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Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art

Christie's New York

September 13, 2019

Sale 16950

Jade dragon head

Lot 830, The Junkunc jade dragon head, Tang Dynasty, 6 1/2 inches long

By Carter B. Horsley

This September 13, 2019 auction of Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art at Christie's New York is highlighted by an unusual Tang jade dragon head, a folding horse-shoe back Huanghuali armchair, an Imperial throne set, a spectacular vase, and a pair of translucent jade lanterns.

The cover illustration of the catalogue is Lot 830, a jade dragon head from the Tang Dynasty that is 6 1/2 inches long.

It was consigned by an important American private collection and had once been in the collection of Stephen Junkunc III whose father was a tool-and-dye maker who founded General Machinery & Manufacturing Company in Chicago.

It is an "exceptionally rare and highly important pale greyish-green jade carving of a dragon head," according to the catalogue that devotes 17 pages to the object and Mr. Junkunc.

In her catalogue essay on the work, Jenny F. So noted that it "embodies imperial magnificence of the highest order - the extravagant expenditure of highly valued material on a large sculpture of a dragon, an established emblem of power."

It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000, but failed to sell.

"Horse-shoe" chair

Lot 876, Folding horse-chair, Huanghuai, Jiaoyi, 17th Century, 39 3/4 inches high

Lot 876 is a huanghuai folding horse-chair, Jiaoyi, 17th Century.  It is 39 3/4 inches high.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"The curved crestail teminates in outswept hooks and is supported on a C-shaped splat carved with a ruyi-form medallion enclosing a stylized shou (longevity) character and fitted with brass mounts.  The arms are supported by elegant carved supports reinforced with metal hardware that continue on form the front leg.  The woven seat is joined by beaded horizontal members carved with scroll work."

The lot has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.  It failed to sell.

Food vessels

Lot 831, pair of bronze ritual food vessels, Fangzuogui, Mid-western Zhou Dynasty, 13 1/3 inches

Lot 831 is a handsome pair of bronze ritual food vessels, Fangzuogui, from Mid-western Zhou Dynasty.  They are 13 1/3 inches high.  Each vessel is supported on an integral, ribbed square stand and the ribbed body of the vessels is centered by stylized trilobed lugs and flanked by upright loop handles.  The vessels were illustrated in J. Rawson's 1988 book on the Bella and P. P. Chiu Collection of Ancient Chinese Bronzes and in the 2012 book on The Chinese Art World Through The Eyes of Giuseppe Eskenazi.
The catalogue has an essay on the lot entitled "Heralding a New Era: a Rare and Important Pair of Western Zhou Gui vessels" by Robert D. Mowry, Alan J. Dworsky Curator of Chinese Art Emeritus, Harvard Art Museums, and Senior Consultant, Christie’s:

"Exceptionally rare, this pair of bronze lidded gui food-serving vessels is art-historically important for its reliance solely on vertical ribs as decoration, thereby introducing a new mode of embellishment; the ribbed décor, combined with the elevation of the vessel bowl on a tall, square base, signals the final break with the stylistic legacy of the previous Shang dynasty and the establishment of a distinctive Zhou-dynasty mode. As such, the pair joins a small group of other socled gui vessels with rib décor produced in the Middle Western Zhou period (c. 975–c. 875 BC), in the late tenth or early ninth century BC. That these majestic vessels not only have survived for nearly three thousand years but have remained together as a pair signals their extraordinary importance and elevates them to the status of revered treasures. Apart from their art-historical importance, these gui vessels also have a very distinguished provenance, having passed through the hands of esteemed art dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi, London, and then through the acclaimed collection of Bella and P.P. Chiu (of Hong Kong and San Francisco)....

"Bronze casting came fully into its own in China during the Shang dynasty (c. 1600 BC–c. 1046 BC) with the production of sacral vessels intended for use in funerary ceremonies. Those vessels include ones for food and wine as well as ones for water; those for food and wine, the types most frequently encountered, group themselves into storage and presentation vessels as well as heating, cooking, and serving vessels. A sacral vessel for serving offerings of cooked food, the gui first appeared during the Shang dynasty and continued well into the Zhou (c. 1046 BC–256 BC).

