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More than a Game / A RARE AND VERY LARGE PARCEL-GILT BRONZE 'EXAMINATION DEGREE' ARROW VASE, TOUHU Ming Dynasty

LOT 46
A RARE AND VERY LARGE PARCEL-GILT BRONZE 'EXAMINATION DEGREE' ARROW VASE, TOUHU
Ming Dynasty
29 mai 2022, 14 h 00 UTC+8
Hong Kong, Admiralty

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A RARE AND VERY LARGE PARCEL-GILT BRONZE 'EXAMINATION DEGREE' ARROW VASE, TOUHU

Ming Dynasty
The compressed globular body finely cast with four archaistic taotie masks separated by four flanges, the shoulders with two open-mouthed Buddhist lions and reticulated balls, all raised on a spreading foot, the tall slender neck with a band of taotie masks, beneath two writhing chilong, further decorated with two cylinders attached above, all beneath another two cylinders attached vertically at the mouth, gilt with diamond-pattern enclosing arrow motifs alternating with characters indicating the target each corresponding cylinder represents, reading on one side 'zhuangyuan', 'bangyan', 'tanhua' and 'xieyuan', and on the other side with 'zhuangyuan', 'tanhua', 'bangyan' and 'huihuiyuan', the base plate made of a later bronze mirror decorated with four Shou-longevity characters. 61.3cm (24 1/8in) high, 13.3kg.

Footnotes

明 銅局部鎏金「連中三甲」投壺

Provenance:
Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, 29 June 1990
The Brian Harkins Collection

來源:
1990年6月29日購於倫敦Sydney L. Moss古董商
布萊恩·哈金斯珍藏

Compared with a parcel-gilt vase in the form of a huren foreigner playing with a lion, 13th-15th century, in the Cernuschi Museum, Paris: the lion is similar to those on the present lot, illustrated by M.Maucuer, Bronzes de la Chine Impériale des Song aux Qing, Paris, 2013, no.101. The quatrelobed diaper ground on the top section of the vase could relate to earlier lacquers. Compare with the diaper ground on a mother-of-pearl inlaid black lacquer box, Southern Song dynasty, illustrated in The Colors and Forms of Song and Yuan China Featuring Lacquerwares, Ceramics and Metalworks, Tokyo, 2004, no.123.

The present lot encapsulates literati hopes, dreams and goals, as the target names cast on the cylinders all correspond to highly sought-after degree name titles in the Imperial jinshi Examinations. For example, zhuangyuan (literally meaning 'top thesis author') was the title given to the highest scoring candidate in the jinshi degree (the highest and final degree). Bangyan (literally 'eyes positioned alongside') was the title awarded to the second highest scoring jinshi degree holder; and tanhua (literally 'flower snatcher') was third, etc. Since the road to material success in traditional China was through the official bureaucracy, it is not surprising that the theme of many games was promotion up the ladder of officialdom. Imperial China was arguably unique in possessing a bureaucracy to which admission depended on passing exams and promotion on administrative ability.

The Imperial Civil Service Examinations were extremely competitive and difficult, with many highly talented individuals failing, not due to lack of knowledge, but simply because of stringent government quotas of how many could pass. For example in the early 15th century, there were 30,000 shengyuan (akin to undergraduate) degree holders; by the late 16th century there were 500,000 competing for the next juren degree (akin to Masters degree). However, the quota on the number of those who passed did not increase with the population. This meant that the chances of passing were about 1 in 400, with many spending most of their lives failing continuously. As one poet wrote 'failure after failure, painful as a sword wound'; see Ichisada Miyazaki, China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China, New Haven, 1981. One wonders if the scholars who played with this arrow vase should have spent more time studying, but most scholars could only be a zhuangyuan in their wildest dreams, so perhaps the best they could hope for was to be a zhuangyuan in a game of touhu. In that sense, it is not so different from today's game of 'Monopoly' as players hope for material success through acquisition of real estate.

壺九孔,長頸,頸上鑄四耳,頸頭部及兩側耳皆中穿菱花形孔,四耳鏨刻菱花形錦地,花葉及線框鎏金,頸身前後鑄「狀元」,兩側耳分別鑄「榜眼」「探花」,其下前後兩耳則鑄「會元」,頸中段光素,前後鑄螭龍兩條,躬身又各成一孔,頸末鏨刻減地浮雕饕餮紋一周,身圓鼓,平肩,肩上鑄二獅戲球,獅昂首張口又成一孔,繡球鏤空,身出四戟,兩戟之間鏨刻減地浮雕饕餮紋,以雷文為地,束腰,圈足外撇,底部鑄陽文四體壽字,壺身鏨刻處,龍身,獅身,繡球及圈足鎏金,體量宏偉,光彩熠熠。

壺嘴三耳所刻「狀元、榜眼、探花」合稱為殿試「三鼎甲」,為民間對古代科舉考試功名最高三級之稱謂。狀元之稱始於唐代,唐代門下省將中第考生的狀子呈交皇帝,頭名稱為「狀頭」,後覺不雅,民間遂以狀元稱之。榜眼、探花之稱,據清代梁章鉅在其《稱謂錄》中考證始於北宋,「榜眼名目,始於北宋。古者原以第二、三兩名為一榜眉目;眼必有二,故第二、第三皆為榜眼。後以第三為探花,遂專以第二為榜眼。」頸部下層耳所刻「會元」則為殿試之前的會試第一名。此壺所刻四等功名乃是唐代以來中國科舉士子窮經皓首之追求,而推杯換盞間投矢中的(第),當比秋闈中舉容易之。

参考巴黎賽奴奇亞洲博物館藏一件局部鎏金胡人舞獅投壺,其獅子作法與本件頗似,見M.Maucuer著,《Bronzes de la Chine Impérialedes Song aux Qing》,巴黎,2013年,圖版101。本件投壺所飾四葉菱花形錦地亦頗少見,可能源自早期紋飾,比如日本根津美術館藏一件南宋嵌螺鈿黑漆盒底部所飾菱花紋錦地,見《宋元の美―伝来の漆器を中心に》,東京,2004年,編號123。

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