Lot 838. A rare gold overlay silvered bronze mirror, 9th-13th century; 8 1/8in (20.8cm) diameter, 1.190 kilograms. Estimate US$ 12,000 - 15,000. © Bonhams.
Cast in high relief against a ring-punched ground with a domed knob rising from an open lotus flower head surrounded by two phoenixes flying head to tail, a flowering branch held in each beak and other blossoms issuing out of their curling tail feathers, the relief finished in gilt to contrast with the silver finish on the wide rim and reverse reflective surface.
Provenance:Jim Freeman, 3 November 1981.
On Loan, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1981.
On loan and exhibited: The Denver Art Museum, 1982-2016 (Loan 95.1982).
Published: Sui-To no bijutsu, Osaka, 1996, no. 2-32, as Five Dynasties.
Note: A line drawing of a bronze mirror with similar double phoenix decoration was ascribed to the Tang dynasty in Xu Huacheng (ed.), Zhongguo feng huang, Beijing, 1988, p.14. No information on size or provenance was included; but the line drawing shows a variation in the arrangement of the flowers issuing from the beaks and tails of the birds, their relative position to the central medallion and the presence of incised lines to the petals of the open lotus flower central medallion in contrast to the decoration on this lot.
A second mirror with incised lines to the petals of the open lotus flower central medallion, but with a dissimilar pair of phoenixes, was ascribed to the Yuan dynasty by Xiao Fuhan in Xi’an wen wu jing hua: tong jing, Xi’an, 2008, no. 165, pp. 170 and 208 (20.5cm diameter, 1.13 kg in weight). The Yuan mirror appears to be quite worn; but it is easy to see that the shape of the phoenixes and the flowering branches closely resembles those on this lot. There are also differences however: using a horizontal line drawn through the transverse hole in the center knob of each mirror as a point of orientation, the phoenix head at the top of the Yuan mirror is at approximately 12 o’clock, but the phoenix head at the top of this lot is at 10 o’clock. The Yuan mirror shows more striations in the wings of each phoenix and shows incised lines to the petals of the lotus central medallion. The lotus petals on the center medallion of this lot have no striations.
Owing to its obvious wear, it is impossible to tell if the background on the Yuan mirror is smooth or covered with the ring-punched ground of this lot. Certainly the preservation of the surface decoration on this lot is remarkable, comparable to examples of Liao metalwork published in recent years. The tomb of the Princess of Chen and her husband Xiao Shaoju (1018 or earlier) yielded similar fine ring punched grounds on saddle ornaments and bold phoenix decorations on a gilt silver crown, boots and headrest: see the Asia Society exhibition, Gilded Splendor: Treasures of China’s Liao Empire (907-1125), New York, 2006, cat. nos. 3, 4, and 5, pp. 102-107 and cat. no. 12a-d, pp. 122-123. Also included in the exhibition was a gilt bronze mirror of substantial size with intricatedragon decoration, from the tomb of Yelu Yuzhi and his wife Chonggun (before 942) (ibid., cat. no. 55, pp. 224-225, 28cm diameter, 1cm thick). It is therefore possible that this lot could also have been produced under Liao patronage rather than during the Tang or Yuan period.
Bonhams. Fine Chinese Paintings and Works of Art. New York, 9 September 2019