Heights: 7 1/2 inches, 19 cm, 7 3/4 inches, 19.5 cm, 8 1/4 inches, 21 cm
Widths: 4 1/4 inches, 11 cm, 4 1/2 inches, 11.5 cm, 5 1/4 inches, 13.5 cm


Set of three bronze bells of niu zhong type

China, Eastern Zhou dynasty, late Spring and Autumn period or early Warring States period, 6th – 5th century BC

A set of three bronze bells of niu zhong type. Each bell is of elliptical cross-section, widening gradually from a flat top (wu) to a crescent-shape mouth (yu), and has a flat, plain, inverted U-shapedloop to the top for suspension. The exterior has three horizontally arranged registers of raised bosses (mei), each cast with a whorl pattern and numbering six to each register, with the exception of the largest bell, where the top row contains only five bosses. The central panel dividing the rows of bosses is decorated in low relief with a rampant mythical creature, which has a scaly body, horns and a long tail.  Between the bosses are small horizontal panels (zhuan dai), filled with crosshatched lines. This design provides the all-over background and is repeated on the flat top of the bells. The striking area (gu) of the bell is decorated with an intricate taotie mask, flanked by two further mythical creatures. All three bells retain their original bronze suspension pegs, each with a domed finial, which is cast with a coiled animal design.  Both bells and pegs are covered in an emerald-green patina, the bells with some areas of azurite and ruby encrustation.

A comparable bell is in the collection of the Nara National Museum and illustrated in the catalogue.[1]

Ben Janssens Oriental Art, June 2004
Private Collection, UK

  1. Various authors: Catalogue of the Collections of the Nara National Museum, Chinese Ancient Ritual Bronzes, Nara National Museum, 2005, no 280, p. 111