Price Realized $1,426,500
The trumpet-shaped neck of the vessel is cast in relief with four dragon-filled blades above a band of birds with backward-turned heads. The mid-section is cast with two large taotie masks above four smaller taotie masks on the spreading lower section. All are divided by plain flanges and separated by bow-string borders. There is a bold inscription cast in the base of the interior. The bronze has a dark silvery-grey patina mottled with areas of blue-green encrustation as well as some azurite and ferrous encrustation.
The inscription cast on the base of the interior consists of a graph within a yaxing followed by seven characters possibly reading lu zuo Fu Xin yi zun (made this vessel for Father Xin.)
The inscription on the wood box is by Hozuma Katori (1874-1954), a prominant Japanese bronze artist of the early 20th century. The inscription is dated to 1943, and provides a complete description of the vessel, and a translation of the inscription.
In terms of shape and design, this imposing vessel is very similar to one of early Western Zhou date from Zhuangbai village, Fufeng, Shaanxi province, illustrated in Zhongguo Qingtongqi Quanji – 5 – Xi Zhou (1), Beijing, 1997. Like the present zun, the Zhuangbai zun features a similar arrangement of bands of taotie masks and birds reserved on a plain ground. The flanges on the Zhuangbai zun, however, are hooked, rather than plain, such those on the present vessel. A late Shang zun of similar proportions and with similar bands of decoration, but reserved on a ground of leiwen, is in the Shanghai Museum and illustrated in Zhongguo Qingtongqi Quanji – 4 – Shang (4), Beijing, 1998, pp. 120-1, nos. 122-4. Also illustrated, p. 124, no. 127, is another zun of Shang date in the Shanghai Museum, which is cast with bands of taotie masks reserved on a plain ground around the midsection and base, but lacks decoration around neck and flanges that accentuate the form of the present zun and the Zhuangbai example.
Price Realized $842,500
The heavily cast vessel is raised on a tall, flared foot encircled by a band of scroll pattern and flat-cast around the compressed globular body with large taotie masks formed by the bodies of confronted and addorsed birds with pronounced eyes, which are divided and separated by raised flanges and reserved on a leiwen ground. The taotie are positioned below bovine heads cast in high relief on the shoulder between pairs of kui dragons and above a ‘toothed’ band, possibly representing a mouth. The broad neck is encircled by a double bow-string band below the thick, widely flared mouth. The base of the interior is cast with a turtle centered by a coiled dragon and encircled by two simplified dragons biting each other’s tail. The patina is reddish-brown and with areas of green encrustation.
This magnificent bronze vessel was once in the collection of Count Inoue Kaoru (1836-1915), born Inoue Yakichi in Hagi (Choshu). Inoue was one of the most important and influential Japanese statesman during the Meiji period (1868-1912). In his early years he promoted the defense of Japan from foreign influx, but as time progressed he became a strong proponent of the ‘westernization’ of Japan, including the reorganization of government finance policies and practices. He was also one of the ‘Choshu Five’ who traveled to London in 1863 to study western ideas and bring them back to Japan for implementation. In 1883, he was a primary supporter of the construction of the Rokumeikan, the famous yet controversial building which became a symbol of the west in Japan.
In the 1860s, Inoue played a vital role in the formation of the Sacho Alliance, a group organized with the goal of overthrowing the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Inoue became actively involved in both business and politics, and rose quickly through the ranks, holding such illustrious posts as Senior Vice Minister of Finance, Minister of Infrastructure, and most notably Minister of Foreign Affairs, to which he was appointed to in 1885, shortly after having been given the title of Count one year earlier. Although he retired from politics in 1898, Inoue continued to remain a powerful figurehead amongst Japan’s elite until his death in 1915 in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Count Inoue amassed one of the largest collections of artworks during the Meiji period, and had a pronounced passion for tea ceremeny objects and ancient Chinese bronzes, such as the present magnificent zun. R.W. Bagley, in Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, 1987, p. 265, discusses the development of the zun vessel shape and cites that it displaced the older lei shape, and was one of the more popular vessel types during the first half of the Anyang period. The various examples vary not only in the proportions of their three sections (body, neck and foot), but also in the decoration.
One of the most remarkable characteristics of this exceptional zun is its unusually broad proportions, which endow the vessel with an impressive sense of weight and monumentality. This is further enhanced by the unusually thick casting of the flared rim. A zun of somewhat similar broad proportions, but with more angled shoulders, in the Shanghai Museum, is illustrated by Chen Peifen, “Animal Mask Designs on Shang and Zhou Bronzes,” Chinese Bronzes, Selected Articles from Orientations 1983-2000, Hong Kong, 2001, p. 145, fig. 3, where it is stated that the vessel dates to early in the period, when the Shang capital moved to Yinxu, Anyang. Another late Shang zun, of similarly broad proportions and with a thick mouth rim, but raised on a taller splayed foot, is illustrated in Zhongguo qingtongqi quanji – 13 – Ba Shu, Beijing, 1994, p. 80, no. 89.
