NEW YORK, NY.- Christie’s Asian Art Week in New York will feature an unprecedented series of sales, lectures and public events led by the Collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, the distinguished American scholar, dealer and collector whose groundbreaking work transformed the study and appreciation of Asian art around the world. The week will present property from several private collections of Indian and Southeast Asian works of art, Chinese paintings, and most notably from The Collection of Julia and John Curtis, a sale of important 17th century Chinese porcelains. In addition to the sales, Christie's will have on view Modern + Contemporary: Masterpieces from the Subcontinent, a special presentation of South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art - to be sold for Private Sale.
FINE CHINESE CERAMICS AND WORKS OF ART 15-16 March
Christie’s sale of Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art will be held over the course of two days, and will feature over 300 lots that span over 3,000 years and a myriad collecting categories, including jade carvings, archaic bronzes, early pottery and figures, gilt-bronze figures, textiles, and snuff bottles.
Highlighting the sale is a massive and highly important gilt-bronze figure of Vajrabhairava Ekavira, from the Ming dynasty, 15th century (estimate: $4,000,000-6,000,000). This impressively cast and monumental figure is among the largest and most significant works of Tibeto-Chinese sculpture to appear on the market in several years. The extraordinary size and level of detail suggests it was produced in the imperial workshops of Beijing in the 15th century, a period of wide-reaching cultural exchange and religious efflorescence within Ming China.
A massive and highly important gilt-bronze figure of Vajrabhairava Ekavira, Ming Dynasty, 15th century. Estimate: $4,000,000-6,000,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2015.
The magnificent, meditational deity strides in alidhasana on animals and prostrate figures over a double-lotus base. In his primary hands, he holds a curved knife pressed to a skull cup, while the others are outstretched and in various gestures. He wears a skirt of beaded festoons and is adorned with various jewelry, snakes, streaming ribbons, and a garland of severed heads. The central buffalo-form head is wrathful in expression, with open mouth and bared fangs, bulging eyes, and flaming brows below horns and a foliate tiara, and is flanked and surmounted by wrathful human faces and the peaceful visage of Manjushri. 38 7/8 in. (98.8 cm.) high
Provenance: Collection G.', by 1904.
Oeuvres d'Art de Haute Curiosité du Tibet formant La Première Partie de la Collection G..., Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 21-24 November 1904, lot 464.
Private collection, France, 1930s, and thence by descent.
Notes: This impressively cast and rare monumentally-sized figure of Vajrabhairava is among the largest and most significant works of Tibeto-Chinese sculpture to appear on the market in several years. The unprecedented size and level of detail suggests it was produced in the imperial workshops of Beijing in the 15th century, a period of wide-reaching cultural exchange and religious efflorescence within Ming China
Following the tumultuous transition from the Yuan dynasty to the Ming in 1368, the 15th century witnessed the expansion of religious and artistic patronage. The Yongle Emperor (r. 1402-1424) was a supporter of the Three Teachings (Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism), and understood the political capital to be gained through imperial support of the various institutions. He credited the Daoist deity Zhenwu, the Perfected Warrior, for his successful usurpation of power from his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor, and ordered the construction of a massive Daoist temple complex at Wudang Shan; at the same time, he followed in the tradition of Kublai Khan in inviting important Tibetan Buddhist dignitaries to his court. In contrast to the Yuan dynasty, when Kublai Khan maintained near-direct control of much of East Asia, the early Ming emperors relied on political alliances and tribute missions to influence external regions such as Tibet and Mongolia.
In 1406, the Yongle Emperor invited Deshin Shekpa, the Fifth Karmapa and head of the Karma Kagyu sect to Nanjing, where he spent two years as a spiritual advisor to the Emperor. Similarly, he requested Tsongkhapa, head of the reformist Gelugpa sect, to visit in both 1408 and 1413; while he declined to make the trip himself, Tsongkhapa sent his disciple, Shakya Yeshe, who remained in the capital for ten years. The result of this fruitful relationship was the increase of imperially-sponsored Buddhist activities in China. Lavish gifts were exchanged between the visiting dignitaries and the Emperor (including a highly important imperial embroidered silk thangka of Rakta Yamari, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 26 November 2014, lot 3001). The Yongle Emperor also moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing, which had previously been the capital during the Yuan dynasty, and was still an important Buddhist pilgrimage site for Mongolian Buddhists. The Emperor sponsored the construction of numerous Tibetan Buddhist temples within the capital, and his successors maintained this lavish patronage.
Stylistically, the present lot follows the Nepalese tradition established in Beijing during the Yuan dynasty. The Tibetan Chogyal Pagpa (1235-1280), abbot of Sakya monastery and personal guru to Kublai Khan, invited the esteemed Nepalese artisan, Araniko (also spelled Aniko or Anige), to Beijing, where he was appointed head of the imperially-sponsored atelier. During this time, most of the Buddhist craftsmen working in Beijing were Nepalese or Tibetan, and they followed Tibetan iconographic parameters. During the Ming dynasty, these iconographic and stylistic elements were largely retained, although the greater involvement of Chinese artisans resulted in a gradual sinicization of the style, especially apparent in the present work in the facial features of the prostrate figures.
Vajrabhairava is an important deity in all sects of Tibetan Buddhism, but perhaps none more so than in the Gelug school. The founder of that tradition, Tsongkhapa, popularized the worship of Vajrabhairava in the 14th century, and also systemized his represented iconography; among other aspects, the arrangement of the additional faces in a circular manner around the back of the head became almost exclusively reserved for Gelugpa depictions of the deity. As this feature is present in the current work, one can ascertain that it was created according to Gelugpa principles. Within that tradition, Vajrabhairava is one of the principle meditation deities of the Anuttarayoga practice, alongside Guhyasamaja and Chakrasamvara. He is considered a wrathful manifestation of Manjushri; significantly, Tsongkhapa as well as the Chinese emperor were also considered manifestations of this bodhisattva, explaining in part his popularity within China and Gelug-Tibet. The Gelugpa enjoyed increased importance amongst the emperors of the Ming dynasty, thanks in part to Shakya Yeshe’s prolonged presence in the capital; from the mid-17th century on, they were the dominant theocratic power in Tibet, and the sole represented Tibetan Buddhist institution in China.
