A rare turquoise-glazed archaistic 'Boar' vessel and cover, zun, Kangxi period (1662-1722)

Lot 150. A rare turquoise-glazed archaistic 'Boar' vessel and cover, zun, Kangxi period (1662-1722); 10 3/8 in. (26.5 cm.) wide. Estimate GBP 30,000 - GBP 50,000 (USD 38,760 - USD 64,600)Price realised GBP 43,750. © Christie's Images Ltd 2019.

The vessel is modelled after a Shang dynasty original as a boar standing foursquare with its head raised. Its body is finely decorated in relief with a stylised kui dragon extending down each leg embellished with appliqué nodes. The belly and back are decorated with a hatched ground. The cover is surmounted by a cockerel finial and is fitted to an aperture on the back of the boar..

ProvenanceWith Pierre Saqué, Paris, acquired before 1970.

A Turquoise-glazed Archaistic Boar-shaped Zun 
Rosemary ScottSenior International Academic Consultant Asian Art 

This boar-shaped zun vessel is a charming reflection of a predilection for archaism in Chinese ceramics, which can be traced back to the Northern Song dynasty. The Northern Song Emperor Huizong (r. 1100-1126) was a keen collector of antiques and published an illustrated catalogue of bronzes in his collection under the title Xuanhe bogutu. Compiled between 1107 and 1123, this 30-volume (juan) catalogue provided details of some 839 objects in the Xuanhe Hall dating from the period Shang to Tang dynasty. It is especially notable that the influence of ancient bronzes, such as those published in the Xuanhe bogutu, can be seen in the shapes of Song dynasty ceramics – particularly Ru wares, the Northern Song ceramics most closely associated with Emperor Huizong. This influence is clearly seen on ceramic Ru ware lian censers of cylindrical form standing on three cabriole legs, which are invariably made with the same encircling triple bow-string lines which appear on the bronze vessels of similar form from the Han dynasty. 

While archaism, often manifested in imitation of Song dynasty stoneware glazes, continued to be a source of inspiration in Ming ceramics - especially those made for the court – it was in the reign the Qing the dynasty Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1722) that inspiration from ancient bronzes was once again a significant factor in ceramic design. The Kangxi Emperor was a great collector of antiques and derived great pleasure and even physical wellbeing from his collection. As the emperor himself put it:  

‘I used to say to my sons: Seek joyfulness when you can, for seeking joy leads to an auspicious atmosphere. After meals we would talk about pleasant things and set our eyes on rare antiques, so we digested easily and out bodies flourished.’ (translated by Jonathan Spence in Emperor of China  Self-portrait of Kang-hsi, Harmondsworth and New York, 1974)  

A variety of ancient bronze shapes as well as their surface decoration can be seen amongst Kangxi ceramics, especially those with monochrome glazes.  

Interestingly, it was also in the Kangxi reign that brilliant turquoise glazes rose to prominence. Despite their widespread use in the Near East, turquoise glazes, coloured with copper oxide, had not found great favour in China prior to the 17th century. The glaze had been used at the tile-making kilns of northern China and occasionally on stonewares from the Cizhou kilns, but although a few turquoise-glazed porcelains were made in the Yuan and Ming dynasties, they were a very small percentage of porcelain production. It would seem that the Qing dynasty Kangxi potters at Jingdezhen were able to develop a turquoise glaze of greater depth and brilliance than had previously been achieved. This new turquoise glaze proved more generally popular, and was particularly effective when applied over bronze-style decoration. An example of this is tall Kangxi vase of zunform in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in Monochrome Porcelain, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 37, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 164, no. 148), on which the incised designs of upright blades on the neck and taotie on the central section are emphasised by the pooling of the clear turquoise glaze.  

Following the lead of the Northern Song Emperor Huizong, the Qing dynasty Qianlong Emperor also provided future art historians with an invaluable resource in the form of the illustrated catalogues of the imperial collections, including the Xiqing gujian (Xiqing Mirror of Antiquities). The latter was a catalogue, in 40 volumes, of some 1529 ritual bronzes in the imperial collection, and was compiled between 1749 and 1755. Although the detailed entries for each of the vessels do not include the date on which the pieces entered the Qing imperial collection, it is nevertheless interesting to see note that one of the ancient bronze zun illustrated is quite similar to the current boar, although the illustrated bronze animal has inlaid gold and silver decoration. This image appears in the reprint of the Xiqing gujian , Qinding siku quanshu , shang juan, Shanghai shudian chubanshe, on page 193. The vessel is described as Zhou xi zun – a Zhou dynasty sacrificial animal zun

The current turquoise-glazed ceramic boar zun, however, appears to have been very closely modelled on a Shang dynasty bronze boar – cast with complex surface decoration, but without inlay – of the very rare type excavated at Chuanxingshan, Xiangtan, Hunan province, in 1981 and now in the collection of the Hunan Provincial Museum at Changsha. Like the current ceramic vessel, the Shang dynasty bronze vessel has an oval lid topped by a phoenix-shaped finial. The museum texts point out that the bronze animal has sharp tusks and is less a domesticated pig than a wild boar. However, oracle bone inscriptions found at the Shang capital state that pigs were raised by every household and were sacrificed by major households at that time. The protruding tusks have been omitted from the current ceramic vessel, no doubt because they would have been extremely prone to damage. The Zhou dynasty inlaid bronze animal illustrated in the Xiqing gujian is also without tusks.  

The original Shang dynasty bronze vessel is large – 40 cm high and 72 cm long – and would have been filled with wine when in ritual use, although the museum text points out the difficulty of moving such a heavy vessel when it was full of wine. Indeed, the Shang bronze zun appears to have holes specifically to allow ropes to be attached for moving it. The ceramic vessel is a rather more manageable size at 19 cm high and 26 cm long, although even this zun would have been heavy if filled with liquid. The turquoise glaze on the current ceramic vessel is not only an attractive colour, but also effectively highlights the incised decoration, which imitates quite closely the cast decoration on the Shang Bronze prototype.


Christie's. Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds Including Oriental Rugs and Carpets, London, 2 May 2019