Bronze vessels were first cast in China during the Shang dynasty (about 1500-1050 BC). Their purpose was ceremonial, rather than secular. Sets of vessels would be buried with their owners, for offering food and wine to the ancestors.
There was a large range of vessel shapes. This food vessel, with two handles and three round legs, is known as a ding. A short inscription names the maker or owner. There are two main registers of decoration. The main part is covered with squares, each studded in the centre. The top register shows a taotie, or monster-like mask. The taotie design evolved from this ribbon-like form to more elaborate styles over the centuries. Its full significance is still unknown.
This ding illustrates the mould sections required for casting a bronze vessel. The mould consists of three principal outer sections and a piece for the base, a core for the inside, three cores for the legs, a section between them, and a lid and base to contain the hot metal when poured.