Cast and Chased: The Influence of Ancient Chinese Bronze on Modern Silver forms part of the University Museum’s UMAG_STArts series on science and technology in the arts, which presents the materials and techniques used to create artwork throughout Chinese cultural history. By juxtaposing early Chinese bronzes from the UMAG collection with silverware made by Wai Kee Jewellers Ltd. (est. 1885) for twentieth-century Hong Kong connoisseur Kwan Sai Tak, this exhibition considers the enduring characteristics of fine Chinese metalwork.
Chinese bronzes of the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE) and the Zhou dynasty (c. 1046– 256 BCE) are among the most celebrated domestic and ritual objects in Asian material culture. The quality of the metal alloys and the technical expertise required for casting and chasing are testament to the highly developed manufacturing techniques. Made from tin-copper alloys with varying concentrations of lead, these objects were created in smelting sites located along the Yellow River in Central China. Many of the utilitarian vessels were decorated with cloud designs, taotie, animal masks and other auspicious symbols.
Celebrated today for their enduring beauty, early Chinese bronzes also include practical objects, such as cooking and storage vessels, which offer insight into both the cultures from which they developed, as well as more contemporary objects. Their ornate splendour and utilitarian features have noticeably influenced the fanciful modern sterling silver pieces, while the craftsmanship emphasises the long-practiced technique of casting and chasing. This level of refined detail exemplifies the quality of Chinese metalworking throughout the millennia.