Among the most impressive of the Chinese-made Buddhist images from this period are a group of monumentally-sized gilt-bronzes, of which the present figure is one of just a handful known. A group of large-scale gilt-bronzes was offered at an important early sale of Asian art at Hôtel Drouot in Paris in 1904 (Fig. 1). Among the group were two other figures of Vajrabhairava, including one which was dated with a mark to the reign of the Chenghua Emperor, and which was subsequently offered by Rare Art Inc. in 1975 (Fig. 2), and another published in numerous publications and last offered on the market at Sotheby’s New York, 25 March 1999, lot 122 (Fig. 3). The present work is the largest of the three Vajrabhairava figures, and is the only one to depict the deity without his consort, Vajra Vetali. The other massive gilt-bronze sculptures from the collection include a figure of Mahachakravajrapani, now in the Linden-Museum, Stuttgart; a figure of Guhyasamaja at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; a standing bodhisattva now in the Musée Cernuschi, Paris; and a figure of Nilamahakala, the whereabouts of which is now unknown (see U. von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, Hong Kong, 1981, p. 530, nos. 151B, 151D, 151E and 151A). Also related is a standing figure of Mahakala originally from the Nitta Collection and exhibited at the National Palace Museum (see The Crucible of Compassion and Wisdom: Special Exhibition Catalog of the Buddhist Bronzes from the Nitta Group Collection at the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1987, p. 126, pl. 32).
Other outstanding works include an exquisite and exceptionally rare Geyao water pot, Southern Song-Yuan dynasty (1127-1279) (estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000), the highlight of the early ceramics portion of the sale.
An exquisite and exceptionally rare Geyao water pot, Southern Song-Yuan dynasty (1127-1279). Estimate: $1,000,000 – $1,500,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2015.
The water pot is finely potted with a spherical body that rises to a short neck with slightly thickened mouth rim, and is covered with an unctuous pale grey glaze suffused with a network of irregular black crackle ('iron wire') interspersed with some golden-brown crackle ('golden thread') that stops in a neat line at the brown-dressed foot ring. 2 7/8 in. (7.3 cm.) high
Provenance: Christie's Hong Kong, 1 November 2004, lot 802.
Literature: Christie's 20 Years in Hong Kong, 1986 - 2006, Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Highlights, p. 31.
Notes: This water pot has an exceptionally well-potted spherical form. Small compressed globular water pots with celadon glazes were made in Zhejiang province as early as the Southern Dynasties period (AD 420-589). One such vessel, excavated from a 5th century tomb in Yongjia county and now in the Wenzhou Museum, is illustrated in Complete Collection of Ceramic Art Unearthed in China, vol. 9, Zhejiang, Beijing, 2008, p. 87. Similar compressed globular water pots, with or without three small feet, were also made at the Ou kilns and the Yue ware kilns in the Tang dynasty. Examples from the Wenzhou Museum and the Cixi Museum are illustrated ibid, pp. 126 and 127 respectively. However, in the Five Dynasties period well-potted spherical water pots can be found amongst vessels from prestigious kilns which found favour with the imperial court. A mise celadon water pot of this spherical form, and of very similar size to the current Ge ware vessel, was excavated in Lin’an county in 1996 from the Kangling Mausoleum (dated AD 939), illustrated ibid., p. 143. A fine 10th-century spherical white-glazed water pot with incised lotus decoration, slightly smaller than the current Ge ware vessel, is in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum. This white water pot, which is illustrated in Sekai toji zenshu, vol. 11, Sui Tang, Tokyo, 1976, pp. 115-6, pls. 92-3, is inscribed on the base with the characters xin guan (new official). Although the Tokyo water pot has no neck or raised mouth rim, a small Ding ware spherical water pot (7.5 cm high) with a very short neck was excavated in 1969 from the foundations of the Jingzhongyuan Temple pagoda, dated AD 995, illustrated by the Idemitsu Museum of Arts in Treasures from the Underground Palaces - Excavated Treasures from Northern Song Pagodas, Dingzhou, Hebei Province, China, Tokyo, 1997, no. 90. A larger spherical Ding ware water pot with longer neck and thickened rim, also from Jingzhongyuan Temple pagoda, is illustrated by Liu Tao in Song Liao Jin jinian ciqi, Beijing, 2004, p. 5, fig. 1-29. Thus, by the early Northern Song dynasty, late 10th century, the spherical form for small water pots was already established as desirable amongst the Chinese elite.
A Guan-type water pot of similar size to the current vessel, with a spherical body, but standing on three short, splayed legs, is illustrated in Mayuyama Seventy Years, vol. 1, Tokyo, 1976, p. 161, no. 467. A Guan or Ge ware spherical water pot, also of similar size to the current vessel, was sold by Christie’s Hong Kong on 13 January 1987, lot 570. A water pot with Guan-type glaze, of slightly smaller size compared to the current vessel, and of compressed globular form, is illustrated in Chinese Ceramics, Song and Yuan Dynasty, Taipei, 1988, p. 515. A slightly larger 13th century spherical celadon-glazed water pot from the Longquan kilns, with floral surface decoration, is in the collection of Sir Percival David (illustrated in Illustrated Catalogue of Celadon Wares in the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, revised edition, 1997, pp. 29-30, no. 232), and was exhibited in Arts de la Chine Ancienne at the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, in 1937, exhibit no. 447. Nevertheless, few examples of similar vessels from any of the classic kilns of the 10th-13th century have survived into the present day.