Another notable feature of the present zun is the image of a turtle centered by a coiled dragon and encircled by two dragons biting each other’s tail which is cast on the base of the interior. Though exceptionally rare, similar images of turtles appear on the interior of vessels of various shapes from the late Shang through the early Eastern Zhou period. See, for example, two pou of late Shang date, cast with similar turtles on the interior, illustrated by R.W. Bagley, Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, op. cit., p. 323, fig. 53.2 (in the Musée Guimet, Paris, which is thought to be from Wuguancun) and p. 336, fig. 57.2 (in the British Museum). Similar turtles may also be seen on the interiors of broad gui vessels, such as the Shang example from Dayangzhou, Xingang County, Jiangxi province (see, Shang dai Jiangnan (Treasures of Shang Dynasty), Beijing, pp. 62-7), and an early Spring and Autumn gui from Shangcaolou, Changxing, Zhejiang province (see Zhongguo qingtongqi quanji – 11 – Dong Zhou (5), Beijing, 1997, pp. 10-1, figs. 10-1). Unlike the turtle cast in the present zun, which is centered by a coiled dragon biting its tail, the turtles on the other aforementioned vessels are not encircled by dragons and are centered by whorl medallions.
Price Realized $506,500
The pear-shaped vase is raised on a spreading foot and molded with two double bow-string bands below a pair of molded mask-form handles suspending fixed rings applied to the shoulder that flank the tall neck. The vase covered overall with an opaque pale grey glaze suffused with an irregular pattern of dark grey (‘iron wire’) crackle.
The grey glaze suffused with dark grey crackle was inspired by the glazes found on Ge wares of Southern Song and Yuan date; one of the Song dynasty glazes greatly admired by the emperors of the high Qing. During the Yongzheng reign, much research and development was undertaken in order to reproduce the glazes of these wares on porcelains made at the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen. While many of these porcelains also imitate Song shapes, the form of the present hu was probably inspired by an ancient bronze vessel.
Price Realized $482,500
Of cylindrical form and raised on five shallow bracket supports, the sides of the brush pot are finely and deeply carved with the subject, ‘six scholars of Zhuxi’ (Zhuxi liuyi), which shows scenes of scholars and attendants at various pursuits in a setting of terraces and a pavilion nestled amidst bamboo, trees and rocks. One scholar seated at a table set with painting accesories is being poured a cup of wine by an attendant while a fellow scholar standing beside the table raises his arms exuberantly. The stone is of mottled dark green color.
The scene on this brush pot depicts the ‘six scholars of Zhuxi (Zhuxi liuyi), a group of six literati who lived in seclusion in Zhuxi at the foothill of Culai mountain (in present-day Shandong province) during the late Kaiyuan era (?-784). Zhuxi literally means the ‘stream of bamboo.’ The group of literati consisted of Kong Chaofu, Han Zhun, Pei Zheng, Zhang Shuming and Li Bai (701-762), who was perhaps the most celebrated of the six. Together they lived in seclusion in Zhuxi, where they engaged in scholarly activities enhanced by their constant companion, wine. On the brush pot three of the scholars hold wine cups, while two servants stand by with wine ewers waiting to refill the cups, and another scholar, standing beside the table, is declaiming in a flamboyant fashion, indicating that he too may have imbibed too much wine.
Li Bai fondly recalled this sojourn in one of his poems Song Han Zhun, Pei Zheng, Kong Chaofu huanshan (Sending Han Zhun, Pei Zheng and Kong Chaofu off to the mountains): ‘last night I dreamt [about the time in Zhuxi], where the cloud trifles with the moon in the stream.’
Li Bai was so famous for his wine consumption that his great friend, the poet Du Fu (712-770), included him in his poem Yinzhong baxian (Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup) – perhaps the most famous literary work linking alcohol consumption to poetic brilliance. Like many Tang dynasty men of letters, Du Fu also derived considerable enjoyment, and apparent inspiration, from drinking wine. In his poem he chose to celebrate the drinking habits of other literary men of his time, while also noting their failings. The eight include Li Bai; He Zhizhang (659-744); Li Jin, nephew of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712-756) and prince of Ruyang; Li Shizhi (d. 747), who was also Duke of Qinghe; Cui Songzhi; Su Jin; Zhang Xu (active 710-750); and Jiao Sui. In Du Fu’s poem, the stanza on Li Bai may be translated as:
‘The taverns in Chang’an are closed and the people asleep,
Li Bai drinks a dou of wine and writes one hundred poems,
The Emperor summons him to come,
He refuses to board the boat and calls himself the Drunken Immortal.’
Price Realized $458,500
The vessel is in the form of two tall cylinders carved in low relief around the sides with bands of archaistic motifs and joined by the body of a phoenix with spread wings standing on the head of a recumbent, winged mythical beast. The hindquarters of the beast, and tail of the phoenix emerge between the cylinders on the reverse below two conjoined elongated C-scrolls that may form a handle. The vessel is fitted with a double cover surmounted by a coiled, crouching dragon.
This type of vase is often referred to as a ‘champion vase’, an appellation translated from the Chinese, ying (eagle) and xiong (bear), describing the two beasts represented, but also forming the pun on the word for ‘champion’ or ‘hero’. Alternately, the vessel is also known as a ‘nuptial cup’, he jing bei, as it is believed, that during the Ming dynasty, it was used as a ritual wine vessel during the wedding ceremony. The double cylinders were filled with wine to be drunk by the bride and groom as part of the marriage ceremony.
Several vessels of this type, dated to the Qialong period, have been published; one of white jade, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is illustrated by J. Rawson, Chinese Jade throughout the ages, London, 1975, no. 442; another very similar to that example in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in Zhongguo Yuqi Quanji – 6 – Qing, Hebei, 1991, pl. 244. A spinach-green jade example bearing a da Qing Qianlong fanggu mark, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum – 42 – Jadeware (III), Hong Kong 1995, pp. 184-5, pl. 151. See, also, the white jade example sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 1 June 2011, lot 3621.