Early China Marquis of Yi




Tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng
433 BCE 

The Eastern Zhou moved their capital to Luoyang, on the north (yang) side of the Luo River, a tributary of the Yellow River. Like the area around Xian, Luoyang was strategic and had attracted human life from the Neolithic period. It was a capital site for the Xia, Shang, Zhou (Chengzhou) and Han dynasties. 

Here excavations have revealed the wealth of the vassal kingdom of Zeng, in service to the Chu. 


Marquis of Yi's burial complex

Marquis Yi's tomb
The burial complex of the 'Marquis of Zeng', first discovered in 1977, covered 220 square meters and had four separate chambers. In the northern and smallest were weapons, in the eastern the Marquis's tomb with nested wooden lacquer coffins and eight other coffins of women, in the western coffins of thirteen young women in silk shrouds. In the central and largest was a magnificent set of bronze bells. About 100 metres away another tomb was found subsequently with another set of bronze bells and other musical instruments.
TombThe four chambers of his tomb
Dated by inscription to 433, the outer coffin measured 220 square metres. It was timber-built with four chambers.

In it lay the Marquis, with eight young women who had been strangled and a dog, objects of jade, lacquer and bronze, musical instruments and weapons. A pair of daggers was inscribed 'bedroom dagger of marquis of Zeng'. In the central chamber were bronze vessels and bells and stone chimes, in the west 13 young women, and in the north more armour, chariot fittings, bamboo slips and 4000 bronze objects.

Marquis Yi of Zeng's coffin
Marquis Yi of Zeng's coffin
Bamboo slips
Bamboo slips
There were also bamboo slips with writing in ink that described the Marquis' funeral and the people who attended.

Earlier the Shang had incised script on the bones of animals or tortoises. Bamboo enabled texts to be painted in ink. The slips could be linked to form a book.

Marquis Yi of Zeng chariot pit
The 'royal pit' of the Marquis Yi of Zeng had 27 chariots and 76 horses, but no human skeletons
Marquis  Yi of Zeng chariot  pit
Chariot burial with a dog
In one chariot a dog was buried.
Chariot burial with a dog

Bronze gui cooking pot with elephant handles
Bronzes were placed outside the pit

Bronzes were placed outside the pit

Pottery painted in imitation of bronze
and pottery with decoration painted in imitation of bronze.

Pottery  painted in imitation of bronze

Some of the bronzes, like this zun-pan (h. 30.1 cm, d. 25 cm), were elaborately decorated.

Bronze zun-pan vessels

Marquis of Yi's painted lacquer deer (77cm)
The painted lacquer deer was in his burial chamber

Marquis  of Yi's painted lacquer deer

Bronze crane with deer antlersHis bronze 'crane' with deer antlers (143.5cm), inscribed "Made for the eternal use of Marquis Yi of Zeng"

This 'crane' with snake like dragons emerge from its body. It may have been a drum stand.


Marquis Yi of Zeng Bells 433BCE 9'x25'
(lost wax process)  Zhou Dynasty/Warring States Period no clappers 
The central bell bears an inscription that indicates it was a gift to Marquis Yi from King Hui of Chu and cast in 433 B.C., the year the Marquis was buried. The bells are believed to have been played in court rituals to ensure the posterity of the imperial reign.





Lost wax process

tao-tieh like design on each bell

:  It was used for a ceremonial purpose.  It would have probably held some sort of liquid.

Marquis Yi of Zeng Bells
433 BCE
Zhou Dynasty
Bronze Age
9' x 25'
No clappers 
Form:  The bells very in size from small to large.  The taotie is on front and back of each bell.  The bars that the bells are hung off of are decorated as well.  The bells were made with the lost wax process.  (See the diagram below this section.)

Iconography:  They are iconographic of the preferences of the society and the importance of music to the society.  In later Buddhist art the bell is one of the Buddhist symbols
and this could be an early form of this symbolism.  The bell in Buddhist art implies respect, veneration, signals, martial enthusiasm.  The sound disperses evil spirits.