Since the Ming dynasty, Ge wares have been regarded as one of the 'Five Great Wares of the Song Dynasty', along withRu ware, Ding ware, Jun ware, and Guan ware. These wares remain the most revered wares of the Song dynasty (AD 960-1279), a period which Chinese connoisseurs have traditionally admired above all others for the refined beauty of its ceramics – typified by vessels with elegant forms, enhanced with subtly colored monochrome glazes. A variety of such wares were appreciated by members of the Song elite and the imperial court, as well as by later collectors, but texts tell us that these five types were held in particular esteem. Ge ware and Guan ware have been the subjects of extensive research by Chinese scholars and those from other countries in recent years, and they continue to be at the forefront of interest amongst scholars and collectors alike. Both Guan ware and Ge ware are characterized by subtly-colored glazes which were deliberately crackled to achieve a fine network of lines over the surface of the vessel. One of the reasons that these crackle lines were admired was that they were reminiscent of the fissures in jade, the most prized of all natural materials.
The high regard in which such pieces were held by the great Qing dynasty imperial collector, the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795), for example, is demonstrated by the fact that Ge ware dishes appear in several informal portraits of the emperor. One such portrait is the famous painting entitled 'One or Two?', of which there are three versions in the Palace Museum, Beijing. One of these is illustrated in the catalogue of the exhibition, The Qianlong Emperor - Treasures from the Forbidden City, at the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2002, p. 112, no. 59. The Qianlong emperor is shown seated on a day-bed in front of a screen on which is hung a portrait of himself, and surrounded by precious objects from his famous collection of antiques. One of these is a small crackled dish, which appears to be Ge ware. The admiration of the Qianlong Emperor for Ge wares can also be seen in the inscriptions that he applied to pieces in his collection. A recent exhibition at the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included eight Gewares bearing Qianlong inscriptions (illustrated in Obtaining Refined Enjoyment: The Qianlong Emperor’s Taste in Ceramics, Taipei, 2012, nos. 35-7, 40-1, 43, 45, and 93). The same exhibition displayed a page from Qianlong’s hand-painted album Precious Ceramics of Assembled Beauty, which showed a Ge ware dish along with a discussion of the piece and various imperial seals (illustrated ibid., p. 203).
The Palace Museum, Beijing, has in its collection a censer, identified as Ge ware, which bears a Qianlong inscription (illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum – 33 – Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (II),Hong Kong, 1996, no. 51). The popularity of Ge and Ge-type wares at the courts of the Qing emperors is emphasised by the number of such pieces from the Qing Court Collection which are preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing. Some 40 examples are published in Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (II), op. cit.
Examination of the Qianlong inscriptions highlights the subject on which there has been considerable debate among scholars and connoisseurs - the difficulty of determining whether a particular piece should be described as Guan ware or Ge ware. Certainly to judge from the Qianlong emperor's inscriptions, he was inconsistent in his attributions. Traditionally it is said that Ge ware acquired its name from the Chinese term gege, meaning elder brother, since it was believed to have been made by the elder of the two Zhang brothers. Distinguishing between Ge and Guan ware is not greatly aided by the historical texts, which merely say that they looked similar to one another. A symposium held by the Shanghai Museum in October 1992 brought together all the leading Song ceramic scholars from China and abroad to discuss Ge ware and the ways to distinguish it from Guan ware. However, the debate regarding exact period of production and kiln site still rages. In light of the excavations carried out at the Xiuneisi kiln at Laohudong, some Chinese archaeologists now suggest that, like Guan ware, these beautiful and refined Ge wares may have been made at kilns just outside the walls of the Southern Song palace at Hangzhou, while others suggest that they may have been made at kilns nearer to the centre of Longquan production. Undoubtedly Ge wares, like the current water pot, display all the qualities that might be expected of vessels intended for imperial appreciation.
Rosemary Scott. International Academic Director, Asian Art
Additional works include a magnificent and extremely rare large cloisonné enamel ‘dragon’ jar and cover, 15th-16th century (estimate: $1,500,000-2,500,000), a pair of magnificent large bronze figures of luohan, Ming dynasty, 15th century (estimate: $1,000,0000-1,500,000); a magnificent pair of painted pottery figures of Earth Spirits, zhenmushou, Tang dynasty (AD 618-907)(estimate: $350,000-450,000); and a superb selection of textiles from the collection of Myrna and Sam Myers, which is highlighted by rare imperial untailored gold brocaded silk twill court overcoat, gua, Kangxi period, late 17th century (estimate: $250,000-350,0000).
A magnificent and extremely rare large cloisonné enamel ‘dragon’ jar and cover, 15th-16th century. Estimate: $1,500,000-2,500,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2015.
The heavy jar with high shoulder is finely decorated on the body with two ferocious, scaly, red five-clawed dragons striding amidst multi-colored scrolling clouds above cresting green waves and below a petal band, all against a light turquoise-blue ground. The domed cover is decorated with a third five-clawed dragon in red below the spherical finial decorated with radiating stripes of color above upright petal lappets. The base and interiors are gilded. 20 7/8 in. (53 cm.) high
Provenance: Private collection, Virginia, acquired prior to 1900.
Notes: Very few examples of cloisonné enamel jars of this size and design from the Ming dynasty are known. However, an almost identical example is illustrated by H. Brinker and A. Lutz in Chinese Cloisonné: The Pierre Uldry Collection,New York, 1989, no. 256.
