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Decorative Designs in Chinese Art 中国文物的纹饰

Fire Design 火纹
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Bronze Ware Decorative Patterns 青铜器花纹

Different patterns have been found and classified by archaeologists, including fire design 火纹, lightening design 雷纹, animal mask design 兽面纹, bird design 凤鸟纹, animal design 动物纹, and dragon design 龙纹.

animal mask design
Animal Mask Design

Animal mask design 兽面纹, also known as Taotie design 饕餮纹, is the most important design on Shang bronze ware and continued to be used in the Western Zhou. It shows a ferocious mythical animal called a taotie 饕餮 that has a huge head and little or no body. The design was first described in Mr Lu's Annals of the Spring and Autumn Period 吕氏春秋, a historical record compiled in the Warring States Period. Unfortunately, we do not know the meaning of the Taotie today.

dragon design
Dragon Design

The dragon design 龙纹 appeared in the Shang or earlier. The dragon was worshipped as the god of water in ancient China. Rain was thought by some to be caused by dragons flying in the clouds. One of the most popular designs is the kui dragon 夔龙, a dragon with a bowed body, horns, and large eyes, as shown above.

bird designs
Bird Design

The bird design 鸟纹 and phoenix design were popular in the Shang and Zhou dynasties. The phoenix integrates features from different birds and is an auspicious animal. Originally, bird designs were a symbol of male reproductive organs. Originally, bird designs include phoenix design 凤纹, owl design 鸱枭纹, luan design 鸾纹 (based on the luan, a mythical bird), and goose design 雁纹.

fire designs
Fire Design

The outlines of animal designs, like that shown below, were crafted skillfully to become handles for vessels, borders for other designs, or to fit the space available for other functions.

animal designs
Animal Design

According to the Classic of Rites 礼记 the tortoise is one of the four spiritually endowed animals. The other three are the phoenix, unicorn, and dragon. The tortoise symbolizes longevity and endurance. The tortoise shown below is from a bronze ware rubbing.

animal designs
Animal Design

Over time some of the patterns became more abstract and became geometric patterns. The lightening design 雷纹, shown below, is an example of this.

lightening designs
Lightening Design
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