Lot 44. A superb silver 'Animal' bowl, Tang dynasty, late 7th-early 8th century, 16.5cm., 6 1/4 in. Estimate 150,000 — 200,000 GBP. Lot sold 446,100 GBP. Photo: Sotheby's.
with gently rounded sides and a flat base, the exterior superbly decorated with a finely chased and engraved continuous design of symmetrically arranged bands of heart-shaped floral scrolls issuing arched, curling tendrils and leaves and enclosing palmettes, grapes and volutes, the central band of scrolls depicting various animals in different poses, among them an elephant and a camel, below a stylised vine scroll interspersed with birds finely chased at the slightly everted rim, all against a very finely executed circle-punched ground. WEIGHT 331g.
Literature:Bo Gyllensvärd, Chinese Gold and Silver in the Carl Kempe Collection, Stockholm, 1953, pl. 99.
Note: This bowl is outstanding in its extremely fine workmanship and in its design which reflects the familiarity and fascination of Tang high society with exotic animals introduced via the the Silk.
Although the present bowl appears to be unique, it is stylistically comparable with a footed bowl of similar form and size, densely decorated with a series of small figures amongst birds, animals and flowering branches, from the collection of Frederick M. Mayer and included in the exhibition The Arts of the T'ang Dynasty, Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles, 1957, cat. no. 327, sold at Christie's London, 24/25th June 1974, lot 171, and again in these rooms, 30th March 1978, lot 67. See another slightly smaller footed bowl of this rich decoration from the collection of Dr. Pierre Uldry included in the exhibition Chinesisches Gold und Silber, Rietberg Museum, Zurich, 1994, cat. no. 143.
It is rare to find Tang silver bowls of this simple yet elegant form decorated with an overall chased design as seen on the present vessel. The design pattern is expertly placed and superbly executed, a testament to the very fine workmanship of the Tang silversmith. Vessels of this exquisite quality and rich decorative motif were made for imperial use at the many banquets held by the Tang court. For further information on the use of silver and gold utensils used at banquets see Han Wei, 'Gold and Silver Vessels of the Tang Period', Orientations, July 1994, pp. 31-35.
Sotheby's. London, Masterpieces of Chinese Precious Metalwork: Early Chinese Gold and Silver, 14 May 2008