Bronze vessel (li) with three-lobed body, everted rim and two vertical loop handles, standing on three partially hollowed legs. The surface is decorated with spiral shapes and pairs of protruding eyes separated by vertical raised flanges.
The distinctive three-lobed shape of this bronze vessel, in Chinese called a li, derives from a ceramic type produced since the Neolithic period (ca. 5000-1700 BC). In the Bronze Age the li had handles along the rim and was used as a ritual vessel. The surface of this example is decorated with a simple design of spiral shapes and pairs of protruding eyes, separated by raised vertical flanges. The simplicity of the pattern suggests that the vessel was made relatively early in the Bronze Age, around the 14th-13th century BC, and possibly in the Shaanxi region, away from the metropolitan centres.
Bronze vessels were considered an important symbol of status during the Shang dynasty (about 1600-1050 BC) and were buried in the graves of their owners. The cost, craftsmanship and labor required to produce these items further emphasises their value. The artisans had to first make outer moulds composed of several sections around a prototype of the finished bronze and then reproduce the patterns in reverse on the surface of the sections. They would then assemble the moulds around a core leaving a space between the outer and inner parts into which melted bronze would be poured. Once the bronze had solidified, the outer moulds and the inner core were removed.