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Reviewed by:
  • Art of the Houma Foundry
  • Alfonz Lengyel (bio)
Institute of Archaeology of Shanxi Province (Shanxi Sheng Kaogu Yanjiusuo). Art of the Houma Foundry (Houma Taofan yishu). [Principal author, and drawings by, Li Xiating; coauthor and photographer Liang Ziming; and English foreword and introduction by Robert W. Bagley]. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996. viii, 523 pp. 1 map; 46 figures; "18 color illustrations, 1,156 halftones, 213 line illustrations." Hardcover $195.00, ISBN 0-691-01137-0.

Although this book was published as a "pictorial survey," it can be regarded as a basic reference for the comparative study of Jin bronzes from the ancient foundry discovered at Houma. In 585 B.C. the present city of Houma (ancient name: Xintian) became the capital of the Jin (585-404 B.C.). Today the region formerly occupied by the Jin includes all of modern Shanxi Province and parts of Henan, Hebei, and Shaanxi. In 403 B.C., after the Jin had fallen, its territories were divided among the states of Han, Zhao, and Wei. The rise and fall of the Jin overlap with the Chunqiu (Spring and Autumn) (770-475 B.C.) and Zhanguo (Warring States) (445-221 B.C.) periods. According to the historical record there were as many as 170 different states up to this time, but by the Warring States period this number had been reduced to seven, including the Jin state. All seven were regarded as semi-barbarian, each with its own distinct culture. 1 [End Page 472]

In 1923, following the accidental discovery of a hoard of ancient bronzes in the town of Liyu, half of the items were sold to various museums in the West, some went to the Shanghai Museum, 2and the rest came into the possession of the local district magistrate. For a long time, Western experts were puzzled by the unusual decorations on these bronzes, which were quite different from the known bronzes of the Shang period.

In 1957, archaeologists working some five hundred kilometers south of Liyu discovered the Houma Foundry and investigated the ancient city of Xintian. 3At present, the Institute of Archaeology of Shanxi Province continues to conduct further excavations at an archaeological field station there. After items that were excavated were analyzed, classified, evaluated, and typologically arranged, this important and long-overdue book was published, with financial aid from the Getty Foundation. The rise and the fall of Jin authority can be discerned from the quality and the design of the artifacts collected at the foundry.

The book has been printed using simplified Chinese characters; some terms have been given in pinyin romanization. The principal author, Li Xiating, is an associate research fellow and the head of the technical department of the Institute of Archaeology of Shanxi Province. He has prepared the excellent drawings that appear in the book. The coauthor and photographer is Liang Ziming, a research fellow and staff photographer at the Institute; the English foreword and introduction are by Robert Bagley, an associate professor in the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University; and the summary of chapter 1 was written by Jay Xu (about whom no other information is given).

From the artifact remains of the molds and models that were found, it was evident that in addition to vessels in the traditional shapes such as "Fu," "Jia," "Ding," and "Fa Hu" and birds and other animals and mythical creatures, some decorated axes were also made. New scenes began to appear such as a dragon devouring small snakes, animals clawing and biting each other, or animals in combat. For the rounding out of large designs, some of the motifs used were pebbles, scales, interlocking spirals, twisted braids, and parallel lines. The clay fragments that were discovered are extremely important for identifying a great many Chinese bronzes from this period that have found their way into museum collections. In addition to sacrificial vessels and images of humans and animals, the Jin foundry workers also cast bronze coins.

Jin bronze designs were more sophisticated than those of the former Shang or early Zhou. The dragon images were miniaturized and interlaced in angular, ribbon-like configurations. It is pointed out that the new type...


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