The masterful rendering of the striding dragons, which exude compelling vigor and force, is reminiscent of those on the well-known cloisonné enamel jar from the British Museum, which bears a Xuande reign mark and is enameled with dragons racing amidst scrolling clouds. (Fig. 1) The British Museum jar, which is very similar to another Xuande-marked jar in the Uldry Collection, illustrated op.cit., no. 5, was included in the exhibition, Ming: 50 Years That Changed China, 18 September 2014 - 5 January 2015, London, fig. 65, and one can see the influences of the Xuande jars on the present example, not only in the shape but also the decoration. On the Xuande examples the dragons are executed in yellow rather than the red but the dragons on the current jar retain the full proportions and vivid animation. Hence the present jar represents a continuation of the admiration for early Ming cloisonné enamel wares decorated with powerful Imperial symbols.
A proliferation of Imperial porcelain jars painted with the dragon motif during the Ming dynasty allows for close comparison with the examples produced in cloisonné. Compare, for example, a large Xuande-marked dragon jar in the Metropolitan Museum of Art illustrated by S. Vallenstein, A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, New York, 1989, illustrated on the frontispiece. The same design would carry through to the later Ming dynasty as can be seen on a blue and white Jiajing-marked jar similarly painted with two five-clawed dragons on the body and further dragons on the domed cover, in the National Palace Museum Collection, Taiwan, illustrated in Porcelain of the National Palace Museum: Blue-and-White ware of the Ming Dynasty, Book V, Hong Kong, 1963, pl. 14. It is interesting to note that by the 16th century, the depiction of the dragons became much less standardized, and they are shown with much thinner bodies contorted into snake-like postures, their large heads often appearing cartoon-like with bulging eyes. A blue and white jar of ovoid shape and large size with dragon decoration (66.5 cm.), with a Jiajing mark, is illustrated in Sekai toji zenshu, vol. 14, Japan, 1976, p. 205, no. 212. Also illustrated, no. 211, is a blue and white Jiajing-marked jar decorated with boys at play, where the bud-form finial can be seen to be striped above a band of upright petals like that on the present cover. Another blue and white example of ovoid shape bearing a Jiajing mark in the Qing Court collection, Beijing, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures in the Palace Museum - 35 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (II), Hong Kong, 2000, no. 96. Jars and covers of related shape with similar dragon decoration are also found in polychrome porcelain, such as the Jiajing-marked jar and cover decorated with yellow dragons above waves on a red ground, from the Ataka Collection, illustrated in Sekai Toji Zenshu, vol. 14, ibid., p. 79, no. 80.
A pair of magnificent large bronze figures of luohan, Ming dynasty, 15th century. Estimate: $1,000,000 – $1,500,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2015.
The two arhats are seated in dhyanasana with their hands held in their lap. They are clad in voluminous sanghatis that leave the right shoulder exposed, but cover the soles of their feet and spill out in cascading folds beneath them. One depicts a youthful figure with a protuberance or single lock of hair at the forehead, while the other represents a bearded elder with furrowed brow. Each 29 in. (73.7 cm.) high
Provenance: 'Collection G.', by 1904.
Oeuvres d'Art de Haute Curiosité du Tibet formant La Première Partie de la Collection G..., Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 21-24 November 1904, lot 464.
Private collection, France, 1930s.
Notes: The present bronzes are unusually large and extremely fine examples of luohan sculpture, the Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit word, arhat. Originally the term referred to those that had achieved a certain degree of enlightenment, but by the Tang dynasty in China (AD 618-907), luohan were considered the disciples of Buddha Shakyamuni who maintain his teachings until the coming of the Future Buddha, Maitreya. The political strife of the 7th and 8th centuries left many devotees calling for Maitreya’a arrival, and thus elevated the importance of the luohan. That popularity endured for centuries after, even during times of relative peace and prosperity in China.
Prior to the 7th century, arhats were generally represented as a pair flanking an image of Buddha, usually identified as Kashyapa and Ananda, two of the ten principle disciples of Buddha and important figures in the early Buddhist sangha (monkhood). In these depictions, the figures are usually shown with foreign, “Indian,” features and one is older than the other. Such an arrangement can be found in the Northern Wei-era Central Bingyan Cave at Longmen (see A. Howard, et al., Chinese Sculpture, New Haven, 2006, p. 238, fig. 3.39) and a niche at the Huangze Monastery in Sichuan Province, carved in the Northern Zhou period (ibid., p. 289, fig. 3.94).
The translation and introduction of the Nandimitra sutra (Record of the Abiding Dharma Spoken by the Great Arhat Nandimitra) from India to China by the traveling monk Xuanzang (AD 602-664) partially changed the practice of luohan worship; in place of the standard two arhats, they began to be depicted in groups of 16, 18, 100 or 500, with 18 being the most common. Sculptural images of luohan groups were most often carried out in ceramic, as the material was more cost effective for large groups and allowed for better individualized plasticity. Among the most well-known of the ceramic luohan is the group found near Yixian and dated to the Liao Dynasty (AD 907-1125), now distributed in Western museums (for two at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, see D. Leidy, Wisdom Embodied, New York, 2010, pp. 112-13, nos. 23a and 23b). Examples in ceramic dated to the Ming dynasty, and stylistically similar to the present figures, are in the collection of the National Museum of East Asian Art, Berlin (see Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue of Chinese Buddhist Statues in Overseas Collections, vol. 7, Beijing, 2005, p. 1455) and in the Seattle Art Museum (33.1146).
