hills. Two figures are walking through the mountains carrying long poles and wearing distinctive hats that are astonishingly similar to the conical straw hats worn in China in the 19th and 20th centuries. Spritelike creatures also inhabit this world. The sense of movement in the rolling shapes of the mountains and the vivacious depiction of the figures and animals in the landscape help date this cylindrical vessel to the 1st century BCE.

Landscape and hunting scenes were common in the art of the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE-CE 9), and many different meanings have been attributed to this type of imagery. The scenes of hunting illustrate the importance of this sport for royalty. Mountainscapes are also often interpreted as images of the mythical land of Penglai, an imaginary mountain paradise inhabited by immortals and other semidivine creatures, said to be located in either the western mountains or the eastern seas. Belief in magical worlds such as Penglai had begun as early as the 4th century BCE. By the Western Han period, interest in the land of the immortals had become more widespread and more concrete. It was believed that such a paradise could be found and that an elixir of immortality could be obtained there.

The numerous humanoid and animal mythical beings represented on this vessel exemplify the intense interest in auspicious omens (xiangrui) found in Han thought and culture. Many of the more common motifs in the visual arts, such as dragons, unicorns, winged horses, and other composite creatures as well as images of beings not entirely human, are examples of the astonishing variety of auspicious omens cited in Han literature and historical records. The spritelike beings depicted on this wine-warming vessel were common images in the southern part of China once ruled by the state of Chu and are believed to represent immortals (xian) or transformed beings that subsist on dew and jade.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 52.
Related Document Description: Laufer, Berthold. Chinese Pottery of the Han Dynasty. 2d ed. Rutland, Vt., and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1962, pp. 210-11, pl. 62.
Related Document Description: Lee, Sherman E. Asian Art: Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd. New York: Asia Society, 1970, pp. 49, 71.
Related Document Description: Omura, S. Shina Bijutsu Shin, Chosohen (History of Chinese Sculpture). Tokyo, 1930, vol. 1, no. 385.
Related Document Description: Sullivan, Michael. 'On the Origin of Landscape Representation in Chinese Art.' Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America 7 (1953), pp. 57, 59.
Related Document Description: Sullivan, Michael. The Birth of Landscape Painting in China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962, p. 56, pl. 43.
Related Document Description: Sutton, Denys. 'Search for Perfection.' Apollo (November 1983), p. 361.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.107
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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