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Fang Lei Vessel
Uncertain date
Material and technique
31 x 20 x 14 cm
Augusta Monferini
The Fang Lei is a sacred ceremonial vessel that was used to hold wine. It is rectangular in shape, with a tall neck and a wide trumpet-shaped mouth; it rises from the base into broad shoulders on all four sides, the narrows to a band around the neck. This band is decorated with ancient dragons facing each other on a background of thin spirals. Attached to the handles placed on two sides of the body are rings that once held a chain or rope for hanging or carrying the vessel.
The vessel has a four-sided, pyramid-shaped lid, on the top of which is a ridge which probably once held a knob. Inside the lid, one side of the base bears a raised inscription containing characters also found on other vessels but which have not yet been deciphered.
This type of vessel was already in use in the early part of the Zhou Dynasty (1122-771 BC), although examples from that period are richly ornamented with zoomorphic elements. In this vessel, the decoration is minimal and, unusually, appears only at the base of the neck. The experts propose two possible dates: the very early Zhou period or the end of the preceding Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BC); in the latter case, the vessel would be a prototype of unknown origin. However, it is more likely to be of a later date and was intentionally given an antiqued appearance.
Fang Lei Vessel
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