After struggling through red tape for a full week (please, please let my students leave the state with me and see amazing works of art), finally, the trips have been secured! Major coup. For the next two days I will be showing my students the MFA's collection of art from Ancient China as part of our discussion on early religious practices, and later Daoism and Confucianism during the Han Dynasty.
Two of my favorite things are these Bronze Age ritual vessels used to hold wine. The vessels were filled and placed in tombs as offerings for the deceased ancestors. Reverence for the dead was and still is very important (make them happy and you will find good fortune or at least escape the wrath of unhappy spirits).
The first vessel was made during the Shang Dynasty in the 11th century BCE. The second is from the Zhou Dynasty. The Zhou Dynasty replaced the earlier Shang Dynasty by force, but absorbed many of their artistic conventions. Both feature taotie, the supernatural zoomorphic decorative reliefs of man-eating monsters with a head but no body. These were depicted on ritual bronzes to guard tombs from evil spirits.
It was during the (Eastern) Zhou Dynasty that many great philosophers arose, such as 6th century BCE contemporaries Laozi and Confucius. Their philosophies would not be practiced or expressed in art until much later.