CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


RAWSON, Jessica
Ritual Vessels as Icons

Session 4 Appreciation and Utility

University of Oxford 


Massive bronze tripods have a central role in China, paralleling the religious and secular sculptures that dominate in Western temples, palaces and public spaces. The source of this major artistic difference between China and the West lies in the very different early histories of China and Western Asia. While the people of ancient Western Asia chose to represent deities and political figures in sculpture of stone and metal, the rulers of the early Chinese states did not chose sculptures to honour their deities. Instead they developed a strong ritual practice, making offerings in exceptionally fine bronze vessels. These bronze food and beverage containers are the most complex bronze castings of the ancient world, and the ancient Chinese bronze industry was also the world’s largest.

These bronzes were, however, not merely central to ancient Chinese society; they were also key elements of the artistic values of later periods. Such bronzes were collected and copied from the late Han period and appeared in temples, outside tombs and in the mansions and palaces of the Imperial dynasties and their associates, as well as in those of scholars. Indeed as essential components of such collections, the bronzes had an important role in the social life of art in China.


RAWSON, Jessica

Professor Jessica Rawson is Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology in the Oxford Centre for Asian Archaeology Art and Culture in the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford. Before moving to Oxford, she worked in the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum for over twenty years. At the Museum, Professor Rawson was responsible for the renovation of the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of Oriental Antiquities, opened by the Queen, November 1992. She has organised many exhibitions at the Museum, including Chinese Ornament, the Lotus and the Dragon, Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the QingMysteries of Ancient China; China: Treasures of Ancient Chinese, Bronze and Jades from Shanghai. At the Royal Academy in London, she organised a widely acclaimed display from the Palace Museum, Beijing, The Three Emperors 1662-1795. She has published a full catalogue of the Western Zhou bronzes in the Sackler Collection and a large number of exhibition catalogues and articles. A selection of these papers is presented in Chinese in Ancestors and Eternity祖先与永恒Sanlian, 2011. Professor Rawson holds Honorary Degrees from several universities in Britain and China. She is a member of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is also a consultant to the Research Department at the Palace Museum, Beijing.