"Although standard vessel shapes and established decorative motifs both persisted after the fall of Shang, the people of Western Zhou (c. 1046 BC–771 BC) quickly introduced changes, perhaps reflecting differing religious beliefs and ceremonial practices; as a result, some vessel types disappeared, while others evolved, often becoming more elaborate and more imposing. In fact, although both food and wine vessels had been important during the Shang, many wine-vessel types were discontinued after the Zhou overthrew the Shang, so that food vessels came to predominate during the Zhou dynasty, presumably indicating that wine no longer played a major role in ceremonies and rituals. Except for its square socle, this gui food-serving vessel is conservative in shape, exhibiting the basic Shang interpretation of the vessel form. Through its transformation by the addition of the socle, however, this vessel reflects the new, post-Shang age in which it was produced....

"The standard Shang form of the gui continued into the Western Zhou, though modifications in both form and decoration soon ensued. The most obvious alteration to the form involved elevating the vessel, often by presenting it on an integrally cast square socle, as in the present vessels, but occasionally by setting it on four legs, as witnessed by the Zuo Bao Yi Gui, which was offered at Christie’s, New York, on 13 September 2018, lot 888. In rare instances, an entire group of vessels might be raised by placing them on a bronze altar table, known in Chinese as a jin, such as the example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York....In the Metropolitan Museum altar set, all of the vessels are wine vessels; the smaller of the altar-set’s two bail-handled you vessels stands on an independently cast square base that sits on the altar table. Aesthetically, the elevation of the gui on a socle makes the vessel more imposing and imparts monumentality, solemnity, and even majesty. Even so, the reasons for raising the vessels remain unknown but could involve changes in religious needs or ceremonial requirements, for example, or perhaps a simple desire for greater visual impact.

"Favored throughout much of the Western Zhou period (c. 1046–771 BC), socled gui vessels declined in popularity during the last decades of the Middle Western Zhou period (c. 975–c. 875 BC). Even so, gui vessels continued to be important, but rather than resting on a square socle, they came to stand either on a circular footring or, more typically, on three short legs generally in the form of a stylized animal or bird, with a masklike face at the top and a clawed foot at the bottom, or occasionally, if rarely, in the form of a simple tab. Such gui vessels tended to be decorated with wide horizontal flutes rather than with vertical ribs.

"Although the taotie mask was the decorative motif most frequently encountered on bronze ritual vessels from the Shang dynasty, other motifs were popular as well, including long- and short-tailed birds, kui dragons, and even snakes. Apart from those 'representational' motifs, a variety of abstract, non-representational, geometric motifs also appear on Shang bronzes, from interlocking T-forms T to zig-zag, or chevron, patterns and diamond-and-boss patterns, to yet others. Long forgotten, the meaning of such decorative schemes, if any, has been lost to the mists of time for both representational and geometric types—including that of the vertical ribs on the present gui vessels—though speculation about their meanings abounds. Many such motifs continued into the Western Zhou, the “representational” motifs often showing a distinct evolution, the abstract motifs generally remaining more traditional and conservative, even if presented in slightly new combinations and contexts....

By the Middle Western Zhou period (c. 975–c. 875 BC) vertical ribs had assumed greater prominence and often served as the vessel’s principal decorative motif, especially as the subsidiary bands of dragons and abstract motifs around the neck and footring were cast in lower relief and thus became less assertive and as the vessel handles became more subdued and thus less imposing. In that light, with its docile handles, its band of alternating dragons and whirligig bosses around the neck—and matching band around the cover’s lip—and its band of whirligig bosses and stylized flower motifs around the footring, the Shanghai Museum’s ribbed Peng Sheng Gui—also called Ge Bo Gui—might be seen as intermediate between the early Middle Western Zhou style and the late Middle Western Zhou style (c. 900–c. 875 BC), as exemplified by the present pair of gui vessels. (Note that there are three virtually identical Peng Sheng Gui, each with an inscription; apart from the Shanghai Museum vessel, the Palace Museum, Beijing, has one, as does the Chinese History Museum, Beijing. Only the Shanghai Museum gui retains its cover, the Palace Museum and History Museum vessels having lost theirs.)

"Two socled gui vessels with ribbed décor are virtually identical to the present vessels: a socled gui of unknown whereabouts but illustrated in Hayashi Minao’s invaluable 1984 compendium of Shang and Zhou bronzes, and the previously mentioned Shi Xie Gui in the Shanghai Museum. Except for its inscription and missing cover, the Shi Xie Gui, which eminent bronze scholar Chen Peifen has dated to c. 900 to c. 885 BC, is otherwise identical to the present vessels....

