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Chinese Bronze Ritual Food Vessel
Fang Ding
Rectangular Caldron
Dated: Jiajing Reign, Ming Dynasty, 1534 AD

H 6 in.(15cm), W 7 in.(18cm), D 4 in.(10cm)

The rich and crisp interlocking figures decorating this small vessel are among the finest of its kind. The dense design includes two dragons frolicking among fire motifs on both sides of the vessel, and in the back is another pair of dragons playing with the pearl of wisdom. The predominating figure centered on the front panel is the Historic Buddha Shakyamuni, sitting above a bridge over the lotus pond, franking to his sides are two fairies entwined in swirl of clouds, directly below them are four birds of paradise, still, less obvious are two more lohan that stood just above the legs of the vessel, and the one to the left is visibly a two headed figure.

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By virtue of its highly intricate design and artistry, this well cast censer, or ritual food vessel is a remarkable find. From a rectangular opening gradually morphed into a soft corner round edged vessel, supported on four legs in the form of finely modeled waves spiting monsters, with two wing-like outward flanking handles, the shape of this vessel shows variant of structural eloquence, which often can be attributed to the Late Zhou dynasty, around the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.). However, the quality of the bronze and its intricate Buddhist theme points to a much later time. There is also an eighteen characters inscription at the basin, which clearly stated the vessel was made in the 16th century:

On the eighth day of fourth month, twelve year of Jiajing reign, made by Buddhist faithful Ma-shuihan clan

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