This eighth-century BCE miniature box on wheels is ingeniously designed with fifteen moving parts: six turning wheels, four hinged openings, a sliding door bolt, and four pivoting birds. The one-legged doorkeeper might have been chosen specifically for his handicap: he could not easily run away with the treasures he was supposed to be guarding. The clever design, movable parts, and miniature size suggest that this was a personal luxury-a toy or a container for valuable memorabilia.
|This bravura epitome of the bronze caster's art was probably made in the state of Chu, which by the seventh-sixth century BCE had emerged as the most powerful ruling house south of the Yangzi River. The standard Zhou motif of serpentine dragons in relief, marshalled in strict symmetry, cloaks the surface of the vessel. Southern taste appears in the elaborate appendages composed of fantastic three-dimensional creatures, half-dragon and half-feline, with many-branched, trumpet-shaped, or openwork horns. Lotus petals rising form the lid echo the openwork and centered among them a realistically modeled crane raises its wings for flight. To make this vessel, bronze casters combined standard section-mold casting for the body with the less frequently used lost-wax method for the appendages. Wax, being soft and pliable, can be made into a model of enormous intricacy. When the model is encased in clay and fired, the wax melts away through vents in the clay, leaving a ceramic mold whose cavity exactly duplicates the model. The appendage made in this lost-wax mold is then fitted into the section-mold in which the body is to be cast.|
|By the end of the first millennium bce a myriad of new bronze types, such as this rectangular basin, were made in increasing numbers to satisfy the growing demand for personal items for both daily use and display. The pattern of interlaced serpents on the interior and exterior of the basin was achieved by making repeated clay negatives from a single master unit to create identical repeated patterns on the basin. This technique, which answered the need for more rapid and efficient manufacturing methods, is believed to have been used by bronze casters working at the foundry at Houma, Shanxi Province, where thousands of these decorated clay molds were recovered. Also found at the Houma foundry were molds for the highly realistic tigers that support the basin. Taotie, awesome zoomorphic masks on the ritual vessels of the earlier Bronze Age, reappear on the basin as mere decorative holders for the vessel's ring handles.|