Owl-Shaped Wine Vessel (Zun) Artist: Unknown

13th–11th century B.C.

Asian Art

This zun, or wine vessel, is cast in the shape of an owl whose head forms a removable lid. A scaled snake with a tiger's head forms the pinion of each wing. The snake's body outlines the curve of the wings, which terminate in a clawed and plumed bird. On the breast is another composite creature made up of a cicada's body with a bovine head capped with horns in the shape of two small dragons. The owl as both a night bird and a bird of prey was a symbol of death and ill omen in later Chinese folk tradition. Although unlucky to the living because it foretells death, the owl may have been considered suitable as a motif for vessels intended to feast the dead. Combining it with the cicada, a natural symbol of death and transformation, may have increased it potency.




8 1/8 × 3 7/8 in. (20.7 × 9.8 cm)
8 1/8 × 3 3/4 × 3 7/8 in. (20.64 × 9.53 × 9.84 cm)

Credit Line

Hobart and Edward Small Moore Memorial Collection, Gift of Mrs. William H. Moore

Accession Number



Shang dynasty (1600–1046 B.C.E.), Anyang phase (ca. 1300–1046 B.C.E.)


Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of records is ongoing.



Joanny Benoît Peytel (1844–1924), Paris [see note 1]; acquired by C. T. Loo (Ching Tsai Loo, dealer, 1880–1957), Paris and New York, possibly 1926; sold to Mrs. William H. Moore (Ada Small Moore, 1858–1955), New York, by 1954; given to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 1954

Note 1: Joanny Benoît Peytel was a famous collector in Paris. He was Director of the Compagnie de l'Ouest Algérien, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Crédit Algérien and Director of Crédit Foncier. Peytel gave several masterpieces by artists such as Watteau, Millet, and Sisley, as well as Asian art, to the Musée du Louvre, Paris, in 1914.
  • Susan B. Matheson, Art for Yale: A History of the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2001), 80, 82, fig. 72
  • Handbook of the Collections, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1992), 284, ill
  • Mengjia Chen, A Corpus of Chinese Bronzes in American Collections, 1-2 (Tokyo: Kyu¯ko Shoin, 1977), 127, 964–65, ill
  • George J. Lee, Selected Far Eastern Art in the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1970), 11–13, no. 15, ill
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