A bronze 'hill' censer and cover (boshanlu), Han dynasty

Lot 127. A bronze 'hill' censer and cover (boshanlu), Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). Height 6 7/8  in., 17.5 cmEstimate 10,000 — 15,000 USD. Lot sold 8,750 USD. Courtesy Sotheby's. 

in the form of a bud with the hemispherical lower body attached to the openwork conical cover by a hinge, the sides of the cover rising in a series of pierced peaks to imitate the topography and swirling mist of a 'magic mountain', surmounted by a floriform finial centered with a small bird, all supported on a waisted stem encircled by a rotating four-petal flower, each petal in the shape of a ruyi head and cast with an intaglio scrolling motif, the spreading foot cast with a similar design, supported on a shallow circular basin with an everted rim, a fine light green patina throughout with touches of blue azurite, wood stand (2).

ProvenanceSpink & Son, London, 1st August 1985.
Collection of Florence (1920-2018) and Herbert (1917-2016) Irving, no. 964.

Note'Boshan' censers developed in the Western Han dynasty as a visually splendid class of incense burners that would have been used in daily life or in rituals related to cults of immortality. The mountain form refers to the mythical peaks where immortals lived, and the visual effect would have been fully realized when the smoke from the incense wafted through the pierced holes to imitate the natural movement of mist in the lofty landscape. The present example belongs to a rare subtype of 'Boshan lu' in which the waisted stem is encircled by a four-petal flower in full bloom. Other censers with this design include one surmounted by a bird-form finial that sold in these rooms, 2nd November 1979, lot 241; another, in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, exhibited and published in Jan Fontain and Wu Tung, Unearthing China's Past, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1973, cat. no. 44; a variation which has these traits, with a three-dimensional mythical beast encircling the base of the stem, published in ibid., fig. 47; and a gilt-bronze example that also has the mythical beast embellishment, but lacking the bird-form finial, in the collection of the Idemitsu Museum, Tokyo, and published in Chūgoku kodai no bijutsu/Ancient Chinese Arts in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1978, cat. no. 203.

Sotheby'sChinese Art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Florence and Herbert Irving Gift, New York, 10 Sep 2019