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Nao Bell, c. 10th century B.C.


This impressive, heavily cast nao bell is ornamented on each side with eighteen conical studs arranged in three rows, separated by bands of scrolling thunder pattern (leiwen) decoration, and surrounded by borders of fine thread-relief. The flat underside is embellished with deeply cast scrolling volutes. The tubular shank bears a raised collar decorated with two highly stylized animal masks (taotie), constituted by large, rounded “eyes” amid a scroll pattern.

During their brief period of manufacture in the second and first millennium B.C., ritual chime bells bore a political and intellectual significance hardly suggested by their function as musical instruments, and embodied some of the highest technical skills of Chinese civilization. The nao bell is the earliest form of chime bell from any culture in the ancient world. It has no clapper and would produce sound by being mounted on a wooden stand with its mouth pointing upwards, and then being struck on the outside with a T-shaped wooden mallet. Each bell had two points of contact that would produce different tones.

This nao bell is an exceptionally fine example of the southern type. While northern nao bells were produced in sets of three and formed part of a ritual orchestra, nao bells of the southern type are all single specimens and never form part of a chimed set. The southern nao may have functioned more like Buddhist temple bells or later European church bells.

Adult: Nao Bell

Audio file
Kimbell Art Museum, Acoustiguide Inc.



(J. J. Lally & Co., New York);

purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1995.