Joy of Museums

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Li – Chinese Tripod Jar

Queensland Art Gallery - Joy of Museums - Li - Chinese Tripod Jar

This “Li” is a Chinese Tripod Jar dating more than 4,000 years ago. Tripod vessels appear in China in the early Neolithic period of 7000 BCE. The innovation of hollow legs, creating Li (鬲) tripods appear during the middle Neolithic from 5000 BCE. Historians ascribe significance to the shape of the tripod legs as being suggestive of goats’ or cows’ udders and therefore important for rituals.

At the time this masterpiece was created, ceramic technology enabled vessels such as this to be placed directly in a fire without cracking. The scorching and soot found on excavated examples of Li tripods is evidence that they were placed directly into the fire where their contents could be cooked more effectively than earlier vessels. This shape was popular for many centuries before being replicated in bronze. During the Bronze age the shape was merged with that of Ding (鼎) tripods to create a hybrid ritual object.

Ding (vessel), China, Shang dynasty, c. 1500-1050 BCE, HAA

Ding (鼎) tripod vessel, from c. 1500-1050 BCE

Eventually, the classic udder shape of the Li disappeared, as metallurgy and cooking techniques progressed.

Among the many masterpieces and historical objects in the Queensland Art Gallery, the following are some highlights:

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                 Li – Chinese Tripod Jar
  • Dates:               2,300 – 2,000 BCE
  • Culture:            Shanxi Longshan
  • Origins:            China
  • Material:          Earthenware
  • Museum:         Queensland Art Gallery

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“Art is like a shipwreck; it’s every man for himself.” Marcel Duchamp

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Photo Credit: By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2)