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The Sze Yuan Tang Archaic Bronzes
From the Anthony Hardy Collection

Christie's

September 16, 2010

Sale 2508


Anthony Hardy

Anthony Hardy

By Carter B. Horsley

For collectors of antiquties, archaic chinese bronzes hold a great fascination and awe.  They are quite old and while not huge they are weighty and come in a variety of unusual shapes with very intricate ornamentation and in many instances fantastic patina.  They are irrefutable evidence of a very high civilization, one whose aesthetic is arguably higher than our own.  They are not so much mystic and exotic objects and they certainly are not quaint.  They are potent containers whose symbolism  outlives their humble contents of wine, or food, or, for devotes of Raiders of the Last Arc to mix metaphors, humble but impressive gems.

The Metropolitan Museum has a few as does the Smithsonian in  Washington but the major collections are generally across big oceans.  This auction is a spectacular opportunity to view many early chinese bronzes of the highest quality and is the art event of the year.

The works were assembled by Anthony Hardy, a shipping executive based in Hong Kong, who has decided now to concentrate on maritime collections, according to an executive at Christie's.  It is also a shame to see a great collection broken up rather than bequeathed to a major public museum but on the other hand it offers rare collecting opportunities.


The catalogue contains a lengthy interview with Mr. Hardy by Theow H. Tow, the deputy chairman of Christie's Asia Department.

"Initially I thought it would be interesting - from the perspective of learning about the different periods of bronze technology and skills, and the underlying historial events which partly influenced them - to collect one or two pieces from each discernable period of chines ebronze production, at least from the Shang-Yin (c. 1300-1100 B.C.) to the end of Tang (618-907 A.D.)  That approach was in due course blown to the windw when I realized the early bronze craftsmen had a long pre-Anyang period of xeperimentation with their newly discovered alloy, a period including the Erlitou and Erligang (from c. 1600 BC) and which built up  to the Anyang (1300-1027 B.C.) period of very high quality bronze casting, followed by the Western Zhou (c. 1100-771 B.C.) production of rich design but lesser casting skills and finally the more mundane works of the Eastern Zhou (770-256 B.C.) and later.


Rare fangyi

Lot 822, Important and rare bronze wine vessel and cover, fangi, Late Shang Dynasty, Anyang, 12th-11th Century B.C., 11 1/4 inches high


The highlight of the auction is Lot 822, an important and rare wine vessel and cover, fangyi, from the Late Shang Dynasty, Anyang, 12th-11th Century B.C.  The bronze has a gorgeous deep dark green patina and is 11 1/4 inches high.  It has an "estimate on request."  It was formerly in the Burchard Collection in London and the Ernst Gross-Spuhler Collection and was acquired in 1985 from Eskenazi Ltd. in London.  It sold for $3,330,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

Very rare bronze you

Lot 859, Very rare bronze ritual wine vessel and cover, you, Middle Western Zhou Dynasty, 10th Century B.C., 11 1/2 inches high

Lot 859 is a "very rare" bronze ritual wine vessle known as you from the Middle Western Zhou Dynasty, 10th Century B.C.  It is 11 1/2 inches high.  It has an estimate on request.  It was acquired in Hong Kong in 1985.

The catalogue entry notes that "the elaborate birds which so elegantly fill and follow the elliptical shape of this vessel reflect a decorative schgeme introduced into central China during the Western Zhou period.  By the middle of the Western Zhou period, large bird motifswith arching crests andtailshad become animportant design element onrounded vessels, such as you, the ribbon-like plumage following an enchancing theshape ofthe vessels."  It sold for $1,986,500.

Very rare and important gui

Lot 878, Very rare and important bronze ritual food vessel, gui, Early/Middle Western Zhou Dynasty, 10th Century B.C., 13 inches high

Like Lot 859, Lot 878, a "very rare and important" bronze ritual food vessel, gui, is distinguished by its very distinct and bold and high carving.  It is 13 inches high and is dated to the Early/Middle Western Zhou Dynasty, 10th Century B.C.  It has an estimate on request and was acquired in Hong Kong in1988.  The inscription relates that the vessel was commissioned by Kai Hou to serve as a sacrificial vessel honoring Kai Zhong following a war.  It sold for $2,994,500.

Very rare tripod food vessel, li

Lot 852, "Very rare" bronze ritual tripod food vessel, li, Shang Dynasty, 12th Century, B.C., 8 1/4 inches high

Lot 852 is a rather bulblous tripod food vessel, known as a li, that is dated to the Shang Dynasty, 12th Century B.C.  The catalogue describes it as "very rare" and it has an "estimate on request."  It is 8 1/4 inches high and formerly in the collections of C. T. Loo & Co., the British Rail Pension Fund Collection, and Eskenazi Ltd., in London.  The catalogue notes that "the combination of shape and decorative features of this rare vessel appear to be unique amongst published examples of li," adding that "The diagonally positioned eyes, with the hook-shaped canthus and exaggerated extended outer orner, and the horns cast in relief are particularly distinctive."  It sold for $2,154,500.

