zun vase

The shape of the tapered foot, the flared neck and the wide belly of this zun in bronze is characteristic of the Shang period (around 1600 – around 1050 BC). This type of vase, found in large numbers, was intended to contain drinks during ritual ceremonies and burials. The distribution of the decoration in horizontal registers, which emphasizes the structure of the vase, as well as the presence of birds seen in profile and square spirals called leiwen are also common in the late Shang.

The motive of taotie, generally made up of two profiles of confronting animals which form a mask seen from the front and devoid of a lower jaw, is replaced here by an exceptional interpretation of this element. The presence of a pair of ears indeed suggests the representation of a human face, while the wings, on either side of the latter, as well as the protruding nose recall the physiognomy of a bird. Such hybridizations between man and animal are particularly rare on Shang bronzes and have not yet found a definitive explanation. However, it is often argued that it could be the representation of a man capable of entering into communication with spirits.


Vase zun
Shang period (c. 1600 – c. 1050 BC), XIIe century BC. AD, China
H.27,8 cm x W.24,8 cm x D.24,9 cm
CM 2005-3

Donated by Total through the Society of Friends of the Cernuschi Museum, 2005

Photo credit :

© Paris Museums / Cernuschi Museum


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