OF THE FAR EAST
For the purposes of this exhibition it became obvious that the Far Eastern bronzes must be included in a single group, no matter what their periods or uses had been. Thus, such ritual containers as the jars in owl form (Nos. 15 and 17), and the chimera half decorative and half suggesting an obscure nature worship (No. 26), and the libation cup shaped like a water buffalo (No. 19) stand beside Buddhist deities that were made a dozen centuries later to satisfy a totally different religious instinct. The only things they have in common are perhaps the mere facts that they were all cast in bronze and that they served Oriental cultures now dead or dying. But even to state this obvious fact is to clear the air and to help the Westerner regard them each in its proper light.
Admiration for works of art today is a haphazard, chancy affair. We seem to be appalled at the idea of being asked to define or defend our vague prejudices and sentiments. It has even come about that we dare not ask each other for a reasonable accounting for our slipshod loves or aversions. It is the fashion to say that definition would spoil the bright color of appreciation and tarnish the emotion of enjoyment. But sound bronze craftsmanship is not so easily dismissed. Intellect and sweat went into the making of these things, and honest thinking about them increases our pleasure enormously.
News from the excavators now at work in China has shaken our old theories concerning the manner in which the earliest bronzes were made. They tend to show that they were by no means all cast by the "lost wax" process in the cavity of a clay mould from which the original wax model had been melted. One now looks at the early pieces with an eye to discover if terra-cotta moulds were not employed and segments ingeniously joined to form the complete object. But whatever may be discovered concerning an individual specimen all are manifestly the work of modellers in a soft material which has been precisely reproduced in hard bronze. It is as different as possible from the work of the direct carver in a hard substance who cuts away and chips off from the block. All these bronze edges and surfaces bear the imprint of spatula and of thumb. Hard though the resulting bronze is, the original conception still is obvious--it was that of the modeller in a soft substance building up to an invisible surface by adding wax or clay or by pushing it easily about. Details on the surface were scribed deep in the soft original to be precisely reproduced in the enduring bronze. Little was done to the metal after it became cold except to remove chance flaws or bestow a final burnishing.
These pre-Buddhist examples in the exhibition were used for the dim and unremembered rites connected with agriculture or the recurring seasons, or with honor to the dead. The very cases where these bronzes stand arrayed would glow with