A rare finely cast tripod ewer and cover, he, Warring States period (475-221 BC)

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Lot 1116. A rare finely cast tripod ewer and cover, he, Warring States period (475-221 BC); 10 ½ in. (26.6 cm.) wide. Estimate USD 100,000 - USD 150,000Price realised USD 275,000© Christie's Images Ltd 2018.

The compressed globular body is raised on the backs of three squatting, bird-like mythological creatures with feathered wings, scaly bodies, ornate horns and front claws clasped in front of the chest, and the sides are crisply cast in relief with two registers of intricate, interlocking winged dragon-and-bird scrolls separated by a plain band, the lower register an inverted version of the upper. The short, curved spout is formed by the forequarters and head of a bird with hooked beak, and the low domed cover cast with fine interlocking scrolls is attached by a linked chain to a large ring that encircles the dragon-form handle cast with stripes on the sides. The vessel has areas of cuprite patina and blue-green encrustation. 

ProvenanceThe T.T. Tsui Collection, Hong Kong, before 1996.
Christie's New York, 26 March 2003, lot 156.

LiteratureSplendour of Ancient Chinese Art: Selections from the Collections of T. T. Tsui Galleries of Chinese Art Worldwide, Hong Kong, 1996, no. 2.

Note: This finely cast he appears to be far more elaborate than other published examples of the same period. The two closest are the he in the Lucy Maud Buckingham Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, illustrated by C. Mackenzie, 'Adaptation and Invention: Chinese Bronzes of the Eastern Zhou and Han Periods', Orientations, June 1993, p. 64, fig. 14; and the one included in the exhibition, Sculpture and ornament in early Chinese art, Eskenazi, London, 11 June-13 July 1996, no. 4. Both of these have a bird-head spout with hinged cover and a tail that extends from the body on the side opposite the spout. The legs, too, appear similar - a bird with spread wings perched atop the shoulders of a spirit figure with human-like body, but clawed feet. 

On both of these comparable vessels the decoration is arranged in three bands which are cast in low relief and separated by copper-inlaid bands, and the handle is an arched feline-like creature with hoof feet. The present he has the bands of decoration cast in higher relief, with a single plain band separating them. The legs of this vessel are fashioned as anthropomorphic birds, although they are predominantly bird-like in features, with the human element present in the stance, in particular the front legs on which the claws are clasped at the chest in an expressive, somewhat fawning manner. They have scaly bodies and a pair of delicate, scrolled horns. There is also a greater sense of the weight of the vessel actually being borne by their crouching bodies than is apparent on the other two he.  

This he, like the other two, also has a spout formed by the forequarters of a bird with hooked beak, but the beak does not have a hinged cover, and the open mouth gives the head a wilder, fiercer appearance. This is also true of the handle which appears to be a winged dragon, its forequarters at the front, and its flared, bifurcated tail at the back.  

A less elaborate he with bird-head spout in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, is illustrated by J. So, Eastern Zhou Ritual Bronzes, vol. III, 1995, pp. 406-7, no. 84. As with the present he, the beak is cast open and the neck is cast with a scale pattern, but the rest of the vessel is undecorated except for copper-inlaid bands.

Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, New York, 13 - 14 September 2018