Sep 28, 2012
Sep 28, 2012

Shallow Basin Supported by a Bird (Bian)

Shallow Basin Supported by a Bird (Bian)

early 400s BC

Bronze inlaid with powdered malachite and azurite

Overall: 23.3 cm (9 3/16 in.); Diameter of base: 18.3 cm (7 3/16 in.)

Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1991.8


The bird, in its graceful and dignified pose, firmly grasps a pair of intertwined serpents cast in the lower basin. This composition of the bird's triumph over the serpent has been given various interpretations.

The Chinese ethnographers regard this as a totemic symbol—a suggestion of a specific clan's superiority over contending neighboring peoples. Other scholars interpret this as good creatures warding off evil influences or as an early manifestation of the concept of complementary pairing (yin-yang, heaven-earth) in Chinese cosmology.

The original appearance of this vessel was brilliant and colorful due to the use of malachite and azurite in inlaid decoration, producing red, green, and blue against the bronze surface.

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