Lidded ritual ewer (he) with dragons


Historical period(s)
ca. 1200-1100 BCE
H x W x D (overall): 18.2 x 18.7 x 21 cm (7 3/16 x 7 3/8 x 8 1/4 in)
China, Yangzi River Valley
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Metalwork, Vessel

Ritual vessel

casting, China, Shang dynasty (ca. 1600 - ca. 1050 BCE), wine, WWII-era provenance

Excavated in Anyang, Henan province, China [1]

From 1940 to 1941
C.T. Loo & Company, New York from November 1940 [2]

From 1941
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from C.T. Loo & Company on September 29, 1941 [3]


[1] According to Mizuno Seiichi, In Shu seidoki to tama (Tokyo, Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha, 1959), p. 63, pls. 40, 41.

[2] See C. T. Loo's stockcard no. 87003: "Bronze jar with cover Chou Bronze TSUN with cover in the form of a Human mask with ornaments. Turquoise patina SHANG," Frank Caro Archive, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, copy in object file. The object was taken by Loo to the Freer Gallery for examination on January 17, 1941.

[3] See C. T. Loo's invoice, dated September 29, 1941, copy in object file.

Previous Owner(s)

C.T. Loo & Company active 1908-1950


Does the lid of this vessel show a Chinese dragon with a human face, or a person changing into a horned serpent? While it may seem cartoonish today, the haunting combination of the familiar and the supernatural might represent the mysteries of the spirit world, thus transforming a simple pear-shaped ewer (he) into an intriguing piece of sculpture.

The head connects to a reptilian body that spirals around the container to end with a pointed tail. Two clawed arms reach forward towards the spout, which is held in the mouths of smaller coiling dragons. This unique ewer was probably made in a major bronze casting center in one of China’s southern provinces.

Published References
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Mr. R.J. Gettens, James Cahill, Noel Barnard. The Freer Chinese Bronzes. Oriental Studies Series, vol. 1, no. 7 Washington. cat. 39, p. 223.
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Thomas Lawton, Harold P. Stern. The Freer Gallery of Art. 2 vols., Washington and Tokyo, 1971-1972. cat. 4, p. 153.
  • compiled by the staff of the Freer Gallery of Art. A Descriptive and Illustrative Catalogue of Chinese Bronzes: Acquired During the Administration of John Ellerton Lodge. Oriental Studies Series, no. 3 Washington, 1946. pp. 34-35, pls. 13-14.
  • Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Art: Freer Gallery of Art handbook. Washington, 1976. p. 9.
  • Grace Dunham Guest A.G. Wenley. Annotated Outlines of the History of Chinese Arts. Washington, 1949. p. 1.
  • Mario Bussagli. Chinese Bronzes. London and New York. p. 10, pl. 1.
  • Chen Mengjia. Yin Zhou qing tong qi fen lei tu lu (Yin-Chou ch'ing t'ung ch'i fen lei t'u lu). 2 vols., Dongjing. fig. 30.
  • Chugoku bijutsu (Chinese Art in Western Collections). 5 vols., Tokyo, 1972-1973. fig. 19.
  • Higuchi Takayasu. Chugoku seidoki hyakusen., 1 hen. Tokyo. pl. 12.
  • Chung-kuo tiao su shih t'u lu. Chung-kuo mei shu shih t'u lu ts'ung shu Shanghai. p. 23.
  • J. LeRoy Davidson. The Flange on Chinese Bronzes. no. 14 Washington and Zurich. p. 221, fig. 10.
  • The Encyclopedia of World Art. 17 vols., New York, 1959-1968. pl. 221.
  • Theresa B. Frisch. Scythian Art and Some Chinese Parallels, Part I. vol. 2, no. 1. pp. 16-24, fig. 1b.
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  • Liu Wang-hang. Chiu yu ch'ing t'ung chiu ch'i. No. 22 Taipei. .
  • Mizuno Seiichi. In Shu seidoki to tama (alt. spelling: In-sho seidoki to gyoku) (Bronzes and Jades of Ancient China). Tokyo. pls. 40-41.
  • Hugo Munsterberg. An Anthropomorphic Deity from Ancient China. New Series, vol. 3, no. 4, 1951. pp. 147-152.
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  • T'an Tan-chiung. T'ung ch'i kai shu. Taipei. pls. 45-47, 52.
  • T'an Tan-chiung. Chung-hua i-shu t'u-lu (Chinese Art). Taipei. pl. 59.
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  • Sueji Umehara. In-kyo (Yin hsu: Ancient Capital of the Shang Dynasty at An-yang). Tokyo. pl. 115.
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  • Cheng Te-k'un. Archaeology in China. 3 vols., Cambridge, England. pl. 47b.
  • Florance Waterbury. Speculations on the Significance of a Ho in the Freer Gallery. vol. 15, no. 1/2 Leipzig. pp. 114-124.
  • William Watson. The Art of Dynastic China. New York, 1981. ill. 222.
  • William Watson. China Before the Han Dynasty. Ancient Peoples and Places, vol. 23 New York. fig. 17.
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  • Zusetsu sekai bunkashi taikei (Cultural History of the World). 27 vols., Tokyo, 1958-1961. p. 26, fig. 11.
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Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
Rights Statement

Copyright with museum