"Just as the socled gui fell from favor during the late Western Zhou period (c. 875–771 BC), so did vertical ribs virtually disappear from the repertory of decorative motifs. The new style of gui vessel, popular through the late Western Zhou period and beyond, had the bowl resting either on a circular footring or on three short legs and sporting decoration of horizontal flutes around both bowl and cover, as exemplified by the Shi Song Gui in the collection of the Shanghai Museum (45688) and two such gui in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1975.66.1a, b and 1988.20.3a, b)....

"Bronze vessels sometimes were made in pairs, and often in sets, during the Shang and Zhou dynasties, the vessels linked by inscription, style, benefactor (i.e., the one who commissioned the vessel or set), or beneficiary (i.e., the person in whose ceremonies the vessel was to be used). Even so, because many vessels have been lost and because many sets have been dispersed, entire sets of vessels—or even just pairs—seldom appear together today. Formerly exhibited at the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, a pair of Middle Western Zhou covered gui vessels—known as the Lu Hou Gui—sold at Sotheby’s, New York, on 18–19 March 2014 (lot 108); each standing on four slender legs rather than on a square socle, the two vessels in the Lu Hou Gui pair are roughly contemporaneous with the present vessels. A pair of Middle Western Zhou gui vessels with ribbed decoration, related to the present pair, sold at Sotheby’s, London, on 25 March 1947 (lot 83). Arguably the most famous pair of covered gui vessels in the United States, however, is that from the distinguished collection of Frederick M. Mayer (1899–1974), of New York, which was sold at Christie’s, London, on 24–25 June 1974 (lot 219); dating to the Spring and Autumn period (771–476 BC), likely to the sixth century BC, those imposing vessels have dramatic, dragon-form handles and covers whose large, openwork handles suggest blossoms. One gui from the Mayer pair was acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art (1974.73); the other gui, which was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd, is now in the collection of The Asia Society, New York (1979.103). Though we refer to them as a pair, it is possible that the present gui once were part of a larger group of vessels, a group that perhaps even included the previously mentioned the Shi Xie Gui in the Shanghai Museum, which is the same size as the present vessels and, except for its inscription and missing cover, is otherwise identical to them—though, this, of course, is merely conjecture, as there is no evidence to suggest that the Shi Xie Gui was originally directly associated with the present vessels....

"Visually compelling and strikingly beautiful bronzes with bold decoration, exquisite patina, and distinguished provenance, these gui vessels are art-historically important for their reinterpretation of the traditional gui form through the elevation of the bowl on a square socle and through the perfection of abstract, ribbed décor. This new interpretation signals the final break with the stylistic legacy of the previous Shang dynasty and the establishment of a distinctive Zhou-dynasty mode. In fact, these gui vessels are major monuments in the history of Western Zhou bronzes."  

The lot has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000.  It sold for $495,000.

two bronze figures 843

Lot 843, a pair of large cast-iron figures of the Bodhisattvas Manjusi ad Samantabhadra, Kangzi Period, dated by inscription to 1699,  26 3/4 inches high

Lot 843 is a pair of large cast-iron figures of the Bodhisattvas Manjusi ad Samantabhadra, Kangzi Period, dated by inscription to 1699.  The tallest is 26 3/4 inches high.

The figure of Manjusri is shown seated on a Buddhist lion and holding a scroll. The figure of Samantabhadra is shown seated on an elephant and holding a ruyi scepter. Each figure has a lengthy inscription cast on his back which lists the names of the donors, and dates the piece to the 38th year of Kangxi. Each has a mottled green patina.

The lot is property from the collection of Frederick A. and Sharon L. Klingenstein.

It has an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000.  It sold for 48,125.

Sancai guardians

Lot 838, Pair of sancai pottery guardians, Tang Dynasty, 31 1/2 and 31 inches high

Another lot from the Klingenstein collection is Lot 839, a pair of sancai-glazed pottery guardian figures from the Tang Dynasty.  They are about 31 inches high.  The lot has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000.  It failed to sell.

