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An important and extremely fine archaic bronze ritual Vessel (Gui)
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An important and extremely fine archaic bronze ritual Vessel (Gui)\nearly Western Zhou Dynasty, 11th Century BC\nof bombe form with a slight waist before the everted rim, finely cast in very crisp and high relief with a pair of confronting serpentine dragons with spiralled tails, their heads with high bossed 'eyes' and curled ferocious snouts borne between their claw feet and a horned taotie mask, divided by a central hooked flange of twin C-scrolls, with a further flange at the high pedestal foot dividing a band of confronting pairs of long-tailed birds against leiwen, all flanked by high loop handles issuing from bovine masks, their high horns formed by confronting curled 'tigers', and the bovine snout incised with a cicada, the curved loop and pendent flange cast with scrolled wings, claws and tail to complete the mythical bird-like handles, the interior cast with a three-column inscription, all beneath a silvery patina with rich green malachite encrustation\n29.9 cm., 11 3/4 in\nIllustrated:\nUmehara Sueji, Nihon shucho Shina kodo seikwa/Selected Relics of Ancient Chinese Bronzes from Collections in Japan, vol.II, Tokyo, 1960, pl.CVI B.\nHayashi Minao, In Shu jidai seidoki no kenkyu. In Shu seidoki soran, Tokyo, 1984, vol.I, p.96, no.125.\nTang Funian, Xi Zhou qingtongqi mingwen fen daishi zhengqi jingji, Beijing, 1993, no.186.\nThe inscription only:\nNoel Barnard and Cheung Kwong-Yue, Rubbings and Hand Copies of Bronze Inscriptions in Chinese, Japanese, European, American, and Australasian Collections, Taipei, 1978, vol.4, no.399.\nThe inscription reads:\nXiu Wang yi Xiao fu lu\nsan yong zuo jue bao\nzun yi wu ba liu\nwhich can be translated:\n'The King granted father Xiao three pieces of metal in order to make these precious vessels. Five eight six.'\nInscriptions of this kind are found on various vessels of the early Western Zhou period. They indicate families who were loyal to the central government and on visiting the royal court were duly rewarded by the king. To commemorate the occasion they cast bronze vessels upon their return home.\nThe two other Xiao fu gui, which were made on the same occasion together with the present piece and bear the same inscription, are recorded in Barnard and Cheung, ibid., nos.399a and 399b. One, apparently unpublished, is listed as being in a private Japanese collection; the other was included in various publications between 1839 and 1936, but its present whereabouts appear to be unknown.\nThe three numerals at the end of the inscription, wu ba liu, form a trigram signature as they are found on bronzes of the early Zhou dynasty. Such groups of numerals were originally used in divination. For an extensive discussion of the meaning of these characters see an article by Zhang Zhenglang, 'An Interpretation of the Divinatory Inscriptions on Early Zhou Bronzes', Kaogu xuebao, 1980, no.4, pp.403-415.\nThis gui relates to a number of vessels which are datable to the early Western Zhou period and were produced in the area of the Wei river valley, the original homeland of the Zhou dynasty rulers. During the early Western Zhou period gui appear to have been more popular than ony other ritual food vessel. The present piece reveals the stilistic diversity characteristic of the period, which retained traditional Shang features and modified these to Zhou taste. This can be seen, for example, in the extended pendants at the bottom of the handles, which strengthen the form of the gui, and the increased use of the bird motif in the decoration, here represented in the frieze around the foot and evoked by wings on the arc of the handles, tail and claws on the pendants, and claw feet on the dragons. While these elements are derived from the Shang repertoire, other motifs such as the coiled dragon itself, the large hooked flanges and the horned animal heads at the top of the handles, rather appear to be inspired by the more naturalistic sculptural styles of the provincial workshops in the South. This cross-fertilization of the different bronze making centres is a characteristic of the Zhou period.\nGui of this type, with confronted pairs of coiled dragons against a leiwen ground, are very rarely found with such fine and detailed casting in softly rounded relief and with such ornate handles. This gui moreover displays small horned taotie filling up the space between the dragon heads and the everted rim, as well as horns in form of curled dragons on the animal heads of the handles - two highly unusual features that none of the related examples listed below seem to have.\nA gui of similar form and design, but with a frieze of snakes replacing the birds around the foot, with animal heads with hooked horns on the handles, and with other minor variations, excavated from an early Western Zhou tomb at Gaojiabao, Jingyang county, Shaanxi province, is illustrated in Shaanxi chutu Shang Zhou qingtongqi, Beijing, 1984, vol.4, pl.143.\nCompare also three gui of similar design but of the more common type, with animal heads with pointed ears and no horns on the handles: one with a similar frieze of birds around the foot, illustrated in Regina Krahl, Collection Julius Eberhardt. Early Chinese Art, Hong Kong, n.d. (1999), pl.40; the other two with a frieze of dragons at the foot, both excavated in Shaanxi province, one at Zhuyuangou near Baoji, the other at Wangjiazui, Qishan county, and both illustrated in 'Five Thousand Years of Chinese Art' Series: Shang Chou Dynasty Bronze VII: Kuei Vessels, Taipei, 1990, pls.55 and 56, and figs.115 and 116.\nA pedestalled gui with similar decoration and similarly shaped handles is illustrated in Jessica Rawson, Western Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Washington, D.C., 1990, vol.IIA, fig.35; and one of closely related form but decorated with taotie masks on a plain ground, ibid., vol.IIB, pl.36.\nAn accompanying report, Conservation & Technical Services Ltd., Birkbeck College, no.91064, attests to the exemplary condition of this lot.\n\nQuantity: 1
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dimensions

29.9 cm., 11 3/4 in


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