Bronze gu, used as sacrificial wine receptacles, are known throughout the Shang dynasty, but it was in the late Shang period when bronze casting reached a new height that the vessel attained its final striking form. Gu, at first, were short and stout with simple taotie designs merely suggested by eyes amidst linear decoration, yet the refinement of shape and ornamentation steadily took place as the foundries’ technique gained in skill and experience. By the time the Shang capital had moved from Zhengzhou to Anyang in Henan province, between 1400 and 1350 BC, gu of taller, more graceful proportions with intricate main and secondary taotie designs and other animal motifs had entered the foundries’ repertoire. The raised parts and the additions of pronounced flanges to the foot and middle sections, en vogue during the late Shang period, dramatically changed the vessel’s silhouette, giving it its distinctive sculptural appearance.
The inscription located inside the foot resembles an emblem known from various other vessels, see Robert W. Bagley, Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Washington D. C. and Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1987, p. 507, fig. 98.4 for a yu with a very similar pictogram and no. 28 with a more simplified version, where it is stated that both variants are usually taken to depict a wine vessel.
Bronze gu of similar design and size are illustrated and discussed ibid., nos 36-7; see also no. 38 where excavated gu of this design with leiwen-covered raised parts are listed. Another gu discovered at Huayuanzhang village near Anyang is illustrated in Yinxu xinchutu qingtongqi [Ritual bronzes recently excavated in Yinxu], Kunming, 2008, p. 152, no. 62.
Two gu of this type are in the Shanghai Museum, illustrated in Zhongguo qingtongqi quanji [Complete series on Chinese bronzes], Beijing, 1997, vol. 2, no. 122, and in the Atami Art Museum, Atami, published in Seiichi Mizuno, Bronzes and Jades of Ancient China, Tokyo, 1959, no. 38.
Compare also a gu, reputedly also from Anyang, from the collections of T. Y. King, H. E. Alexandre J. Argyropoulos and Julius Eberhardt sold in these rooms, 17th September, 2013, lot 1.
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