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Owl-Shaped Zun

Chinese, Early Zhou Dynasty
1938 BCE - 1759 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.

J. Carder

Tèo-Yi, Tch'ou. Bronzes Antiques de la Chine appartenant à C. T. Loo et Cie. Paris and Brussels: C. Van Oest, 1924), 9-10, pls. 1-2.

Koop, Albert J. Early Chinese Bronzes. Paris: Éditions A.. Lévy, 1924, 42, pl. 8.

Salmony, Alfred. Sino-Siberian Art in the Collection of C. T. Loo. Paris: C.T. Loo, 1933, 8-9.

Sirén, Osvald. Histoire des Arts Anciens de la Chine 1. Paris and Brussels: C. Van Oest, 1929, 43-44, pl. 49.

Wegner, Max. "Die Ausstellung chinesischer Kunst." Der Cicerone (January 1929), 26, ill.

Adlow, Dorothy. "Vessel in the Form of an Owl: Chinese Chou Dynasty." Christian Science Monitor (June 25, 1937).

Art Digest (November 1, l938), 6, ill.

Waterbury, Florence. Early Chinese Symbols and Literature. New York, 1943.

Chen, Meng-chia. A Corpus of Chinese Bronzes in American Collections. Harvard-Yenching Institute, 1977.

Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 290f, ill.

Exhibition History
"Ausstellung chinesischer Kunst," Berlin, 1929 (Catalogue p. 24, ill.).

"Friends of Far Eastern Art," Mills College, San Francisco, CA, 1934 (Catalogue no. 39, pl. 6).

"Opening Exhibition," San Francisco Museum of Art, CA, 1934 (Catalogue pl. 15).

"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.

Acquisition History
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, D.C.

Ceremonial | Owl | Rectangular | Scrollwork|Scrolls