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Lot 818. A very rare and important bronze horse harness frontlet, Northwest China, 6th century BCEstimate USD 150,000 - USD 250,000 © Christie's Images Ltd 2017.

The harness fitting is well cast in relief as a stylized bovine head with a broad nose below deep, curved grooves that frame the almond-shaped eyes and lead to the small heart-shaped ears below the upswept horns that curve outward at the tips. Two horizontal attachment loops are next to each other in the center of the plain reverse. The front has a smooth, mottled reddish-brown patina. 8 ¼ in. (21 cm.) wide, stand

Provenance: J. J. Lally & Co., New York, 16 December 1993.
The Erwin Harris Collection, Miami, Florida.

Literature: J. F. So and E. C. Bunker, Traders and Raiders on China's Northern Frontier, Washington D.C., Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1995, p. 118, no. 33, and p. 45, col. pl. 8. 
S. Melikian, “Masterpieces of a Mysterious Culture,” International Herald Tribune, 20 January 1996, p. 8.
F. Salviati, “Archaeology on China’s Northern Frontier,” Minerva, July/August 1996, p. 24, fig. 5.

NoteBronze animal mask fittings for horse harnesses are seen as early as the late Shang and Western Zhou periods. Several of these are illustrated by Cheng Dong and Zhong Shao-yi, Ancient Chinese Weapons - A Collection of Pictures, Beijing, 1990, p. 38, pl. 2-81, a bovine mask, p. 41, pl. 2-94, a humanoid face, and p. 62, pls. 3-59 (a bovine mask) and 3-60 (a humanoid mask). All of these were meant to frighten and have more simplified shapes and are lacking the graceful lines of the present mask. The deep curving grooves that follow the contours of the mask can also be seen on a pair of bronze plaques of a tiger with its kulan prey, dated to the 6th – 5th century BC, in the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Gallery, Kansas City, illustrated by E. C. Bunker et al., “Animal Style” Art from East to West, The Asia Society, 1970, p. 115, pl. 84, where they are ascribed to Inner Mongolia. Curved grooves similar to those of the present mask accentuate the various areas of the tigers’ bodies, as well as their heads, in a manner very similar to that found on the mask. A pair of gold tiger plaques worked in the same groove-band style, was excavated from Ahluchaideng in Inner Mongolia, a site where mostly Warring States material was found, and is illustrated by Tian Guangjin and Guo Suxin in Ordos Bronzeware, Beijing, 1986, col. pl. 5. The shape of the eyes also appears similar. And the small heart-shaped ears are similar in shape to the tiny ear on a Liyu-style bird-shaped zun in the Freer Gallery of Art, illustrated by T. Lawton, Chinese Art of the Warring States Period, Washington, 1982, pp. 30-31, no. 3. The same tiny ear can be seen on a small bovine head from Fenshuiling, Changzhi Xian, Shanxi province, illustrated in Kaogu xuebao, 1974.2, pl. 5.3.

Christie's. The Harris Collection: Important Early Chinese Art, 16 March 2017, New York, Rockefeller Center