A very rare Imperial bronze 'dragon' censer, Xuande cast six-character mark and of the period (1426-1435)



Lot 309. A very rare Imperial bronze 'dragon' censer, Xuande cast six-character mark and of the period (1426-1435). Estimate HK$1,000,000 – HK$2,000,000 ($129,383 - $258,765). Price Realized HK$4,240,000 ($548,583). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2016.

The censer is raised on a slightly splayed foot, and superbly cast in high relief around the exterior of its compressed globular body with a pair of three-clawed sinuous dragons striding amidst clouds, flanked by a pair of mask and ring handles on the sides. The base is cast with the reign mark within a recessed rectangular panel. 8 in. (20.5 cm.) wide, zitan cover

ProvenanceHermann Dobrikow, (d. Beijing 1928), German diplomat to China
A German family collection

This very rare bronze ‘dragon’ censer was in the collection of Hermann Dobrikow (d. Beijing 1928), a German diplomat to China in the early 20th century. Dobrikow developed a deep attachment to China and established a strong collection of Chinese antiques which encompassed many categories including pottery and porcelain from Tang to Qing dynasties, later bronzes, snuff bottles and textiles. Part of his collection was sold by Rudolph Lepke’s Kunst-Auctions-Haus, Berlin in 1930. 

NotesThe present censer is distinguished by its high-relief casting which allows for a powerful and vivacious rendering of the dragon decoration. Censers of this type are extremely rare and only a few examples have been preserved in international collections. Compare a similar gilt-bronze censer included in the Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong exhibition Arts from the Scholar’s Studio, and illustrated in the Catalogue, Hong Kong, 1986, no.139; and another parcel-gilt censer sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5 October 2011, lot 1943. The style of the chilong and clouds on this censer are closely related to carved lacquer of the early Ming period, for example see a carved cinnabar ‘chilong’ dish in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Lacquer Wares of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2006, no. 58, where the style of the chilong, and the clouds on the cavetto are very similar to those on the current censer. The marks on the present censer and the aforementioned examples all follow the same style, which is very similar to that which appears on porcelain vessels of this period. 

Christie's. 30 YEARS: THE SALE, 30 May 2016, Convention Hall