Horse 840

Lot 840, Sancai-glazed pottery figure of a Fereghan horse, Tang Dynasty, 30 1/4 inches high

Lot 840 is a sancai-glazed pottery figure of a Fereghan horse from the Tang Dynasty.  It is 30 1/4 inches high and is shown standing foursquare on a rectangular base, its head turned slightly to one side and its mouth slightly open.
  The superbly modeled horse is shown standing foursquare on a rectangular base, its head turned slightly to one side, and its mouth slightly open. The body is covered with a rich amber glaze, the wavy mane and forelock picked out in cream, and the saddle is splash-glazed on top of the cream saddle blanked edged in leaf green. The elaborate trappings are hung with 'apricot leaf' medallions on the rump, and cream-colored tassels on the chest.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"This impressively large and powerfully modelled horse, with its well-preserved sancai glaze, captures the spirit and power of this celebrated animal and reveals the technical accomplishment and stylistic maturity of Chinese ceramic sculpture at the peak of the Tang dynasty. The most magnificent horses, immortalized in Chinese literature and the visual arts, were the Ferghana horses introduced into central China from the West during the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). These horses were known for their speed, power and stamina, and were sometimes referred to as ‘thousand li horses’, after the belief that they were able to cover a thousand li in a single day.

"Large sancai-glazed pottery horses featuring similar elaborate trappings, in particular this combination of cream-colored tassels on the chest and foliate medallions on the rump, include the figure in the Indianapolis Museum of Art, illustrated by Y. Mino and J. Robinson in Beauty and Tranquility: The Eli Lilly Collection of Chinese Art, Indianapolis, 1983, p.174-75, pl. 61 (26 in. high); the figure illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, Chinese Art from The Collection of James W. and Marilynn Alsdof, The Arts Club of Chicago, 21 September – 13 November 1970, c21 (22 ˝ in. high); and the figure illustrated by E. Schloss in Ancient Chinese Ceramic Sculpture, Stamford, Connecticut, 1977, vol. II, col. pl. V (26 ˝ in. high). All of these figures feature amber or brown-glazed bodies and cream-glazed muzzles, manes and forelocks. Like the current figure, the Lilly and Alsdorf horses each have a saddle covered with a cloth pulled into pleats on either side, which is set on a blanket draped over the horse’s back. The horse illustrated by Schloss has green-glazed hooves like the present figure, but is draped over its back with a green-glazed blanket richly textured to simulate fur.

"The foliate plaques hung from the straps on the rump are of a type that has been labeled 'hazel-leaf' or 'apricot-leaf'."

It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.  It sold for $675,000.

Court lady

Lot 835, Court lady, painted pottery, Tang Dynasty, 25 1/8 inches high

Lot 835 is a large painted pottery figure of a court lady from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). The court lady is shown standing with her body swayed to one side and her head turned inquisitively to the other side. Her hands which are held in front of her chest are concealed within the voluminous sleeves of her robe which has black flowers decorating the skirt. Her hair is dressed in an elaborate coiffure.

The lot is 25 1/8 inches high.

This lot was once with Eskenazi Ltd. in London.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"This elegant figure, beautifully modeled with carefully incised lines that suggest the folds of the garment, is a particularly large and charming example of the court ladies that became fashionable in the second half of the Tang dynasty. The reign of Emperor Ming Huang seems to have heralded the growth in popularity of a more generous female form and the adoption of less structured, flowing robes. This change in style has traditionally been attributed to the influence of the emperor's adored concubine Yang Guifei, who was reported to have had a rather voluptuous figure. Yang Guifei was held partly responsible for the circumstances that led to the An Lushan rebellion of AD 756, and she was executed by the accompanying troops as she and the Emperor fled to Sichuan. The Emperor's grief at her loss was immortalized in one of China's best- known literary works, The Song of Eternal Regret. However, excavated figures suggest that this fashion was already coming to prominence by the time that Yang Guifei won the emperor's admiration.

"In addition to their robes, the hairstyles of these figures also differ from those of their slender predecessors. While the latter tended to have their hair drawn back from the face and then arranged in one or two elaborate knots, the plumper ladies, like the current figure, tend to have softer hair styles. The hair is much fuller, framing the upper part of the face and is tied in a looser arrangement on top."

The lot has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.  It sold for $62,500.

Pottery soldier

Lot 1073, Pottery soldier, Tang Dynasty, 23 1/2 inches high

Lot 1073 is a pottery soldier from the Tang Dynastry.  It is 23 1/2 inches high.  It has an estimate of $5,000 to $7,000.  It failed to sell.

Robe and table

  Lot 877, trestle-leg table, huanghuali, Qiaotou'an, 84 1/4 inches long

Lot 875 is a trestle-leg table, huanghuali, Qiaotou'an, that is 84 1/4 inches long. The piece has spandrels carved in relief with stylized elephants heads between an archaistic scroll.  The lot has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000.  It failed to sell.

