Set of Six Tang Bronze Wine Cups

SKU H.656

9th Century AD


4.5″ (11.4cm) wide





Gallery Location



The most important feature of this magnificent set of six stemmed wine cups, featuring two larger cups and four smaller ones, is a two character inscription etched into the inner stem of one of the larger cups. This inscription, a testament to the master artisans who crafted these vessels, can be translated as, “Imperial Warehouse.” This message confirms that this set was the treasured possession of the royal family. Furthermore, the text reveals the pride of the artists who produced works specifically for the King and his associates. Although portions of the vessels are covered by magnificent patina, remarkable for its diverse texture and coloring, other sections of the cups remain in pristine condition, revealing the “mirror black” finish of the bronze that looks similar to silver. Discovered buried inside a tomb, this set of wine cups clearly played as important a role in the afterlife as it did in this world. This set reveals as much about the sophisticated social customs of the Tang Dynasty as it does about their spiritual beliefs. Clearly, the joys of life, including the enjoyment of wine, continue on into the next world. This set was not interred with its owner as a memorial to his wealth, but as a functional tool meant for use in the afterlife. In fact, these cups were forged by a master to survive throughout eternity, as they seemingly have. While we gaze upon this set and hold the cups in our hands, raising them up to our lips, we are transported back in time. We repeat the same actions that occurred almost twelve hundred years ago. Yet, the action of drinking would have continued into the afterlife and beyond. Thus we can hold these cups and imagine saying a toast, to the original owner of this set, who continues to treasure this remarkable work of art from the next world as we do in our own.

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