Demonstrating The Ringling’s continuing commitment to the study of Asian art, Eternal Offerings showcases nearly 100 Chinese bronze objects from the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Its collection of this material is generally considered to be one of the most important in the United States, and The Ringling is the exclusive venue for this fascinating exhibition.
The works span millennia, revealing the evolution of the use of bronzes in Chinese society. The exhibition highlights how these objects were employed to conduct religious rituals, record significant events, and represent elite status from the Shang through Han dynasties (1600 BCE to 220 CE).
Like many ancient societies, China’s social cohesion was formed around ritualization. Most of the objects for these early rituals were made of bronze, and due to their important social function we can extrapolate that the forms and ornamentation depicted on them relate to some of the primary concerns of their societies. Several of the works in the exhibition point to the various types of rituals— including ancestral, funereal, and musical—found in early Chinese dynasties. Music was an integral element in communicating with spirits, and visitors to the exhibition will be able to see several sets of bells that were important adjuncts in these ceremonies.
Eternal Offerings also demonstrates the significant role of inscriptions on bronzes, especially in the later Western Zhou dynasty (1046 – 771 BCE). The notations often identify the person who made the piece, the event the vessel was designed for, and the ritual it was used in. As the system of rites concerning ceremonies, military campaigns, feasts, and meetings evolved, so too did the inscriptions found on these objects.
Organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Generous support for the exhibition and related catalogue provided by the Blakemore Foundation, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor, the Bei Shan Tang Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, and Christie's.
Image: Celestial horse, Han dynasty, 1st-2nd century CE, Bronze, 44 7/8 x 34 1/2 x 14 1/2 in. (113.98 x 87.63 x 36.83 cm). Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton, 2002.45. Photo: Minneapolis Institute of Art