More than a Game / A VERY RARE AND LARGE BRONZE 'BOYS' STUPA-SHAPED ARROW VASE, TOUHU Ming Dynasty
Sold for HK$1,036,200 inc. premium
A VERY RARE AND LARGE BRONZE 'BOYS' STUPA-SHAPED ARROW VASE, TOUHU
Elaborately and robustly cast in the form of a Buddhist stupa decorated with geometric patterns, leafy lotus, butterflies and the bajixiang, with sixteen boys, some playing various musical instruments, four boys around the mouth holding drums in the shape of hollow tubes above two other boys holding the drums overhead, the shoulder with four seated boys, the base of the stupa with six more boys sitting on a double lotus-petal base issuing four auspicious lingzhi fungus, the rounded base incised with floral scroll with four foreigners holding tubular drums, all raised on a tiered foot incised with an archaistic geometrical band. 55.3cm (21 3/4in) high, 14.3kg.
Christie's South Kensington, London, 22 October 1987
The Brian Harkins Collection
The present vase is exceptional firstly for its unusual Buddhist stupa shape rising from a drum-shaped stand, and secondly for the elaborate high relief design combining sixteen boys and four foreigners holding drum-shaped tubes, all further embellished with auspicious symbols. The number of boys, sixteen, may allude to the same number of luohans, a possibility reinforced by the Buddhist shape of the vase. See a related bronze arrow vase cast with a pair of high-relief foreigners, 14th-15th century, in the British Museum, London, acc.no.1993,1028.1.
Since the early Ming dynasty the scene of boys at play became a popular theme adopted by the Imperial workshops, encapsulating the wish for many offspring. The 'Hundred boys' motif originated in the folk arts of the Song dynasty and further gained popularity in the Ming Court; as the 17th century scholar Zhu Yizun (1629-1709) observed: 'The Hundred Boys and wucai dragons were treasured in the palace of the emperors of the old days'; see Z.Y.Zhu, Pushu tingji (The Essays by Pushu Ting), Shanghai, 1919, vol.10, p.7.
Wang Ti, who was active during the Jiajing period, noted about the production of arrow vases in his Touhu yijie (Rules of Playing Touhu): 'Some fancy craftsmen recently also created some unconventional forms of touhu, some can dangle like a swing, some are of exaggerated size, some are with two handles, some even with four!'; see Wang Ti, Touhu yijie, Beijing, 1985, p.40.
The engraved ground-pattern and the casting in high relief can also be compared with a bronze arrow vase with dragon motif from the Xianqu Xuan collection, Hong Kong, which is illustrated in The Radiant Ming, 1368-1644 : Through The Min Chiu Society Collection, Hong Kong, 2015, no.241, p.318.