1

2

3

Lot 3405. An extremely rare yellow and russet jade figure of a mythical beast, Six Dynasties (220-589); 7.5 cm, 3 in. Estimate 2,200,000 — 2,800,000 HKD. Lot sold 2,250,000 HKD (289,823 USD). Courtesy Sotheby's.

superbly and powerfully worked as a snarling lion or chimera crouching with the body slightly turned to the left, the mythical beast rendered ferocious with the head held high above the protruding chest marked with a series of horizontal folds, the mouth rendered opened and baring its teeth and fangs, below circular irises enclosed within lozenge-shaped eyes, the nostrils, thick eyebrows and flattened ears accentuated with scrolling motifs repeated along the shoulders and flanks of the muscular body, the spine further depicted with a gently raised ridge highlighted with fine incisions and terminating in a bifurcated tail, the stone of a warm celadon-yellow colour with extenstive russet patches.

Provenance: Collection of Wilfred Fleisher, Stockholm.
Eskenazi Ltd, London.
Collection of J.M.A. Dawson, London.
Collection of Hugh Moss, Hong Kong. 
J.J. Lally & Co., New York, 1999.

ExhibitedCeladon-Jade, National Museum, Stockholm, 1963, cat. no. 65.
Jessica Rawson and John Ayers, Chinese Jade Throughout the Ages, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1975, cat. no. 186.
Chinese Jades from a Private Collection, Eskenazi Ltd., London, 1976, cat. no. 7.
Chinese Works of Art from the Collection of J.M.A. Dawson, Eskenazi Ltd., London, 1980, cat. no. 44.
Eskenazi: Twenty-five Years, Eskenazi Ltd., London, 1985, cat. no. 18.
Gerard Tsang and Hugh Moss, Arts from the Scholar's Studio, Fung Ping Shan Museum, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1986, cat. no. 179.
Sydney S.K. Fung and Yeung Chun-tong, Exquisite Jade Carving: Figures, Animals, Ornaments, University Museum and Art Gallery, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1996, cat. no. 66 and cover.
Ancient China, Jades, Bronzes & Ceramics, J.J. Lally & Co., New York, 1999, cat. no. 23.

LiteratureDesmond Gure, Selected Examples from the Jade Exhibition at Stockholm, Stockholm, 1963, pl. 13, no. 2.
'A Comprehensive Study', Bulletin of the Museum of Far East Antiques, Stockholm, 1964, vol. 36, pl. 13, no. 2.
Na Zhiliang, Yuqi cidian [Dictionary of Chinese Jade], Taipei, 1982, p. 72, no. 0533.
Robert P. Youngman, The Youngman Collection of Chinese Jades from Neolithic to Qing, Chicago, 2008, pl. 140.
Giuseppe Eskenazi in collaboration with Hajni Elias, A Dealer's Hand: The Chinese Art World Through the Eyes of Giuseppe Eskenazi, London, 2012, Chinese version, Shanghai, 2015, p.236, pl. 153.

NoteThis outstanding jade mythical beast is representative of the finest quality jade craftsmanship of the Six Dynasties. After the more stylised ritual depictions of animals in jade from the Shang to Zhou dynasties, the Han dynasty saw a heightened interest in the representation of powerful mythical creatures in durable materials such as stone and jade. In distinct contrast to pottery figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts mass-produced for tombs to provide support in the afterlife, the function of these lifelike sculptures made from durable materials was to embody and pacify the elemental and supernatural forces of the living world. Large stone figures of ferocious beasts including lions and tigers, and imaginary winged figures, were all placed on the tomb avenues of emperors and high ranking officials and military commanders, a tradition that flourished and reached a peak during the Six Dynasties, when immense fabulous beasts drawn from the spiritual world were produced on a grand scale outside the tombs near Nanjing. Simultaneously, an artistic tradition of creating jade animals of the highest quality flourished. In contrast to the majority of earlier two-dimensional jade carvings, made for the afterlife or to adorn the individual, these figural sculptures were created in the round as independent objects, not just as sumptuous display items for the appreciation of the elite, but also to provide the owner with a constant and concrete realisation of the powerful supernatural forces latent in the world around.

Evidence of this rich tradition of craftsmanship has been transmitted down through a small number of high quality carvings, of which the current sculpture is one of the greatest surviving examples, perfectly encapsulating this tradition. In its exquisite articulation from a lustrous coloured pebble in which the full contours have been so skilfully and compactly utilised, it is a truly outstanding sculpture, a tour-de-force of carving.

Previously exhibited in the Stockholm exhibition Celadon-Jade, 1963 and published in the catalogue by Bo Gyllensvärd as cat. no. 65, it was also included in the 1975 Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition Chinese Jade throughout the Ages, illustrated by Jessica Rawson and John Ayers, London, 1975, cat. no. 186. It depicts a crouching lion or chimera with similar bold modelling in the round, with closely related use of fine striated lines to convey the combed arcs of the fur, grooved folds on the chest and skilfully incised spirals, and a similar dynamic posture of impending movement. The catalogue notes that ‘this type of fabulous animal is related to the monumental stone sculptures found outside tombs near Nanking, which were made during the latter part of the Six Dynasties’, referencing Osvald Siren, Chinese Sculpture, volume II, London, 1925, pls 3-7 and 9-13.  

The closest related jade mythical beast to have appeared at auction was sold in our New York rooms, 2nd November 1979, lot 51, now in the collection of Sir Joseph Hotung. Catalogued as Six Dynasties in the 1979 auction, it was more recently re-dated to the Han period by Jessica Rawson, Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing, London, 1995, pl. 26:7, on account of its similarity to a jade bixie discovered in 1972 at Xianyang near present-day Xian, near the tomb of the Han emperor Yuandi (r. 48-33 BC), now housed in the collection of Xianyang City Museum, and illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua dacidian: jin yin yu shi juan, Shanghai, 1996, p.54, pl. 166.

The Hotung mythical beast shares the same distinct features of the current figure: the powerful bulging eyes and sharply defined jaws; the dynamic taut posture bristling in anticipation of impending movement, snarling and ready to pounce; the fine striated lines, especially at the edges, so typical of early Han jades, with strong bands of relief and deeply incised curved lines that radiate around the body, enhancing the overall sculptural quality; the short curved wings sprouting from the shoulders and the long coiling tail; as well as the skillful integration of the natural russet-brown inclusions into the design of the beast.

For examples of early mythical jade animals from the Qing court collection, compare the famous Eastern Han dynasty bixie in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the museum's exhibition Splendid Treasures. A Hundred Masterpieces of the National Palace Museum on Parade, Taipei, 2012, cat. no. 18; and the Han dynasty jade winged beast in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Jadeware 1, Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 201.

For other rare examples of similar quality, compare the jade mythical beast originally in the collection of Xu Hanqing (1882-1950s), sold in these rooms, 6th April 2016, lot 3025; a Six Dynasties jade chimera from the collection of Dr and Mrs Cheng Te-k’un, illustrated by James Watt, Chinese Jade from Han to Ch’ing, The Asia Society, New York, 1980, pl. 12; and two smaller chimera from the collection of Chung Wah Pui, illustrated by Ip, Yee, Chinese Jade Carving, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1983, cat. nos 126 and 127.

Sotheby's. The Robert Youngman Collection of Chinese Jade II, Hong Kong, 03 Apr 2019