Lidded ritual ewer (he) with dragons

Historical period(s)
ca. 1200-1100 BCE
H x W x D (assembled): 18.2 × 18.7 × 21 cm (7 3/16 × 7 3/8 × 8 1/4 in)
China, Yangzi River Valley
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Metalwork, Vessel

Ritual vessel: he

casting, China, Shang dynasty (ca. 1600 - ca. 1050 BCE), wine, WWII-era provenance
Provenance research underway.

Does the lid of this vessel show a Chinese dragon with a human face, or a person changing into a horned serpent? While it may seem cartoonish today, the haunting combination of the familiar and the supernatural might represent the mysteries of the spirit world, thus transforming a simple pear-shaped ewer (he) into an intriguing piece of sculpture.

The head connects to a reptilian body that spirals around the container to end with a pointed tail. Two clawed arms reach forward towards the spout, which is held in the mouths of smaller coiling dragons. This unique ewer was probably made in a major bronze casting center in one of China’s southern provinces.

Published References
  • Meng-chia Ch'en. Style of Chinese Bronzes. vol. 1 Honolulu, 1945-1946. pl. 5, fig. 30.
  • Sekai bijutsu zenshu [A Complete Collection of World Art]. 40 vols., Tokyo, F1951-1953. cat. 62-63, vol. 2.
  • Yuan Te-hsing. A Discussion of the Dragon Motif in the Decoration of a Kuei. vol. 13, no. 2 Taipei, May-June 1978. fig. 3.
  • Zusetsu sekai bunkashi taikei [Cultural History of the World]. 27 vols., Tokyo, 1958-1961. Vol. 15: p. 26, fig. 11.
  • William Watson. China Before the Han Dynasty. Ancient Peoples and Places, vol. 23 New York. fig. 17.
  • William Watson. The Art of Dynastic China. New York, 1981. ill. 222.
  • Cheng Te-k'un. Archaeology in China. 3 vols., Cambridge, England. vol. 2: pl. 47b.
  • Alfred Salmony. Art and Thought, Issued in Honour of Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday. London. pl. 34, fig. 6.
  • Sueji Umehara. Yin hsu: Ancient Capital of the Shang Dynasty at An-yang. Tokyo. pl. 115.
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  • The Encyclopedia of World Art. 17 vols., New York, 1959-1968. vol. 3, pl. 221.
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  • Higuchi Takayasu. Chugoku seidoki hyakusen., 1 hen. Tokyo. pl. 12.
  • Chugoku bijutsu [Chinese Art in Western Collections]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1972-1973. fig. 19.
  • Chen Mengjia. Yin Zhou qing tong qi fen lei tu lu [Yin-Chou ch'ing t'ung ch'i fen lei t'u lu]. 2 vols., Dongjing. vol. 1, fig. 30.
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Thomas Lawton, Harold P. Stern. The Freer Gallery of Art. 2 vols., Washington and Tokyo, 1971-1972. cat. 4, vol. 1: p. 153.
  • Grace Dunham Guest, Archibald Gibson Wenley. Annotated Outlines of the History of Chinese Arts. Washington, 1949. p. 1.
  • Hayashi. Research of Gods of Ancient China. p. 3.
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  • Mario Bussagli. Chinese Bronzes. London and New York. p. 10, pl. 1.
  • Bernhard Karlgren. Some New Bronzes in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities. no. 24 Stockholm. pp. 11-25, fig. 67.
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  • Theresa B. Frisch. Scythian Art and Some Chinese Parallels, Part I. vol. 2, no. 1. pp. 16-24, fig. 1b.
  • T'an Tan-chiung, National Palace Museum, Taiwan. Coils and Undulations. vol. 2 Taipei, October 1967. pp. 33-39, pls. 5-7.
  • Compiled by the staff of the Freer Gallery of Art. A Descriptive and Illustrative Catalogue of Chinese Bronzes: Acquired During the Administration of John Ellerton Lodge. Oriental Studies Series, no. 3 Washington, 1946. pp. 34-35, pls. 13-14.
  • Charles D. Weber. Chinese Pictorial Bronze Vessels of the Late Chou Period, Part I (of IV). vol. 28, no. 2/3 Washington and Zurich. pp. 107-154, fig. 18j-k.
  • Florance Waterbury. Speculations on the Significance of a Ho in the Freer Gallery. vol. 15, no. 1/2 Leipzig. pp. 114-124.
  • Hugo Munsterberg. An Anthropomorphic Deity from Ancient China. New Series, vol. 3, no. 4, 1951. pp. 147-152.
  • J. LeRoy Davidson. The Flange on Chinese Bronzes. no. 14 Washington and Zurich. p. 221, fig. 10.
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Rutherford John Gettens, James Cahill, Noel Barnard. The Freer Chinese Bronzes. Oriental Studies Series, vol. 1, no. 7 Washington. cat. 39, p. 223.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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