A rare bronze double-owl-form ritual food vessel (you), Late Shang dynasty, 13th-11th century BC. Estimate 15,000 — 25,000 USD. Price Realized $125,000 . Photo Sotheby's
of oval section in the form of two addorsed owls, their rounded bodies supported on four stout legs, cast in low relief with four wings of simple curvilinear outline, the domed fitted cover cast on each side with a pair of large round protuberant eyes centered on a sharp hooked beak, the heads further adorned with two pairs of C-shaped ears, all below a segmented bud-shaped finial cast, the patina a mottled brown-green, with malachite and cuprite encrustation (2). Height 7 1/2 in., 19 cm
Provenance: Tonying & Co., New York.
Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 5th April 1956, lot 45.
Notes: You vessels of double-owl-form are generally cast in two different types - ones with surface decoration and those plainly decorated. The present lot belongs to the latter. A related vessel of similarly abstracted design but with a more naturalistic beak is in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and illustrated in René Lefebvre d'Argencé, Bronze Vessels of Ancient China in the Avery Brundage Collection, San Francisco, 1977, pl. XV. Compare a very similar one in the Shanxi Provincial Museum, illustrated in Zhongguo Qingtongqi Quanji, vol. 4, Beijing, 1998, pls. 154, 155. Other related you include two with a bail handle in the Hubei Yingxing Wenhua Guancang and the Shanghai Museum, both illustrated ibid, pls 156, 157. Another closely related vessel is illustrated in Robert W. Bagley, Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Washington DC, 1987, pl. 63 where the author discusses the development of this vessel type from the naturalistic to the more abstract forms, "the beaks have become inorganic projections that belong to the lid rather than to the owls and the metamorphosis of the owl's head into a taotie face is complete" (ibid. p. 370). Two closely related 'double-owl' vessels were sold in these rooms; 20th March 2012, lot 13 and 21st September 2005, lot 157.
Sotheby's. Important Chinese Art, New York, 15 sept. 2015