Known images of luohan in bronze are significantly rarer, although many lesser quality examples exist in iron. An exception is a gilt-bronze figure of a luohan seated on a base, similar in appearance to the younger of the two works here, although smaller in size, in the Victoria & Albert Museum (see G. Béguin, Dieux et demons de l’Himâlaya: Art du Bouddhisme lamaïque, Paris, 1977, p. 108, cat. no. 69). The Victoria & Albert bronze is inscribed on the reverse with “number seven on the east,” likely indicating its orientation within a larger group of luohan. Remarkably, the present bearded arhat is inscribed on the interior with Chinese characters for the number thirteen. While the original orientation is unclear, it indicates that these two figures likely belonged to a larger group of sixteen or eighteen luohan. The time and material cost required to cast these two figures alone would have been astonishing, so a group of sixteen or eighteen would have been an extremely important commission.
Stylistically, the present figures relate to the imperial-quality sculpture carried out at the Ming court during the 15th century. Compare with a gilt-bronze figure of Bhaishajyaguru sold in The Sublime and Beautiful: Asian Masterpieces of Devotion at Christie’s New York, 20 March 2014, lot 1624: The treatment of the drapery over the left arm and across the torso, and the muscular yet stylized proportions of the chest and bare right arm are particularly similar (Fig. 1). Such stylistic elements derive from the Nepalese and Tibetan influence on Chinese Buddhist sculpture that originated in the Yuan Dynasty and continued throughout the Ming, and to a certain extent, the Qing dynasties.
A magnificent pair of painted pottery figures of Earth Spirits, zhenmushou, Tang dynasty (AD 618-907). Estimate: $350,000 – $450,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2015.
One figure has a leonine face, knobbed horns and a twisted crest, and is shown roaring triumphantly as it crouches atop a wild boar, with one clawed foot pushing down on the prone animal's head, the other back leg extended while the powerful beast raises its right front leg in a violent warning gesture.The body is decorated in blue, white and black pigment and gold-leaf with a pattern of large irregular spots, the broad chest and belly in orangy-red and the flames rising from the legs with polychrome chevron patterns. The other figure is modeled with a pugnacious humanoid face, and is shown seated with front hoofs firmly planted on a rocky base. Chevron-decorated flames rise from the powerful shoulders and a twisted hank of hair flanked by further flames rises from the top of the head. Its body is also painted with large irregular spots in pale green and black, with stripes of gold leaf bordering the orangy-red chest. 30 ¼ and 29 ½ in. (76.8 and 75 cm.) high
Provenance: Acquired in Hong Kong in 1998.
Christie's New York, 24 March 2004, lot 135.
Property from an Important American Collection
Notes: This pair of Earth Spirits is particularly well-modeled and much of their original cold-painted decoration has been preserved. This surface decoration includes not only brightly colored pigments, but extensive use of gilded decoration – indicating that they were made for a patron of considerable social status. Specially produced tomb animals have been found in graves dating to the 3rd century, but initially they seem to have appeared as single figures. Later it became the custom to include two of these ferocious figures in the tombs of the elite. In the Tang dynasty, figures such as this magnificent pair would have been placed close to the entrance to the tomb in order to ward off evil and protect the soul of the deceased. A number of different names have been applied to such figures, but in recent years the term most frequently used in Chinese literature is zhenmushou, or ‘tomb guardian creatures’, reflecting their function in the tomb. The strange physical forms and fierce expressions of these zhenmushou were intended to emphasize their power over evil and their role in protecting the tomb occupant from evil spirits. Such figures always display commanding physiques with barrel-like chests and fierce expressions – in keeping with their role as powerful protectors, and each pair is made up of two distinct types. One of each pair has a snarling animal head, with prominent canine teeth and a rather leonine muzzle topped by a pair of curved horns. The horns often have additional sharp protuberances on the lower part at the front, as in the case of the current figure. Its ferocity is further emphasized by the dragon-like claws or lion’s clawed feet, which it holds in a threatening manner. The other figure in the pair has an almost human face, topped by what looks like either a long plume of hair or a long single, spiraled, horn and with large ears on either side of the head. This creature has cloven hooves and sits on its haunches with its front legs straight and firmly planted in front of it in an attitude known in heraldry as ‘sejant’. While the animal-headed figure is poised for aggressive action, the human-faced figure sits solidly immovable, as if to emphasize that it will block the passage of any evil spirit which threatens to enter the tomb.
In some instances the human-faced creatures have weapons, such as halberds or tridents protruding from their heads. A sancai zhenmushou figure excavated in 1959 from Zhonghao village, Xi’an, Shaanxi (illustrated in the catalogue of the exhibition The Silk Road – Treasures of Tang China, Empress Place, Singapore, 1991, p. 92), for example, has a trident at the back of its head. Like the current example, however, the human-faced figure of the sancai-glazed pair of henmushou excavated in 1957 from the tomb of Xianyu Tinghui in Xi’an (illustrated by the National Museum of Chinese History in A Journey into China’s Antiquity, vol. III, Beijing, 1997, no. 186) has only horns and plumes of hair. Simpler examples of both type of zhenmushou, in the same poses as the current figures, which were excavated in 1972 at Hanshen Stockade, Xi’an, Shaanxi, were also included in the exhibition catalogue The Silk Road – Treasures of Tang China, op. cit., p. 93.
The pair of zhenmushou in the current sale has been modeled with great skill – endowing one with a wonderfully dynamic ferocity and the other with an obdurate, menacing, immobility. The first figure’s dramatic feeling of movement suggests that he is about to pounce upon some emanation of evil. Interestingly, his right foot is firmly planted on the neck of a sow, which may represent a sacrificial animal which was part of the funerary rites. The painting of the surface of this pair of figures is distinctive, not only in the multi-colored chevrons on the flames which rise from their shoulders and heads, but, more especially, in the large – almost cloud-like - mottles, which cover the back, sides and limbs of both zhenmushou. In some ways these markings relate to scales, but are painted in a manner which resembles slices of geode, and were perhaps intended to suggest additional hardness, splendor, and supernatural power.
