Ritual basin (pan) with dragons, fish, tigers, and birds

Historical period(s)
early Anyang period, Late Shang dynasty, ca. 1300-1100 BCE
H x Diam: 12.1 × 32.5 cm (4 3/4 × 12 13/16 in)
China, Henan province, Anyang
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Metalwork, Vessel

Ritual vessel: pan

Anyang period (ca. 1300 - ca. 1050 BCE), bird, casting, China, dragon, fish, mythological animal, tiger, WWII-era provenance

To 1956
J. T. Tai & Co., New York, New York. [1]

From 1956
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from J. T. Tai & Co., New York, New York. [2]


[1] See object file, Collections Management Office.

[2] See note 1.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

J.T. Tai & Co. established in 1950


A mythical dragon, rendered as a large coiled beast with big eyes, horns, and ears, forms the main decoration of this pan from Anyang in Henan province. Four smaller dragons fill in spaces to complete the overall design. When this basin was used in the ritual practice of washing hands as a sign of purification and respect, the dragons would have been covered with water, as if they were sea creatures. Other versions of dragons appear on the exterior of the basin. Since dragons are imaginary yet powerful beasts, Chinese artists have produced endless variations of their supposed appearance, usually showing them ferociously posed in profile with gaping mouths and tense, curled tails.

Published References
  • William Watson. The Art of Dynastic China. New York, 1981. cat. 237.
  • T'an. Tan-chiung: T'ung ch'i kai shu. Taipei. pl. 55.
  • Shang Chou chin wen shi ch'eng. Multi-volume, Taipei. cat. 7424.
  • Parke-Bernet Galleries. Sale Catalogue, November 4, 1948. New York, November 4, 1948. cat. 1000.
  • Chugoku bijutsu [Chinese Art in Western Collections]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1972-1973. vol. 4: fig. 31.
  • Jessica Rawson. Western Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections. Ancient Chinese Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, vol. 2 Washington and Cambridge, Massachusetts. vol. 2a, p. 55, fig. 62.
  • Jessica Rawson. Eccentric Bronzes of the Early Western Zhou. vol. 47 London, 1982-1983. p. 18.
  • Higuchi Takayasu. Kijin to ningen no Chugoku. Tokyo. p. 22.
  • Richard Edwards. The Artist and the Landscape: Changing Views of Nature in Chinese Painting. no. 6 Hong Kong, Spring 1976. cat. 6, pp. 30-52, pl. 15.
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Rutherford John Gettens, James Cahill, Noel Barnard. The Freer Chinese Bronzes. Oriental Studies Series, vol. 1, no. 7 Washington. cat. 3, p. 35.
  • Helmut Brinker. The Decor Style of Shang White Pottery. vol. 21 New York and Honolulu, HI, 1967-1968. fog. 4, p. 54.
  • The Sze Yuan Tang Archaic Bronzes from the Anthony Hardy Collection: Christie's New York. sale 2508 New York, September 16, 2010. pp. 84-85, fig. 1.
  • Oriental Art Recently Acquired by American Museums. vol. 11 Honolulu. p. 90, fig. 12.
  • Jenny F. So. Eastern Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections. Ancient Chinese Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, vol. 3 New York, 1995. pp. 317, fig. 62.2.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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