SPECIAL ADVISORY: In accordance with Yale University’s revised COVID-19 protocols, the Yale University Art Gallery is closed to the public until further notice. Learn More

Asian Art

Owl-Shaped Wine Vessel (Zun)

13th–11th century B.C.


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)
Hobart and Edward Small Moore Memorial Collection, Gift of Mrs. William H. Moore
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.
Shang dynasty (1600–1046 B.C.E.), Anyang phase (ca. 1300–1046 B.
Containers - Metals

Peytel Collection, Paris; sold through C.T. Loo, New York, 1926


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.

Mengjia Chen, A Corpus of Chinese Bronzes in American Collections, 1-2 (Tokyo: Kyu¯ko Shoin, 1977), 127, 964–65, ill.

Mimi Gardner Gates, The Communion of Scholars: Chinese Art at Yale, exh. cat. (New York: China House Gallery, 1982), 26–29, no. 4, ill.

Handbook of the Collections, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1992), 284, ill.

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.

David Ake Sensabaugh, The Scholar as Collector: Chinese Art at Yale, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2004), 12–13, 42, no. 4, fig. 3.

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 such records is ongoing.