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China late 14th-13th century B.C. Owl-Shaped Tsun (Ritual Wine Vessel). Metalwork, Bronze, 12 1/2 x 8 1/4 in. (31.75 x 20.96 cm) Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Bequest of Alfred F. Pillsbury, 50.46.116 ©The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Photographe : Photography ©The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Vessels made in animal form constitute virtually the only bronze sculpture known from the Shang period. Besides this well-known version of an owl, rare examples of quadrupeds including buffalo, boar, rhinoceros, elephant and ram have also survived. The "Pillsbury Owl" is the oldest and most naturalistic of the few remaining owl-shaped tsun. Standing near the beginning of the Anyang period (1400-1027 b.c.), it represents a charming, though seldom practiced and short-lived tradition of casting ceremonial vessels in the shapes of animals.

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China Eastern Han dynasty. Celestial Horse, 1st century. Sculpture, Bronze with traces of polychrome, 44 7/8 x 34 1/2 x 14 1/2 in. (113.98 x 87.63 x 36.83 cm) (without mount). Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton, 2002.45 ©The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Photographe : Photography ©The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

This magnificent statue of a young stallion represents one of the fabled "heavenly horses" of the Eastern Han dynasty (A.D. 25-220). Imported along the Silk Road from Ferghana in Central Asia, western horses were greatly admired for their strength, size, and endurance by the Han military and aristocracy. All members of Han elite owned horses for riding and to pull their beautifully appointed carriages. Bronze horses such as this one were placed in elaborately furnished aristocratic tombs and were meant to provide transportation for the deceased in the afterlife.
This horse was constructed of nine separately cast bronze sections. The surface of the bronze has corroded to brilliant green and blue tones. Traces of paint--black, red, and white--are clearly visible in areas around the eyes, mouth, neck, mane, and belly. The original coppery bronze color is also visible in large patches around the girth of the horse.
Most large-scale bronze horses, such as this one, have come from Eastern Han tombs in southwest China, principally Szechwan and Kweichou provinces. This outstanding example of an Eastern Han bronze sculpture is the first horse of its type to enter an American collection.

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China 8th century. Pair of Flying Dragons. Sculpture, Gilt bronze, 6 1/2 x 9 9/16 x 7/8 in. (16.5 x 24.3 x 2.2 cm) Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton, 2000.87.2.1 ©The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Photographe : Photography ©The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.