Square (fang) vessels had great significance to Shang ruling elites and are much more rare than their rounded-form counterparts. The first vessel type to be cast in square cross section is the ding, such as the massive early Shang fangding (100 cm. high) found in Duling, Zhengzhou city, illustrated in Shangyi yiyi sifang zhiji, Hefei, 2013, p. 61. Scholars have noted that the casting of fangding is more difficult than round ding and that massive fangding vessels were reserved for nobility of the highest rank and symbolize the royal power, (see ibid., p. 60). During the late Shang dynasty, a few other select vessel types were also made in a square shape, such as fangzun.
Fangzun of such a large size and with such fine casing such as the Fujita example are exceptionally rare. Two fangzun vessels of very similar form but decorated with dissolved elements of taotie in the mid and lower sections include one in the Sumitomo Collection, Kyoto, and one in the Hunan Provincial Museum, illustrated in Sen-oku Hakko: Chugoku kodoki hen, Kyoto, 2002, p. 60, no. 69, and ‘Min’ Fanglei and Selected Bronze Vessels Unearthed from Hunan, Shanghai, 2015, no.7, respectively. A pair of fangzun vessels of smaller size bearing Ya Zhi clan signs were found in Guojiazhuang M160, Anyang City, and are illustrated by Yue Hongbin ed., Ritual Bronzes Recently Excavated in Yinxu, Kunming, 2008, nos. 125, 126 (43.9 cm. high) and no. 127 (44.3 cm. high). It is interesting to note that the animal heads in relief on the shoulder of the two Ya Zhi fangzun are removable, unlike the sculptural figures on the Fujita fangzun which are fixed on the shoulder by casting. Compare, also, a pair of fangzun formerly in the Qing imperial collection and now separated, one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Bronzes Gallery of the Palace Museum, Beijing, 2012, no. 11, and the other in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Shang Ritual Bronzes in the National Palace Museum Collection, Taipei, 1998, no. 88. These two fangzun are more closely related to the Ya Zhi fangzun in shape and decoration and bear nine-character inscriptions: ya chou zhu si yi tai zi zun yi ('Zhusi from the Ya Chou clan made this ritual vessel for princes'). The Ya Chou was a clan active in the late Shang dynasty in modern day Shandong province. Between 1965 and 1966, archaeologists found the cemetery of the Ya Chou clan in Sufutun, Qingzhou City, Shandong province. One of the tombs in the Ya Chou clan cemetery is cross-shaped with four ramps, a format used for tombs of Shang kings. The National Palace Museum has two further fangzun bearing Ya Chou clan signs (See ibid., nos. 89 and 90). All three Ya Chou fangzun in the National Palace Museum are dated to the late Anyang period (12th-11th century BC). The projections on top of the flanges around the mid sections of the Ya Chou fangzun and the fact that their lower sections are cast without clay core extension holes indeed indicate a later date than the Fujtia fangzun.
One of the most remarkable features of the Fujita fangzun are the three-dimensional mythical bird-like creatures that adorn each corner of the shoulder. They feature prominent hooked beaks, wings, curled tails, and most notably bottle-horned monster masks that crown the birds’ heads. Similar bird-like creatures appear on the aforementioned Sumitomo fangzun, as well as in a small bronze zun wine vessel in the Art Institute of Chicago. (Fig. 1) The hybrid between mythical animal and real animal/bird is a common way of creating new motifs in Shang bronze art. The Shang people’s interest in hybrid animals can also be seen in the kui dragons with elephant trunks in the top band of the mid-section of the Fujita fangzun. In fact, the horns of the main taotie motif on the Fujita fangzun are replaced by pairs of bottle-horned kui dragons shown in profile. Similar depictions of taotie with dragon horns can be found on a hu vessel sold at Christie’s New York, 16 September 2010, lot 831, and a massive pou vessel in the Nezu Museum, illustrated in the Nezu Museum, Kanzo In Shu no seidoki, Tokyo, 2009, p. 25, no. 5.
Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory and tortoiseshell. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country.
Please note this lot is being sold without the stand.
LATE SHANG DYNASTY, ANYANG, 13TH-11TH CENTURY BC
Tokyo, Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc., Chugoku In Shu dokiten (Exhibition of Chinese Bronzes from Yin and Zhou Dynasties), 25 November-7 December 1958.
Osaka, Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc., Kodai Chugoku Seidoki Meihinten (Exhibition of Masterpieces of Ancient Chinese Bronzes), 30 August-11 September 1960.
Masterpieces in The Fujita Museum of Art, vol. 1: Arts and Crafts, Fujita Museum, Osaka, 1954, no. 77.
Chugoku In Shu dokiten (Exhibition of Chinese Bronzes from Yin and Zhou Dynasties), Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc., Tokyo, 1958, no. 54.
Seiichi Mizuno, Bronzes and Jades of Ancient China, Tokyo, 1959, p. 85.
Kodai Chugoku Seidoki Meihinten (Exhibition of Masterpieces of Ancient Chinese Bronzes), Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc., Osaka, 1960, no. 41.
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Masterpieces in The Fujita Museum of Art, Fujita Museum, Tokyo, 1972, no. 92.
Minao Hayashi, In Shu jidai seidoki no kenkyu (Conspectus of Yin and Zhou Bronzes), vol. 1 (plates), Tokyo, 1984, p. 219, you jian zun no. 46.
Takayasu Higuchi, Jiro Enjoji, ed., Chugoku seidoki hyakusen (100 Selected Chinese Archaic Bronzes), Tokyo, 1984, no. 31.
Fujita Museum, Osaka, acquired prior to 1940.