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Lothar von Falkenhausen. Neolithic Reminiscences in Shang Art

In this short tribute to my greatly admired colleague Jessica Rawson, I would like to follow up on her insights into archaism in Bronze Age China by proposing a new interpretation of two ritual vessels that have long mystified scholars: a pitcher formerly in the Qing imperial collection and the famous rhinoceros-shaped vessel in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. I shall argue that both are instances of archaism in Shang period (c. 1600-1046 BCE) art. Compared to the material treated in Jessica Rawson’s contribution to Wu Hung, ed., Reinventing the Past: Archaism and Antiquarianism in Chinese Art and Visual Culture, these two objects are somewhat extreme cases in that their makers did not merely adopt archaic-looking design features in a piecemeal fashion, but apparently attempted to capture the shape and appearance of actual Neolithic objects in their entirety. These prototypes had come down to the Shang from two very different periods and places. 

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