• Anthony Wu

Amazing Ancient Chinese Ritual Bronzes at the Art Institute of Chicago


What an incredible weekend! I just got back from a three-day trip to a chilly and windy Chicago. The main purpose of this visit was to reconnect with old clients and to see the seminal exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago - 'Mirroring China's Past: Emperor's and Their Bronzes'.

This exhibition was one of the most amazing Chinese Art shows I have seen in the past couple of years and the main purpose of this blog (even though there might be a photo of a Chicago-style pizza if you scroll further down).

The Art Institute of Chicago is already renowned for their collection of ancient Chinese bronzes, most of which are part of the Lucy Maud Buckingham Collection. These pieces from the Shang (16th Century - 1050 BC) to the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) were donated by Ms. Kate Sturges Buckingham (1858-1937), a Chicago business woman, art collector and philanthropist, to honour her sister Lucy Maud who died in 1920.

So in addition to some of the highlight bronzes from the Buckingham Collection, the exhibition brought together more incredible ancient Chinese bronzes, works of art, and paintings from:

1. North American museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

2. North American Private Collections

3. Chinese Museums including the Palace Museum in Beijing and the Shanghai Museum

For the most part, the show breaks down the form and ritualistic functions of these ancient bronzes, their relationships with emperors throughout China's history, and how they were collected and revered during the late Qing Dynasty to present day. Most of the pieces speak for themselves through their shapes, designs, details and stunning taotie monster masks.

Here are some of my highlights:

Tapir-Shaped Container (Xi Zun), Warring States Period (475-221 BC)

On Loan from a Private Collection

Note: This incredible piece with gold and turquoise inlays was sold at TEAF, the world's largest art fair, back in 2007 for a record price for a bronze vessel.

Bucket of Fu Cheng (Fu Cheng You), Late Shang Dynasty (1250 to 1046 BC)

On Loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Note: With an exceptionally large buffalo taotie monster mask.

Tripod Cauldron (Ding), Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC)

On Loan from a Private Collection

Note: With three rare stylized bird finials on the cover.

Rectangular Cauldron of Hou Chun (Hou Chun Fang Ding), Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC)

On Loan from the Shanghai Museum

Note: Extremely well-cast ram's head taoitie monster mask and the interior is fully inscribed.

Bo Bell of Great Splendor (Dasheng Bozhong), Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127)

On Loan from the Palace Museum, Beijing

Note: Stunning dragons on the top of the bell!

Ram-Shaped Container (Zun), Late Shang Dynasty (circa 1250-1046 BC)

On Loan from a Private Collection

Note: This piece once belonged to the Fujita Museum in Osaka, and sold at Christie's New York in March 2017 for an incredible USD 27.125 million! One of few extant examples on the planet.

Steamer (Yan), Late Shang Dynasty (circa 1250-1046 BC)

On Loan from the Palace Museum, Beijing

Note: One of the largest examples in existance and with fierce taotie monster mask tripod legs.

Flask (Bianhu), Warring States Period (475-221 BC)

Art Institute of Chicago, Lucy Maud Buckingham Collection

Note: One of the great examples at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Anonymous, Portrait of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795)

On Loan from the Palace Museum, Beijing

Note: One of the most important and highly published portraits of the Qianlong Emperor. He is depicted as a scholar and esteemed collector of antiquarian objects throughout China's history - this includes furniture, porcelain, ceramics, scholar objects and bronzes.

Lobed Tripod Cauldron of Officer Yin (Shi Yin Li), Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC)

On Loan from the Palace Museum, Beijing

Note: The largest of its kind and deemed a national treasure of China. It was once owned Fei Nianci (1855-1905) a Qing Dynasty official and scholar, and collector of ancient bronzes. The photo in the background was taken during the Late Qing Dynasty and showcases the owner of the bronze along with other court officials with the present example and a rare bronze altar set (now at the Met Museum in New York). This was the first time in decades where these bronzes were reunited.

Another view of the large wall-sized black and white photo containing the present cauldron and altar set.

Altar Set, Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC)

On Loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Note: This is the ritualistic bronze altar set from the photo and in addition to the numerous vessels, it also contains an extremely rare and intact bronze stand.

As amazing as the exhibition was, I still had to eat in Chicago. If you haven't been to the city, they are extremely famous for their Chicago deep-dish pizza. This style was developed in the 1940's and contains much 'deeper' crusts than regular pizzas. As a result, the pizza becomes more like a pie and contains multiple 'layers' of toppings and cheese. The example I tried was from Pizano's Pizza & Pasta - it contained 8 slices and was suggested for 4-6 people. It was just a 5 minute walk from the Art Institute so the restaurant was extremely convenient. The other major chain in Chicago is Giordano's.

Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza, April 2018

Pizano's Pizza & Pasta

Note: It is highly recommended you share with friends.

Anyways, that's it for this edition of my blog. I'll be in New York City for some work next week followed by a big trip to Hong Kong at the end of May. I'll be visiting clients and attending the Chinese art auction previews at Bonhams and Christie's. Hopefully I'll return to Toronto in early June. Please email

me if you have any questions or comments.

#Chicago #ArtInstituteofChicago #MirroringChinasPast #BuckinghamCollection #MetropolitanMuseumofArt #MontrealMuseumofFineArts #PalaceMuseum #ShanghaiMuseum #QingDynasty #taotie #WarringStatesPeriod #ShangDynasty #WesternZhouDynasty #NorthernSongDynasty #FujitaMuseum #Qianlong #FeiNianci

Toronto, Ontario  l  416-402-2912  l anthony@anthonywuart.com

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