Rare finely cast wine vessel, zun

Lot 813, "rare finely cast" large bronze ritual wine vessel, zun, Shang Dynasty, Early Anyang, 13th-12th Century B.C., 11 3/4 inches high

Lot 813 is an impressive "rare finely cast" large bronze ritual wine vessel, zun, that is dated to the Shang Dynasty, Early Anyang, 13th-12th Century, B.C.  It is 11 3/4 inches high and has an estimate of $400,000 to $700,000.  It was once in the Kyuzaburo Wada Collection in Kobe, Japan and was acquired in1984 from Kochukyo Co., Ltd., ofTokyo.  Thepiece has rams' heads carvedin high relief on the shoulder between  pairs of kui dragons.  It sold for $1,082,500.

Rare ritual pouring vessel, gong

Lot 830, "Rare" bronze ritual pouring vessel, gong, Shang Dynasty, Anyang, 12th Century B.C., 7 1/4 inches high

Lot 830 is a "rare" bronze  ritual pouring vessel, gong, from the Shang Dynasty, Anyang, 12th Century B.C.  It is 7 1/4 inches high and has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000.  It was acquired from Eskenazi Ltd., in London in 1999.  The catalogue entry notes that it is "finely flat-cast on each side with a large taotic mask centered on a notched flange and flanked by small...dragons, with further kui dragon of various types on each side of the neck and an inverted taotic on the underside of the  spout, all resered on fine leiwen grounds and dividied by further flanges, as is the scroll decoration on  the oval floor centered on each side by a small arched opening, the handle case with detached scrolls below an animal mask case in relief."  This is a very impressive piece because of the tripartite vertical division, the  side flanges and the lovely handle. It sold for $266,500.

Ritual tripod food vessel, liding

Lot 835, bronze ritual tripod food vessel, liding, Late Shang Dynasty, Anyang, 11th Century B.C, 8 inches high

The main body of this bronze ritual tripod food vessel, liding, is in very good condition with fine and pronounced raised carving.  The liding is Late Shang Dynasty, Anyang, 11th Century B.C.  It is 8 inches high and has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.  It sold for $314,500.

Very rare pouring vessel, yi

Lot 908, "Very Rare" bronze ritual pouring vessel, Spring and Autumn Period, 7th Century B.C., 14 3/8 inches long

Lot 908 is a "very rare" bronze ritual pouring vessel, yi, from the Spring and Autumn Period, 7th Century B.C.  It is 14 3/8 inches long and has a very modest estimate of $70,000 to $90,000.  It was acquired in Hong Kong in 1993.  This is a superb piece because of its intricate ornamentation and the bold sweeping curved lines that bifurcate its body.  The catalogue notes that it is "raised on four intricate openwork legs surmounted by coiled birds, the sides horizonatly grooved between upper and lower band of angular interlaced dragons, the handle cast with elongated scroll designs between dragon head terminals at either end, that at the time supplied with two long-tailed feline beasts and a pair of angular openwork horns."  It sold for $182,500.

Bronze ritual food vessel and cover, fu

Lot 871, bronze ritual food vessel and cover, Spring and Autumn Period, 6th Century B.C., 13 3/4 inches long

Lot 871 is a finely detailed bronze ritual food vessel and cover from the Spring and Autumn Period, 6th Century B.C.  It is 13 3/4 inches long and has a modest estimate of $30,000 to $50,000.  It was acquired in Hong Kong in 1997.  The  piece has dragon head handles but its distinctive massing and sharp angularity are more interesting. It sold for $86,500.

Rare bronze ritual food vessel, yu, left, and fanglei, right

Lot 826, rare bronze ritual food vessel, yu, Shang Dynasty, Anyang, 13th-12th Century B.C., 9 inches high, left; Lot 838, rare bronze ritual wine jar and cover, fanglei, Late Shang Dynasty, Anyang, 12th Century B.C., 19 3/8 inches high, right


Lot 826 is a very handsome and rare bronze ritual food vessel, yu, from the Shang Dynasty, Anyang, 13th-12th Century B.C.  It is 9 inches long and has a modest estimate of $180,000 to $250,000.  It sold for $398,500.  The work is "finely cast with a wide band of diamond and boss pattern elow a border comprised of three animal masks separating panels of eyes centering elongate  abstract dragon scroll, the masks positioned to be taotic masks on the foot."

Lot 838 is a rare bronze ritual wine jar and cover, fanglei, Late Shang Dynasty, Anyang, 12th Century B.C.  It is 19 3/8 inches high and has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.  It was once in the Earl and Irene Morse Collection in New York and was acquired in1986 from Eskenazi Ltd. in London.  It was exhibited at the Metropolitian Museum of Art in 1982.  It passed.