Context:  Each of these bells has two tones one found in the middle and the other at the bottom of the bell.  It would have taken several musicians moving around the bells to play them.  Music rituals and the performance of them were important to the wealthy society.

In 1978, 124 musical instruments were unearthed from the fifth-century tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng in what is now Hubei Province in eastern China. Among them was a set of 65 bronze bells, which are considered to be among the finest relics of the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.). The central bell bears an inscription that indicates it was a gift to Marquis Yi from King Hui of Chu and cast in 433 B.C., the year the Marquis was buried. The bells are believed to have been played in court rituals to ensure the posterity of the imperial reign.

In 1977, excavators in Hubei Province found a remarkably rich and undisturbed tomb. Inscriptions on some of the bronzes indicated that it belonged to Yi, marquis of the State of Zeng (Zenghou Yi in Chinese) and dated to about 433 BC in the Warring States Period. The existence of the State of Zeng was unknown until 1977, and it remains somewhat enigmatic. The tomb is 21 meters from west to east and 16.5 meters from north to south, covering about 220 square meters. About 15,404 articles were unearthed, mainly including bronze ritual vessels, musical instruments, weapons, chariots, jade, lacquer wares, and bamboo articles, etc.

Originally sunk to a depth of 13 meters, the tomb was packed with charcoal, and the shaft filled with clay, stone slabs, and earth. The durability of these materials, and the fact that the tomb became waterlogged, left it in a remarkable state of preservation, enabling archaeologists to determine precisely how goods were distributed in the four chambers. These chambers mirrored the arrangement of the marquis' palace during his life.

The eastern chamber, representing his private quarters, contained his own lacquered double coffin, the coffins of eight young women (ages thirteen to twenty-four) who were probably concubines or musicians to entertain Yi in the afterlife, and a dog buried in its own coffin. The chamber also contained weapons, a chariot, and many personal items, including furniture, a zither, silk, and vessels -- though not bronze vessels. The central chamber seems to have corresponded to the ceremonial hall of Yi's palace. Inside, was a large set of bronze bells and other instruments, together with bronze ritual vessels. The northern chamber served as an armory and storeroom, the western chamber, where thirteen more young women were buried, as servants' quarters.

The marquis' tomb illustrates a transition from tomb traditions that replicated the ritual environment of ancestral temples to a new conception of the tomb as a recreation of the deceased's earthly existence.

Zeng Houyi Bells

It is the largest set of bronze bells excavated in the world. It comprises 65 bells in various sizes, with each bell producing two different tones when struck. There are three levels, with the smallest bells suspended on the highest level and the largest ones on the bottom section. The bells cover roughly 5 octaves and the middle 3 octaves produces 12 semitones each. There is an inscription on each bell that records events, musical theories and the sound the particular bell products. From historical records and other materials, it is concluded that there are probably five performers involved in the playing of the bells, with two standing in front of the set playing the larger bells with long poles and three behind playing the smaller bells with smaller sticks.

The bell right in the centre of the lowest level and not suspended at an oblique angle was a gift from king Hui of Chu to Yi, the Marquis of Zeng State, as recorded in the inscription on it. The inscription also states that the bell was cast in the 56th year of the reign of King Hui (433BC), the year of the burial of Marquis Yi. The State of Zeng was a vassal state of Chu and was under the same cultural sphere.

The bells were made with thecire perdue or lost wax process.   The process is referred to as lost wax not because we have lost the process, but because the figure is originally sculpted from wax which is lost in the process.  The original is encased in clay.  Two drainage holes are placed in the clay and when the clay is heated, the wax runs out of the hole leaving a cavity.  Bronze is then poured into the cavity and when the bronze cools the clay mold is broken open revealing the bronze sculpture.  Since the bronze is a fairly soft metal, details can be etched and molded while the bronze is cool.

For large hollow sculptures the process is different.  See this diagram.


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