Dragon robe

Lot 929, Dragon robe, Longpao, Jiaqing Period, 57 1/2 inches wide

Lot 929 is a rare Imperial gold and silver-embroidered blue-ground twelve symbol dragon robe from the Jiaqing Period (1796-1820). The robe is worked entirely in couched gold and silver threads with nine writhing five-clawed dragons confronting flaming pearls amidst ruyi-form clouds interspersed with bats and the bajixiang. The Twelve Symbols of Imperial Authority are arranged in three groups of four: the sun, moon, constellation and mountain around the neck; the fu symbol, axe, paired dragons, and golden pheasant around the body; and the pair of libation cups, aquatic grass, grains of millet and flames, all reserved on a blue ground above auspicious emblems rising from the terrestrial diagram and lishui stripe at the hen; with midnight-blue cuffs and collar decorated with further dragons and clouds.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Twelve-symbol blue robes are extremely rare, and less common than their yellow counterparts. The use of the blue color was associated with the Temple of Heaven, south of the palace, where the Emperor offered sacrifice at the winter solstice and also prayed for rain during the summer months.

"The Twelve Ancient Symbols of Imperial Authority first appeared on the Manchu emperor's clothing after 1759. The Huangchao liqi tushi (Illustrated Precedents for the Ritual Paraphernalia of the Imperial Court), which was enforced in 1766, restricted the use of the Twelve Symbols to the Emperor. The symbols imply the notion of Imperial authority, signifying that the Emperor is the Ruler of the Universe. In the Qing dynasty, the first four symbols- sun, moon, stars, and mountain-were placed at the shoulders, chest and mid-back; the symbol of distinction (fu), hatchet, paired dragons, and the golden pheasant appeared at waist level; and temple-cups, aquatic grass, grains of millet, and flames were placed at knee level on the skirts of the coat."

The lot has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.  It sold for $68,750.

Translucent lanterns

Lot 944, Translucent jade lanterns, 14 3/4 inches high

Lot 944 is a pair of translucent jade lanterns that are 14 3/4 inches high. The sides are carved in low relief with various birds in a landscape setting of trees and plants, between recessed pierced borders of lotus scroll, and raised on six phoenix-form supports, all below a separately carved upper collar carved with panels of flowers of the seasons set between further pierced lotus-scroll borders and separated by narrow posts terminating at the bottom in the curved body of a phoenix and at the top in a projecting phoenix head suspending a tassel, each post connected on the interior to an openwork structure of upper and lower spokes radiating from flower heads at the top and bottom of a central post which is threaded at the top to screw into the petal-carved base of a ring attached to an oval link. The semi-translucent stone is of bright mottled green color.

The lot has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.  It sold for $25,000.


Lot 812, greyish-white jade owl pendant, Late Shang-Early Western Zhou Dynasty, 1 5/8 inches long

Lot 812 is a small and rare greyish-white jade owl pendantm that is 1 5/8 inches long and is from the Late Shang-Early Western Zhou Dynastry, 13tth-10th Century B.C.  Its features are delineated on both sides.  It was once in the A. W. Bahr and E. H. Baur collection and the Arthur M. Sackler Collections.   It has an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000.  It sold for 137,500.

Lantern vase

Lot 1134, lantern vase, 13 1/4 inches high

Lot 1134 is a very rare and finely enameled famille rose mille fleurs lantern vase with a Jiaqing iron-red, six character seal mark and of the period (1796-1820).  It has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.  It sold for $879,000.


Lot 891, Imperial hardstone-inlaid gilt decorated lacquer throne set, 19th Century

Lot 891 is an Imperial hardstone-inlaid gilt decorated lacquer throne set, 19th Century.  It has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000.  It sold for $81,250.

Two men on horseback  1082

Lot 1082, large pottery roof tiles, Ming Dynasty, 29 inches high

Lot 1082 is a pair of very large pottery roof tiles, Ming Dynasty. The pair is 29 inches high. Each tile is modeled as a foreigner wearing a long-sleeved robe and peaked cap seated astride flying a Buddhist lion grasping a brocade ball in its forepaws, all under aubergine, turquoise, cream and amber glazes. The lot has an estiamte of $20,000 to $30,000.  It sold for $22,500.

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