Drink and be merry: 2 ancient wine urns part after 2,500 years

Although separated now, a pair of bronze vessels once accompanied each other over 2,500 years. The wine vessels are decorated with lotus petals and a crane. 

Lotus and Crane Rectangular Jars

Period: Late Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC)

Height: 126.5cm (Henan Museum)125.7cm (The Palace Museum)

Length: 30.5cm

Width: 54cm

Weight: 64.28kg

Although separated now, a pair of bronze vessels once accompanied each other over 2,500 years. The wine vessels are decorated with lotus petals and a crane. 

Named Lotus and Crane Rectangular Jars, one is displayed at the Henan Museum and the other at the Palace Museum in Beijing. Their design and patterns are almost identical.

The top of each jar is decorated with two layers of openwork lotus petals. Growing in the mud whilst symbolizing purity and elegance, the lotus symbolizes purity in Chinese and Buddhist culture. 

As a symbol of longevity and auspiciousness, a crane spreading its wings stands on the lid.

The bodies of the vessels are decorated with dragon patterns. A flying dragon is cast on each corner of the belly. A pair of big dragons with coiled bodies and prominent horns serve as the handles placed on each side of the jars.

On the bottom, there are two lying tigers adorning and supporting the vessel.

The pair of jars represent the sophisticated casting techniques of the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). They were cast using the lost-wax method.

The components of a crane, two dragon-shaped ears and the body of each jar were cast separately and then combined, which was another superb casting skill. 

The Spring and Autumn Period is also known as the Golden Age of Chinese philosophy because a diverse range of ideas and thoughts were developed and discussed freely. 

The pair of bronze wine vessels with their lotus and crane design embody the free and innovative spirit of the period. 

After the mysterious and solemn style of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC) and Western Zhou period (1046-771 BC), these two pieces show the change in aesthetic trends of bronzeware in Spring and Autumn Period.

They were unearthed from the tomb of a monarch of Zheng State in Lijialou, Xinzheng, in Henan Province in 1923. The archeologists haven’t figured out who was in the tomb, but some scholars think that Duke Cheng and Duke Xi of Zheng are most likely.

Zheng was one of the most powerful vassal states in China during the Spring and Autumn Period. In 774BC, Duke Huang of Zheng relocated the capital to Xinzheng. 

In the summer of 1923, Lijialou suffered a major drought. 

Finding that the crops in the garden were withering, a country gentleman named Li Rui decided to hire several workers to dig a well. 

Strangely, the soil became extremely hard after digging a few meters deep.

Looking carefully, Li found some bronzeware. He realized that there was an ancient tomb beneath his garden.

He asked the workers to carefully dig out the artifacts and keep silent about he excavation. Busy contacting sellers, Li planned to sell some of the cultural relics. 

But the news spread quickly in the town. Coincidentally, Jin Yun’e, who was a divisional commander, was visiting.

Heading to Li’s house immediately, Jin took over the treasures. 

Jin also sent a group of people to continue excavating the tomb. 

Over 100 bronze pieces and hundreds of jade artifacts and pottery were found, although some were incomplete. The relics were kept in an official depository in Kaifeng, Henan Province.

Luo Zhenyu, a Chinese scholar and antiquarian, recommended two art restorers from Shandong Province repair the broken bronze works, including the pair of wine vessels, which were later collected by the Henan Museum.

With the outbreak of the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression in 1937, the pair of rectangular jars were shifted to Wuhan in Hubei Province before being moved to Chongqing along with 5,676 other cultural relics, 1,162 pieces of rubbings and 1,472 books.

In 1949, the Kuomintang planned to retreat to Taiwan with an array of treasures from the mainland.

These two bronze wine vessels were on the list. Having been shifted to the Chongqing airport, they were saved by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army at the last minute. 

However, 5,119 relics and 1,450 volumes of books were taken to Taiwan. 

The twins were separated in 1950. 

One went to the Palace Museum in Beijing and the other to the Henan Museum, where it is one of the museum’s nine treasures. After half a century, the twins were briefly reunited in April 2006 in Henan.

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