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Shang Dynasty Art

Primitive Art of China, best known for its pottery, witnessed a shift in the material the artisans used to make articles in 1600 BC, when the Shang Dynasty, known as the First Oriental Civilization, came into being. Spanning over a period of 1600 BCE and 1050 BCE, Shang, or Yin Dynasty was the first Chinese Dynasty to rule the Yellow River Valley or 'Proper China.'

Oracle bones, bone, turtle shell, or cattle scapulae pieces, inscribed with Chinese characters, were the most competent East Asian Calligraphic Visual Art, practiced in Shang dynasty. The Shang Architecture included features like 'rammed earth' foundations, pillared base made of stone, platforms, German timber framing construction. There were provisions for residential areas, work areas, and storage areas.

Metalwork, especially of bronze, replaced clay used for making ceramic pots & vessels. The metal (bronze) craft in its initial years was limited to creating bells, jewelry, & tools. Soon however, a new metal casting technique known as piece-mold casting was invented. In this method, bronze was casted using multiple ceramic molds. This discovery led to the creation of astounding inscribed bronze ware, such as weapons, chariot parts, and ritual vessels. The piece-mold casting technique required tremendous precision in the terms of material & labor, making bronze metal designing in the Shang Dynasty, the most sophisticated & erudite.

In the Shang Art, these remarkable bronze articles were decorated with "taotie (animal face) motifs," thereby furthering its exotic appeal. These motifs on bronze articles attracted a controversy amongst scholars with some believing the motifs served a purely ornamental purpose with no reference or relation to the Shang mythology or religion, while the others believe the opposite. The use of Bronze ritual vessels as guang to serve wines, or as large pots to hold and cook food, were used during political and spiritual ceremonies of only rulers, spirits, gods, and deceased ancestors.

Another fantabulous Shang Art form is Jade Carvings. Circular disc shaped pieces of jade were intricately carved with the images of curling dragons, fish, tigers, birds, bovine creatures, and a variety of geometric patterns. The jade carvings of the Shang Dynasty are unparalleled amongst the other civilizations of that period in the terms of artistry & quality. The number & type of jade discs an individual owned in a ceremony or ritual, ascertained his/her social standing. Shang Art of China is also famous for its glazed stoneware and white pottery.

The civilization of the Shang Dynasty believed in decorating their burials with fancy bronze ware, stoneware, bone hairpins, weapons, and carved jade items. They believed that these items would come to their use in their next life. Archeologists have excavated numerous treasures of the Shang Dynasty since 1950. A twelfth century BC bronze, Shang Owl fetched around $3 million at an international auction, in 2000. With the passage of time, reference to Shang Chinese Art has become almost synonymous to bronze metal-crafting and jade carvings.

About the Author

Annette Labedzki received her BFA at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. She has more than 25 years experience. She is the founder and developer of an online art gallery featuring original art from all over the world. It is a great site for art collectors to buy original art. Is is also a venue for artists to display and sell their art . Artists can join for free and their image upload is unlimited. Please visit the website at