Originally used as ritual wine containers, zun are known from the late Erligang period and grew in popularity during the Shang dynasty. They were made either with angular shoulders or of beaker shape, such as the present piece, which appears to have evolved from archaic bronze gu. Elongated zun were not among the altar vessels recovered from Fu Hao’s tomb, in Anyang, Henan province, dated to around BC 1200, which suggests that they became popular only after this period.
A similar zun, but with the taotie mask featuring intaglio decoration, in the Arthur M. Sackler collection is illustrated in Robert W. Bagley, Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Cambridge, 1987, vol. 1, pl. 46; and another in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is published in Shang Ritual Bronzes in the National Palace Museum Collection, Taipei, 1998, pl. 56.
Zun vessels of similar beaker shape are also known with flanges extending to the neck; one in the Arthur M. Sackler collection illustrated in Robert W. Bagley, op. cit., pl. 47, was sold in these rooms, 2nd-5th May 1972, lot 435; one, in the Shanxi Archaeological Research Institute, is published in Zhongguo qingtongqi quanji, vol. 4, Beijing, 1998, pl. 119; and a third in the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, is illustrated in Shanghai bowuguan cang. Qingtongqi [Ancient bronzes in the Shanghai Museum], Shanghai, 1964, pl. 8. See also a zun of slightly stouter shape, illustrated in Wang Tao, Chinese Bronzes from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 2009, pl. 62, where the author notes that these types of high-relief decoration over a dense background design ‘fall into the “transitional” style between the late Shang dynasty and the early Western Zhou’, see p. 135.
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