Bronze Drum, Heger IV Type, Southern China, Laos, or Vietnam, 16th Century


Although bronze drums, commonly called rain drums or frog drums, have been produced in SE Asia for at least 2700 years, they are fiercely disputed as to their cultural origin. Most Vietnamese scholars believe they were first produced during the Dong Son culture along the Red River in Northern Vietnam (700 BC – 300 AD), while Chinese scholars argue they were first produced in Southern China in what is now Yunnan Province. Whichever is correct, none dispute they represent the highest archaeological findings in SE Asian metalwork.

As their use spread throughout other areas of SE Asia, stylistic changes developed which were categorized in 1902 by Austrian archaeologist Franz Heger, who identified 4 major groups which are now referred to as Heger I, Heger II, Heger III, and Heger IV.

Cast in three pieces, this Heger IV type bronze drum, from the Doris Duke Collection, is probably from Southern China and is very similar to a drum dated to the late 16th century, however the actual age is very difficult to determine.

The tympanum is decorated in the center with a 12-ray sun motif, separated with peacock symbols and surrounded by bands of waves and birds. Four writhing dragons and a pair of Chinese “Shou” (longevity) characters along with calligraphy declaring “10,000 generations with treasures, everlasting family wealth” highlight the next band. Numerous bands representing crops and wind complete the imagery of the top.  The  four dragons in the next band resemble the style and  head of a dragon at the base of the stone Buddha in the Ma So temple in Hai Duong which is dated to 1573.  The same stylistic convention is visible on a stone plate in Yen Dong temple in Quang Ninh, dated to 1590, which strongly suggest this drum was made in the late 16th century

On the sides, two sets of lug handles rest on the widest part of the shoulder and numerous bands of stylized symbols circle the body of the drum, which shows two seams where the body has been joined. There is a small repair on the edge of the tympanum, which, according to some studies, indicates a small piece of the drum was broken off to either be buried with an important leader or used within the casting of another drum, but is otherwise in excellent condition and is mounted on a wooden base.

19 x 10.5 inches, excluding the base

 48.26 x 26.67 cm


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