Lot 131. A rare pair of parcel-gilt silver 'Phoenix' hairpins, Tang dynasty (618-907). Length 12 7/8  in., 32.7 cm. Estimate 10,000 — 15,000 USD. Lot sold 85,000 USD. © Sotheby's.

of thin silver sheet, each composed of a double-pronged pin terminating in a broad leaf-shaped finial, the openwork design worked in mirror image each depicting a phoenix in flight, grasping between its beaks a ribbon-tied knot, amid dense foliage scrolls, the details finely engraved (2).

Provenance: Frank Caro, successor to C.T. Loo, New York, 29th October 1954.
Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978)

Note: Hairpins of this type represent the luxurious elegance which characterized Tang nobility. Tang court ladies delighted in such ornamental hairpins that were fashioned out of beaten silver. This was a practical way of reducing the weight of the hairpin and to allow it to quiver slightly when the lady moved creating an effect of shimmering richness. The art of hairstyling, which became increasingly elaborate and sophisticated, played a key role in the social life of the court ladies.    

See a closely related hairpin, in the Royal Ontario Museum collection, Toronto, illustrated in Homage to Heaven, Homage to Earth, Toronto, 1992, pl. 127. Other related hairpins include a pair in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Tangdai jinyin qi [Gold and silver wares from the Tang dynasty], Beijing, 1985, pls 266-7; one from the Pierre Uldry Collection, decorated with birds and flowers, exhibited in Chinesische Gold und Silber. Die Sammling Pierre Uldry, Rietberg Museum, Zurich, 1994, cat. no. 219; and a third, formerly in the collection of Carl Kempe, sold in our London rooms, 14th May 2008, lot 52.

Sotheby's. Junkunc: Arts of Ancient China, New York, 19 march 2019, 10:00 AM