Rosemary Scott. International Academic Director, Asian Art
The results of Oxford Authentication Ltd. thermoluminescence test nos. C298a45 and C298a44 are consistent with the dating of this lot.
A rare Imperial untailored gold brocaded silk twill court overcoat, gua, Kangxi period, late 17th century. Estimate: $250,000 – $350,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2015.
The yardage is finely worked in colored silk and gold threads with nine five-clawed dragons, with scales picked out in green and blue thread, each confronting a flaming pearl amidst green, blue, and red clouds. The hem is woven with rock formations rising from rolling and crashing waves and ruyi-shaped clouds, all on a bright gold, weft-patterned ground. 53 ¼ in. x 53 ¼ in. (135 cm. x 135 cm.)
Property from the collection of Myrna and Sam Myers
Literature: C. Kontler, Arts et Sagesses de la Chine, Milan, 2000, pl. 88 and p. 238.
J. E. Vollmer, Silks for Thrones and Altars: Chinese Costumes and Textiles from the Liao through the Qing dynasty, Myrna Myers, Paris, 2003, front and back cover, p. 54, no. 23.
Notes: The pattern of this impressive front-opening overcoat fabric was woven to shape for a Manchu garment with long tapered sleeves (a single separate sleeve end provides information about the intended sleeve width and length). The fabric is solidly patterned with supplementary wefts brocaded on a twill ground. Brilliantly colored dragons amid clouds above a billowing border of waves crashing against mountain forms are set against a gold ground. While such lavish use of gold threads evokes the tradition of nasij or 'cloth-of gold' robes that were distributed at the Yuan dynasty court as signs of imperial favor, its use by the early Qing court was clearly meant to impress and to overwhelm by underlining the wealth and power of the Manchu court.
The dragon-patterned overcoat marks an early stage in the development of the closed nine dragon robes that first appear in the early 18th century and becomes the standard court attire for the emperor and all higher ranking courtiers. Earlier experiments dating from the reign of the Shunzhi emperor (r. 1644-1661) are heavily influenced by late Ming dynasty styles. These overcoats have a pair of profile dragons flanking the front opening sharing a flaming pearl, with a single, larger profile dragon at the back—smaller dragons were placed at each shoulder (see Vollmer and Simcox Emblems of Empire: Selections from the Mactaggart Art Collection, Edmonton, Canada, 2009, pp. 202-205).
On this example, probably dating from the 1670s or 1680s, the number of dragons has increased to nine. A hierarchy of dragon types - front-facing and profile - and size - larger above the waist and smaller below—will influence the arrangement of design elements on the standardized Qing garment which displays eight dragons of two types on the surface and places a hidden ninth dragon on the panel under the front overlap.
Many of these transitional pieces were sent to Tibet under the Kangxi emperor as they quickly fell out of favor and fashion. This unused design was pieced together with other textiles to form an altar canopy. For these liturgical furnishings, which were suspended over an altar platform and its icons and offerings, Tibetans preferred larger pieces of Chinese textiles, in particular dragon robes as their cosmic imagery provided ready-made representations of the firmament, or canopy of 'dome of heaven'. This is one of the most complete examples of this garment type.
By John E. Vollmer
AN ERA OF INSPIRATION: 17th-CENTURY CHINESE PORCELAINS FROM THE COLLECTION OF JULIA AND JOHN CURTIS 16 March
Christie’s will present an important private collection of superb Chinese porcelain. An Era of Inspiration: 17th-Century Chinese Porcelains from the Collection of Julia and John Curtis will feature 95 lots, each vividly showcasing the talent and creativity of the 17th-century porcelain artisans. The exhibition, symposium and sale of this carefully assembled and meticulously researched collection will provide collectors and scholars the unique opportunity to engage with the brilliantly decorated porcelains produced in this short period of time.
FINE CHINESE PAINTINGS 17 March
Christie’s sale of Fine Chinese Paintings will take place on 17 March and features 143 traditional and modern works. Leading the sale is Zhang Daqian’s The Three Peaks of Mount Hua, Landscape in the style of Shitao (estimate: $150,000-250,000). This painting by the versatile and prolific artist created a complex imagery of Mount Hua with cultural references in his poem inscribed at the top. The cover lot of this sale is Yu Fei’an’s Butterfly and Plum Blossom (estimate: $50,000-80,000). A refined picture painted when the artist was 64- at the peak of his maturity and skill.
Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), The Three Peaks of Mount Hua, Landscape in the style of Shitao (1642-1707). Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper. Inscribed and signed by the artist, with three seals, 68 3/4 x 24 3/4 in. (174.5 x 63 cm). Estimate: $150,000 – $250,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2015.
Provenance: Formerly in the collection of Rosalind Ching Pastor.
Christie's New York, 13 September 2012, lot 1329.
Literature: Stephen Little, Masterworks of Chinese Art: The Rosalind Ching Pastor Collection, Honolulu, 2005, pp. 63 and 77.
Exhibited: Honolulu Academy of Arts, Masterworks of Chinese Art: The Rosalind Ching Pastor Collection, 28 July-25 September 2005.
Yu Fei’an (1889-1959), Butterfly and Plum Blossom. Scroll, mounted for framing, ink and color on paper. Inscribed and signed by the artist, with three seals. Dated to 65 years of age. Dedicated to Zha Fuxi (1895-1976), 17 1/2 x 10 1/4 in. (44.5 x 36 cm). Estimate: $50,000 – $80,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2015.
THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT HATFIELD ELLSWORTH 17-21 March
Christie's presents a landmark five-day auction series devoted to the collection of the celebrated American scholar, dealer and collector Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, running March 17 to 21 at Christie’s flagship New York galleries at Rockefeller Center. After successful tours to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, and London last autumn, Christie's is unveiling Mr. Ellsworth’s collection of over 1,400 lots that will be sold without reserve via an extended, eightday public exhibition leading up to the start of the auction series. This extraordinary collection, widely considered to be one of the most important private collection of Asian Art ever to come to market, is expected to realize in excess of US$35 million.
INDIAN, HIMALAYAN AND SOUTHEAST ASIAN WORKS OF ART 18 March
Christie’s sale of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Works of Art will take place on 18 March and offer 61 exquisite paintings and sculpture from India, Tibet, Nepal, and Southeast Asia.
Among the sale highlights is an exceptionally cast bronze figure of Vajrabhairava and Shakti, Tibet, 18th century (estimate: $500,000-700,000), this work is among the finest sculptural figures of its kind; a rare and highly important 13th century painting of Amogapasha Lokeshvara, (estimate: $600,000-800,000), the embodiment of compassion;; and a large and important stone figure of a Buddha, Northeastern India, Pala Period, 10th century (estimate: $600,000800,000), rare for its type, size and quality, exemplifying the gentle finesse of Pala stone sculpture.
An exceptionally cast bronze figure of Vajrabhairava and Shakti, Tibet, 18th century. Estimate: $500,000 – $700,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2015.
The pair in embrace striding in alidhasana on prostrate animals and figures over a double lotus base, adorned with garlands of skulls and severed heads, Vajrabhairava holding a skullcup and chopper in his primary hands, with additional accoutrements in the other thirty-two hands radiating about him, his ferocious bull’s face surmounted by a crown of skulls and additional stacked faces, the base sealed with a double-vajra, with traces of polychromy remaining in the face and hair; 10 ¼ in. (26 cm.) high
Provenance: Private collection, London, acquired from Spink & Son, Ltd., London on 3 May 1996
Literature: Himalayan Art Resource (himalayanart.org), item no. 23558
Notes: Vajrabhairava, one of the principal meditational deities of Tibetan Buddhism, is the terrifying form of Manjushri, the God of Wisdom. Like Yamantaka, he is a destroyer of death itself. His depictions vary from the highly complex with multiple heads and arms to the very concise with a single face and two arms. The present work shows him in embrace with Vajra Vetali, symbolizing the dualistic totality encompassing compassion (embodied by the male) and wisdom (associated with the female).
Exquisitely cast in several parts, this bronze depicts Vajrabhairava standing in pratyalidhasana atop eight bulls, eight geese and various prostrate figures on a double-lotus base. His primary buffalo face is surmounted by tiers of wrathful heads and a diadem of flaming hair. He holds a curved knife and skullcup in his lower hands, while the rest of his hands, each holding an implement, radiate at his sides. Vajra Vetali stands with one leg wrapped around his waist, back arched and arms raised holding a curved knife and skull cup in her hands. Both figures are adorned with beaded jewelry and skull crowns, a garland of severed heads hangs between them.
Following the Pala tradition of masterful non-gilt bronze work, this sculpture retains a rich dark brown patina overall, a characteristic of Lamaist sculpture from the Qing dynasty. Compare with a closely related work from the Musées Royeaux d'Art et d'Historie in Brussels (see: U. von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, 1981, p.546, fig.155A). Fully realized and exceptionally cast, this work is among the finest sculptural figures of its kind.
A rare and highly important painting of Amogapasha Lokeshvara, Tibet, 13th century. Estimate: $600,000 – $800,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2015.
The white-skinned Amoghapasha Lokeshvara seated on a multicolored lotus throne, his left hand in abhayamudra holding the stem of a lotus blossom, his right hand in varadamudra gently resting on his knee, clad in red and transparent robes and shawl, his languid body adorned with jewelry, the face with bow-shaped lips and elongated meditative eyes, surmounted by an elaborate jeweled tiara, flanked by attendants and surrounded by rows of lineage members, all set in red against a dark blue background interspersed with foliage, with inscriptions on the verso; 18 x 15 in. (45.5 x 38 cm)
Provenance: Collection of Lynn and David Young, Canada, by 1997
Lierature: A. Heller, "A Set of Thirteenth Century Tsakali," Orientations, November 1997, p.52, fig.7
Himalayan Art Resource (himalayanart.org), item no. 23549
Notes: This exquisite thirteenth-century thangka depicts Amoghapasha (“unfailing lasso”) Lokeshvara ("lord who gazes down"), the embodiment of compassion. Sometimes described as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, the concept of a compassionate deity comes out of a number of Indian Sanskrit texts with the name Amoghapasha in the title.
Here the Amoghapasha Lokeshvara (1) is portrayed white in color, languidly seated in lalitasana on a double lotus throne. His left hand is raised in abhayamudra and holds the stem of a lotus blossoming over his shoulder. His right hand gently rests on his knee in varadamudra. He wears a red and white patterned diaphanous dhoti and a transparent scarf draped across his shoulders and chest. His lithe body is adorned in jeweled necklaces, armbands, earrings, bracelets and anklets. His tilted head is surmounted by a three-tiered crown and conical coiffeur decorated with flowers. His elongated eyes gaze at the viewer with soft benevolence. For a closely related example from the same period, see a painting of White Manjushri in the Kronos Collection (S. Kossak, Painted Images of Enlightenment: Early Tibetan Thankas 1050-1450, 2010, p. 186, fig. 122). Both works depict the central deity gracefully seated on a lotus throne with heads slightly tilted to one side. Their faces are delicate and refined and their lithe bodies have been rendered with a gentle sway. They wear nearly identical dhotis and multiple strands of jeweled necklaces. Another example of a thirteenth-century painting of Manjushri (M. Rhie and R. Thurman, Wisdom and Compassion, The Sacred Art of Tibet, 1996, revised edition, p. 422, cat no. 175) which was sold in these rooms (22 March 2011, lot 324), also depicts a central figure with a softly curved posture accentuated by the tilt of the head. Like the present work, this comparable painting contains an elaborate retinue of figures surrounding the main deity who sits within a central niche.
