Chinese, Early Zhou Dynasty
11th-10th century BCE
41.91 cm x 13.97 cm x 20.32 cm (16 1/2 in. x 5 1/2 in. x 8 in.)
bronze, copper, and spinel stone
Not on view
This owl-shaped bronze ceremonial vessel is of a type known as a zun (xiao zun). The zun was used to pour wine or other potent beverages in ceremonies linking the rulers of the Shang and Zhou dynasties with their ancestors and supernatural forces. People of these dynasties perceived the owl as the god of night and of dreams, as well as the messenger between the human and the spirit world because of its silent flight and nocturnal hunting. Although such bronzes would have been used in life, some were probably made specifically for tombs and the afterlife. In this zun, the head is held in place on the neck but can lift off completely for pouring. The owl’s eyes are inlaid with red spinel stones. The fact that the breast and legs are made of copper sheets and not bronze suggests that they are more recent replacements.
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"Friends of Far Eastern Art," Mills College, San Francisco, CA, 1934 (Catalogue no. 39, pl. 6).
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"Master bronzes," Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, 2/1937 (Catalogue no. 15, ill.).
"Chinese Bronzes," Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 10-11/l938 (Catalogue p. 6, no. 70, ill.) [dated to Shang Dynasty period].
"Animal Bronzes," Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, 2008.
Collection of Chen Fu Chai, Wei-Hsien, Shantung Province;
Purchased from C. T. Loo & Co., Paris (in New York, NY) (dealer), by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 9/24/1924;
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 9/24/1924-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.