Kinds of Bronze Casting

 Kinds of Bronze Casting

The bronze craft starting three millennia ago, is a gem in the history of arts and craft in China and the world. It reached a high level in the ancient slave society already and developed further in the feudal society.

Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, sometimes also with a little lead based on special needs. This alloy was used to make bronze articles in ancient China. Bronze articles for different uses were made with alloys in different proportions. In the "Records of Crafts" compiled in the fifth century B.C. was a statement on how to smelt the bronze alloy. The bronze alloy had the advantages of high hardness and low melting point. The tine ingredient of it enabled the alloy to generate bright sheens and colors, and to have fine patterns cast on it.

In processing the bronze articles, the slave craftsmen displayed their creative talent. They mastered he technologies of mining. ore dressing, die making and casting, and cast intricate vessels, even vessels with images of birds and animals, accurately and vividly. For instance, "the Cross-Apertures Square Wine Vessel!" kept in the Palace Museum. It was made in the Shang Dynasty. Although its form was not practical, yet its casting technique was excellent. Apertures were made on the four sides of the vessel and a moveable handle was made on the shoulders of the vessel.

For another instance, the big "Simuwu Quadripod" of the Shang Dynasty. It measured 110 cm x 137 cm, weighing 875 kilograms. According to the level of technology in that time, a crucible could smelt no more than 12.5 kilograms of copper one time. Consequently the 857-kilogram quadripod required the simultaneous operation of 70-80 crucible furnaces to fill the mould at one instant, otherwise fissures would occur. That means a host of 100-200 skilled slave workers should have been working at the same place ( not counting the auxiliary laborers). What a grand scale!

The decorative patterns impressed on bronze objects might be categorize into three kinds: One kind consisted of geometrical graphics with dots, lines, circles, squares and triangles, such as the string, cloud-thunder and sliding thread patterns. Another kind consisted of figures of animals, sometimes abstract or deformed, in the shapes of ox, sheep, elephant, tiger, horse, bird, crow, snake, silkworm, cicada, etc. Yet another kind consisted of figures of bizarre, imaginative animals, such as the "taotie" design, the "kui" design and the dragon design, which the ancient Chinese though to have a "savage beauty" (as quoted from li Zehou, a contemporary Chinese aesthetician), symbolizing auspiciousness, "coordination of Heaven and Earth," and a mystic power.

The decorative pattern covered generally the whole-body of the vessel. There were also three-layered patterns (base, prime and overlapped patterns). Often, a prime pattern was combined with a base pattern, e.g., the prime "taotie" pattern combined with the base cloud and thunder pattern, to achieve a primary-secondary effect. There were also patterns with connected designs to achieve a rhythmetic effect, or with symmetrical designs to achieve a steady effect: At the same time, decorative reliefs were extensively employed in harmony with the three-dimension forms of the vessels to achieve a vivid effect.

In later periods, new decorative means were used in the bronze craft, such as the gold-silver filigree marquetry and gilding. With regard to the gold-silver filigree, grooves were chiseled on the bronze surface before gold or silver threads were inlaid, producing a brilliant, colorful effect. This means was also employed in other handiwork. The gold filigree "kui" pattern stemmed copper bowl unearthed from a Warring States tomb in Changzhi city of Shanxi province is an example of this. Gilded articles were often in use in the Han Dynasty: The "Gilded Copper Lantern of Changxin Palace" and the gilded copper jar excavated from Mancheng County of Hebei province serve both as examples.

In different periods the styles of Chinese bronze objects were different. The bronze objects in the early ancient period were heavy and dignified. The bronze objects in the middle period were practical and simple. In the late period, besides the practical and simple ones, these were also graceful and intricate bronze objects. One example of these was the "Xi" wine vessel unearthed in Hunyuan county of Shanxi province, which was refined and elegant.

Compared with bronze articles in other parts of the world, inscriptions were a special characteristic of the Chinese bronze articles. Such inscriptions are also called "bronze script" of "tripod script", and occupy an important place in the history of Chinese calligraphy. It was close to tortoise shell script", and was the forerunner of the seal script, official script and regular script. All the inscriptions were calligraphically masterpieces, with clear patterns and elegant strokes. Someone considered that the 499-character inscription on "Lord Mao Tripod" was comparable to the "Book of History", that the 357-character inscription on "San Bowl" of the Western Zhou period was the earliest Chinese diplomatic document, and that the 284-character inscription on "Shi Jiang Bowl" of the reign of King Gong was a narrative poem on the history of the Wei family.