This array of outer figures provides the painting's contextual narrative. In the present work these figures include members from his lineage on the top (2) and bottom (3) registers. Of the figures below, the last to be included is the teacher Choje Chilkarba (4), who lived between 1228-1300, therefore supporting dating of this masterpiece. Just above the main figure sits Jinasagara Lokeshvara, a special meditational deity of the Karma Kagyu (5), who is flanked by Hayagriva on the left (6) and Vajravarahi on the right (7). The far right register depicts Jinasagara Lokeshvara’s lineage, which includes Padmasambhava, who is credited with bringing Tantric Buddhism to Tibet (8), Siddhirajni, an Indian female tantric (9), and Rechungpa, the famous student of Milarepa (10). Below center, Chaturbhuja Lokeshvara, the “the all seeing lord with four hands” (11), is flanked by Manidharin (12) and Shadakshari (13). Chatburbhuja Lokeshvara’s lineage is represented on the far left register and includes Atisha, the renowned teacher who was instrumental in the spread of 11th-century Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism in Asia (14). The four figures standing on either side of the central deity include Hayagriva, the chief wrathful deity in the Padma Buddha Family (15) and Ekajati, principal female protector and guardian of the “Revealed Treasure” tradition of the Nyingma School (16), on the upper right and left respectively. A red Amogapasha (17) and white Bhrikuti (18) stand on the lower right and left. The donor figure is seated next to an array of offerings on the lower left (19), with Green Tara slightly above (20).
In her article on a set of thirteenth-century tsakali, Amy Heller draws a comparison between the elegantly rendered figures in the tsakali and the central deity in the present work (A. Heller, “A Set of Thirteenth Century Tsakali,”Orientations, November 1997, p. 48-52, fig. 7). The tsakali depicting a four-armed Avalokiteshvara (ibid., p. 50, fig. 5) relates to the Amogapasha Lokeshvara in the present work in nearly every aspect, from the posture and proportions, to the serene facial expressions backed by a single halo. Ms. Heller suggests the painting can be viewed almost "as a compendium of numerous tsakali, grouped around the larger representations in the center" (ibid., p. 51). Stylistically, the palette and imagery – particularly the posture of the central figure, the central rainbow aureole, the lotus petals and jeweled border – suggest a Pala Indian influence (ibid., p. 51). The artist who realized this magnificent painting mastered the interpretation of an Indian aesthetic within a Tibetan Buddhist context, perfectly synthesizing the two with exceptional skill and profound inspiration.
A large and important stone figure of a Buddha, Northeastern India, Pala Period, 10th century. Estimate: $600,000 – $800,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2015.
Standing on a lotus base with his right hand in varadamudra and his left holding the folds of his diaphanoussanghati, which drapes in elegant, concentric cascades, the face with a serene expression and downcast eyes flanked by pendulous earlobes, the hair in tight curls over the ushnisha, with an inscription above his shoulder, his parasol incised with lotus petals, flanked by Avalokiteshvara on the left and Maitreya on the right; 54 ¼ in. (137.7 cm.) high
Literature: Rossi and Rossi, Sculpture from a Sacred Realm, 1995, fig.19
Exhibited: Sculpture from a Sacred Realm, London, 22 November - 22 December 1995
Notes: Pala, which means "protector" in Sanskrit, was the name of an important dynasty that flourished in eastern India from the 8th to the 12th century. Pala period art, which is heavily influenced by the Gupta period aesthetic, is recognized as a distinct style that traveled from India to Nepal and Tibet, where it became a major sculptural and painting tradition.
Exquisitely carved and highly polished, this depiction of Buddha is rare for its type, size and quality. Stylistically, this standing figure exemplifies the gentle finesse of Pala stone sculpture, seen particularly in the rendering of the physiognomy and attire. The facial features are full and soft, the curls of hair individually carved with swirled incised lines. The delicately incised curving lines across the body, indicating the thin folds of the robe, are inspired by the drapery found on Gupta sculptures from Mathura. His simple and naturalistic representation situates him in the 10th century, as later images introduced crowns and necklaces and the modeling became more stylized, rendering the figure more static. The depiction of Avalokiteshvara and Maitreya on either side of the Buddha echoes representations of the Buddha from Bodh Gaya during the 9th and 10th centuries. For another example displaying similar treatment of the stone surface and accompaniment of two smaller figures on each side, please see the figure of a Buddha sold at Christie's New York, on 18 September 2013, lot 237.
The Sanskrit inscription to the side of the Buddha's right shoulder, "Shri harshanagasya," indicates that the donor was likely Shri Harshanaga.
SPECIAL EXHIBITION: MODERN + CONTEMPORARY: MASTERPIECES FROM THE SUBCONTINENT 11-21 March
Christie’s announces a private selling exhibition Modern + Contemporary: Masterpieces from the Subcontinent to be held March 11-21, coinciding with the series of auctions during Asian Art Week. The exhibition features modern works by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, Maqbool Fida Husain, Krishen Khanna, Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta and Syed Haider Raza, and explores the unfolding story of modern art in Post-independence India from the early 1950s through the 1970s, when modernism comes into its own and crystallizes its identity. The exhibition’s dialogue on the lasting influence on modern Indian art is complemented by contemporary works from Alwar Balasubramaniam and Zarina, who are both highly regarded in museum and collector circles alike for their extremely wellconceived and produced pieces.