Rare bronze zoomorphic circular fitting

Lot 867, Rare bronze zoomorphic circular fitting, Han Dynasty, Dian Culture, circa 2nd Century B.C., 4 3/4 inches in diameter

One of the most spectacular works in the auction is Lot 867, a Han Dynasty, Dian Culture rare bronze zoomorphic circular fitting.  Dated circa 2nd Century B.C., it is 4 3/4 inches in diameter.  It has a very modest estimate of $15,000 to $25,000.  It was acquired in Hong Kong in 1995.  The piece is distinguished by its quite large, owl-like nose.  It sold for $13,750.

Bronze bell, zhong

Lot 828, bronze bell, zhong, Late Western Zhou Dynasty, 8th-7th Century B.C. 8 5/8 inches high

Lot 828 is a lovely small bronze bell, zhong, from the Late Western Zhou Dynasty, 8th-7th Century B.C.  It is 8 5/8 inches high and has a modest estimate of $20,000 to $40,000.  It was acquired from J. J. Lally & Co., in New York in 1987.  Rows of projecting nipples alternate with rows of dragons.  It sold for $104,500.

Unusual bronze mask-form fitting

Lot 870, "Unusual" bronze mask-form fitting, Late 6th/Early 5th Century B.C., 4 3/16 inches long

The most spectacular piece in the auction is rather small.  Lot 870 is a fabulous horned animal mask that was most likely a handle for a vessel.  Despite its size, it certainly would either scare or lure a moose.  It dates to the Late 6th/Early 5th Century B.C., and is 4 3/16 inches long  It has a very modest estimate of $5,000 to $7,000.  It was acquired in Hong Kong in 1998.  It passed.

Bronze frog

Lot 861, "Unusual" frog-shaped openwork buckle, Western Han Dynasty, circa 3rd Century B.C., 3 3/4 inches long

The auction's most charming work is an "unusual" frog-shaped openwork buckle, Lot 861, Western Han Dynasty, circa 3rd Century B.C.  It is 3 3/4 inches long and has a very modest estimate of $2,500 to $5,000.  It was acquired in Hong Kong in 1991.  It sold for $2,125.

Bronze bird

Lot 868, "rare" bronze zoomorphic finial in the shape of a bird emerging from a conical shell, Warring States Period, 475-221 B.C.,


A fine companion piece for Lot 861 is Lot 868, a rare bronze zoomorphic finial in the shape of a bird emerging from a conical shell.  The bronze piece is from the Warring States Period,475-221 B.C.  It has a modest estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. It is 2 1/4 inches high.  It sold for $32,500.

Bronze ritual wine vessel, gu

Lot 809, "Finely cast bronze wine vessel, gu, Shang Dynasty, Anyang, 12th-11th Century B.C., 12 1/4 inches high

Lot 809 is a finely cast bronze wine vessel, gu, from the Shang Dynasty, Anyang, 12-11th Century B.C.  It is 12 1/4 inches high and has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000.  It sold for $290,500.

Bronze bird's-head vessel cover

Lot 843, ""rare" bronze bird's-head vessel over, Eastern Zhou Dynasty, 6th-5th Century, B.C., 4 7/8 inches long


Lot 843 is a handsome and rare bronze bird's-head vessel cover from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, 6th-5th Century B.C.  It is 4 7/8 inches long and has a modest estimate of $10,000 to $20000.  It was acquired in Hong Kong in1991.  The vessel that it covered was in the shape of a standing bird.  It sold for $8,750.

Bronze tripod wine vessel and cover

Lot 848, "Very rare" bronze tripod wine vessel and cover, jiao, Late Shang/Early Western Zhou Dynasty, Late 11th-Early 10th Century B.C., 10 inches high

Lot 838 is a classic bronze tripod wine vessel and cover, jiao, Late Shang/Early Western Zhou Dynasty, Late 11th-Early 10th Century, B.C., that is notable for its fabulous and extrarodinary patina that covers the object like a rich syrup.  The work is 10 inches high and has an estimate of $400,000 to $700,000.  It was acquired in 1984.  It sold for $722,500.

Bronze ritual wine vessel, hu

Lot 866, "Unusual" bronze ritual wine vessel, hu, Late Western/Eastern Zhou Dynasty 8th Century B.C., 11 3/4 inches high

Lot 866 is a very handsome and "unusual" bronze ritual wine vessel, hu, from the Late Western/Eastern Zhou Dynasty, 8th Century B.C.  It is 11 3/4 inches high and has a very modest estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It was acquired in Hong Kong in 1987.  It sold for $158,500.

The catalogue entry notes that the "pear-shaped body is horizontally grooved between borders of chevrons and eyes with a band of scroolls and by eyes on the neck below a wide band interrupted by the dragon-head loop handles."

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