An important and rare archaic ritual offering vessel, gui Early Western Zhou Dynasty, Circa BC 1050-900
Lot 250*
An important and rare archaic bronze ritual offering vessel, fangzuo gui Early Western Zhou Dynasty, circa 1050-900 BC
£500,000 - 800,000
US$ 850,000 - 1.4 million
Auction Details
An important and rare archaic ritual offering vessel, gui Early Western Zhou Dynasty, Circa BC 1050-900 An important and rare archaic ritual offering vessel, gui Early Western Zhou Dynasty, Circa BC 1050-900 An important and rare archaic ritual offering vessel, gui Early Western Zhou Dynasty, Circa BC 1050-900 An important and rare archaic ritual offering vessel, gui Early Western Zhou Dynasty, Circa BC 1050-900 An important and rare archaic ritual offering vessel, gui Early Western Zhou Dynasty, Circa BC 1050-900 An important and rare archaic ritual offering vessel, gui Early Western Zhou Dynasty, Circa BC 1050-900
Lot Details
An important and rare archaic bronze ritual offering vessel, fangzuo gui
Early Western Zhou Dynasty, circa 1050-900 BC
The finely cast body of bombé form rising to the everted mouthrim, raised on a spreading foot cast integrally atop a square pedestal stand, the body cast in low relief on both sides with two taotie masks divided by a central notched flange, the neck with a narrower border enclosing a relief-cast bovine mask flanked by stylised dragons, the foot with a border of four pairs of silk worms divided by flanges, the body set with a pair of horned mythical-beast loop handles, cast on the sides with a fully formed bird, all atop the pedestal with cicadas at the corners above the sides cast with taotie masks flanked by birds, the interior with a 20-character inscription.
32cm wide x 29.2cm high (12 5/8in wide x 11½in high)

Footnotes

  • Provenance: J. Goldstein, prior to 1978, reputedly acquired from Frank Crane, The Hundred Antiques, Toronto
    Thence by descent to E.Sinclair

    The Sinclair gui on stand is extremely rare in its form and design. The design of the handles is particularly noteworthy with the rare casting of a complete bird on each handle below the horned head of the mythical beast. Typically, the bird design on the sides of the handles does not include the head which is presumably devoured by the beast; however, in the present gui, the bird is clearly defined from the beak, bulging eye in the form of a floral blossom above the wings cast with C scrolls, the long tail, legs and talons. This motif is further reinforced on the Sinclair gui by the taotie masks flanked on each side by a bird. A similar design can be seen on two vessels from the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C., a similar gui on stand, early Zhou Dynasty, late 11th-early 10th century BC, inv.no.38.20, illustrated by J.A.Pope, R.J.Gettens, J.Cahill and N.Barnard in The Freer Chinese Bronzes, Volume I Catalogue, Washington D.C., 1967, pl.63, p.350; and a bronze guang and cover, attributed to the early Zhou Dynasty, see J.A.Pope and T.Lawton, The Freer Gallery of Art, I, China, Washington D.C., pl.7.

    Compare a similar gui on stand, but slightly smaller, dated to the reign of King Wu of the Western Zhou Dynasty, late 11th century BC, unearthed in 1976 at Linghexi Commune, Lintong County, Shaanxi Province, illustrated by Ma Chengyuan in Ancient Chinese Bronzes, Oxford, 1986, pl.35, p.110. See a smaller gui on stand with similar handles, from Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, Mass., no.44.57.1, illustrated by J.Rawson in Western Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Volume 2 of Ancient Chinese Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Washington D.C., 1990, p.37, fig.35. See also a related bronze gui on pedestal stand, dated by inscription to the early Western Zhou Dynasty, sold at Sotheby's New York, 17 October 2001, lot 7. For another related example, see the one sold at Sotheby's London, 8 June 1993, lot 119.


    Observations on the Sinclair Collection of Early Chinese Bronze Vessels

    Dr. Wang Tao
    Senior Lecturer, Chinese Archaeology, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London


    Fangzuo Gui

    Bronze vessels of the Shang period might already have had a pedestal made of wood or bronze. But, by the Western Zhou period, many gui-vessels were cast with a high square base, or with long legs in the forms of elephant head or bovine feet. The motivation may have come mainly from the desire to raise the height of the bronze vessels to make them look more imposing. The legged vessel may also have been functional: for warming up food during the ritual. Archaeology can now trace this particular form to the Zhouyuan 周原- the homeland of the Zhou people.

    This bronze vessel has a number of comparable examples that date from the early-middle Western Zhou period, circa 1046-900 BC. The round bowl and the square base were cast at one pouring, and one can still see the marks underneath the vessel, which were left by the clay core. The form of this bronze vessel is imposing: the thickness of the wall and the moulding of the rim. It also has two massive handles that are surmounted with animal heads. The most dominant motif is still the taotie mask, which appears on the body as well as on each face of the square base. But, there are paired dragons on the neck of the bowl and cicadas on each of the corners of the base. These may indicate some changes in bronze style.

    There is an inscription of 20 characters on the interior of the vessel. It reads: 'In the first month of the king's reign, Zhong Hui Fu made this food vessel, for his sons and grandsons to treasure forever.' Importantly, the same inscription also appears on two other bronze gui of later Western Zhou date, one of which is now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. However - whilst the dating of the vessel to early Western Zhou is not in doubt - the style of the writing, the execution of the inscription, which is relatively crude and knife-cut rather than cast, would suggest that the inscription may be a later addition, most likely added in the early 20th century to enhance its attractiveness and value. Therefore, the gui would have been unearthed in the early 20th century or earlier.
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