The cylindrical zun
vessel shape was popular during the Late Shang and early Western Zhou period and there are many surviving examples. This present example is exceptional in its design. There is only one similar example of almost identical design and decoration, but with a different inscription, now in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, illustrated in Max Loehr, Ritual Vessels of Bronze Age China
, New York, 1968, pp. 110-111, no. 47 (fig. 4). It is possible that these two bronzes were made in the same foundry.
In Western Zhou archaeology, ritual vessels such as you
are often found as a set. For instance, in tomb no. 13 at Zhuyuangou village, Baoji city, Shaanxi province in 1980 a bronze zun
was found together with two other cylindrical you
vessels, all decorated with vertical ribs, apparently forming a set. In fact, the present zun
had two you
‘brothers’, now separated, one in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (fig. 2) and the other in the Idemitsu Museum in Tokyo (fig. 1). This remarkable relationship can be proven by the identical inscription and very similar design found on all three bronzes. Moreover, the two you
were originally in the collection of the famous late Qing collector Duan Fang (1861-1911), and were illustrated in his book Taozhai jijin lu
(fig. 3). Thus, we may surmise with good reason that present zun
was unearthed at the same time as the two you
in Duan Fang’s collection, probably in the latter half of the 19th
Our research puts new light on the fascinating story of the provenance of this zun
. In the collection of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, Taipei, there is an ink rubbing of its inscription, with a handwritten colophon and stamped with a red seal ‘Zheng An Suo Cang Ji Jin' (Auspicious Bronzes in Zheng An’s collection) (fig. 5). ‘Zheng An’ is another name of the celebrated collector Pan Zuyin (1830-1890). Pan was renowned for his connoisseurship, and in particular his collection of early bronzes. The name for his studio was Pangulou (Tower for Hanging on to Antiquity) and the present zun
was listed among 450 bronzes kept in the studio and was published in Gu Tinglong, 'Pangulou cangqi mu' (The list of bronze vessels in the Pangulou
studio), Guoli Beiping Tushuguan guankan
(Journal of National Beiping Library), vol. 7, no.2 , 1933, p. 79 (fig. 6).
However, Pan may not have been the first owner of the piece. In the Yuhuage jinwen
(this book is in manuscript form and the only copy is kept in Library of Peking University), compiled by the Manchu prince Sheng Yu (1850-1900), there is a rubbing of the same inscription, and on it stamped another collector's seal that can probably be traced back to Chen Jieqi (1813-1884) (fig. 7), a famous collector of the 19th
century. Chen and Pan were close friends and often exchanged goods, and the bronze zun
probably first entered Chen’s collection and later passed to Pan. Sheng Yu was also a member of the intimate circle of the collectors, and he was given rubbings by Chen and Pan to compile the book.
The inscription on this zun
has also been published in several other publications. Luo Zhenyu, one of the most important epigraphists in the late Qing and early Republican period recorded the inscription under the category 'zun
in his monumental book: Sandai jijin wencun
(Surviving writings from the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties), vol. 11, p. 29. However, in more recent publications, the inscription rubbing of the present vessel is ignored, or mistakenly attributed to other vessels because the scholars have not seen the vessel itself such as in Yinzhou jinwen jicheng
(Compendium of inscriptions from bronzes of the Yin and Zhou dynasties), Beijing, 1984, nos. 5292-5294 and Shangzhou qingtongqi mingwen ji tuxiang jicheng
(Compendium of inscriptions and images from bronzes of the Shang and Zhou dynasties), Shanghai, 2012, pp. 59-61. The reappearance of this bronze vessel is therefore, not only exciting to collectors but also to any scholar who is interested in the subject of archaic bronzes.
The inscription can be translated as ‘Ya Qi Yi made in honor of his mother Xin this ritual vessel’. Ya is an official title conferred on the chief of a clan.
Pan Zuyin (1830-1890) was an epigraphist, calligrapher and Compiler of the Hanlin Academy, but is particularly famous for his collection of archaic bronzes and rare books. He kept his bronze collection in the Pangulou and published part of his collection in the Pangulou yiqi kuanzhi (Inscriptions from archaic bronzes in the Pangulou collection). Two of the most important bronze vessels unearthed in the Qing dynasty, the Da Ke Ding (grand ding vessel of Ke) and Da Yu Ding (grand ding vessel of Yu), were once in Pan’s collection and in the 1950s were donated by his descendants to the Shanghai Museum.
Chen Jieqi (1813-1884) was another celebrated collector, epigraphist and Compiler of the Hanlin Academy. His collection of epigraphic materials was encyclopedic and included inscriptions from archaic bronzes, bronze seals, stone steles and ancient tiles. The most important archaic bronze vessel unearthed in the Qing dynasty, the Mao Gong Ding (ding vessel of Duke Mao), which bears an inscription of 499 characters, was once in Chen’s collection and is now in the National Palace Museum, Taipei.