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Lot 212. Tête de dragon en marbre blanc sculpté, Début de la dynastie Ming. Estimate 30,000 — 50,000 €. Lot sold 181,250 €. Photo: Sotheby's.

la puissante gueule regardant droit devant, les yeux exorbités sous d'épais sourcils ondulant vers l'arrière, la machoire serrée laissant dépasser des crocs acérés, le front renflé orné de deux longues cornes, la crinière formant de petites boucles autour du cou, le corps écailleux, socle (2); 96 cm.

A WHITE MARBLE ARCHITECTURAL ELEMENT IN THE SHAPE OF A DRAGON HEAD, EARLY MING DYNASTY, , 37 3/4  in.

NoteThe dynamism and vigour of this marble head of a dragon with bulging eyes and rippled skin, is animated and, even though quite worn, conveys a dynamism and vigour that is characteristic of Yuan and early Ming scultpure. It may have been part of a larger architectural context where it was made to interlock with an ember as the recessed part at the opposite end of the head suggests. It is stylistically very close to examples that were made only for buildings associated with the imperial court. Compare with two very similar marble heads of fabulous beasts that were recovered from the site of the former Yuan central capital Zhongdu, present-day Zhangbei, Hebei province, and are illustrated in James C. Y. Watt, The World of Khubilai Khan. Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty, New York, 2010, pls. 96 and 99. The same catalogue illustrates other examples that were discovered in Inner Mongolia, see ibid., pls. 58, 98 and 103. 

As Nancy S. Steinhardt notes, these marble end pieces derive from a long heritage of dragon head ornaments that were continued to be used in the architecture of imperial buildings of the Qing Dynasty, see Nancy S. Steinhardt, 'The Architecture of Living and Dying', in James C. Y. Watt, The World of Khubilai Khan. Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty, New York, 2010, pp. 65-73. 

Sotheby's. Arts d'Asie Paris, 22 Jun 2017