Lot 1126. A rare finely cast bronze ritual wine vessel and cover, fangyi, Shang dynasty, 13th-11th century BC; 89 in. (22.8 cm.) high. Estimate USD 800,000 - USD 1,200,000. Price realised USD 1,143,750. © Christie's Images Ltd 2013
The vessel is of tapering rectangular shape and is well cast in low relief on the two broad sides with a large taotie mask set below a small taotie and reserved on a leiwen ground repeated as the ground to the pair of confronted bottle-horn dragons above and the pair of addorsed dragons below. The narrow sides are also cast with a large taotie mask set between bands of small dragons. The center of each side and the corners are cast with narrow notched flanges, which are repeated on the cover to divide and frame an inverted taotie mask on each side below the taotie-decorated, faceted finial. The bronze has a mottled milky green and grey patina.
Provenance: Raymond A. Bidwell (1876-1954) Collection.
The Springfield Museums, Springfield, Massachusetts, accessioned in 1962.
Literature: The Raymond A. Bidwell Collection of Chinese Bronzes and Ceramics, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1965, pp. 24-25.
R. Spelman, The Arts of China, C.W. Post Center, Greenvale, New York, 1976, p. 19, no. 6.
Exhibited: C.W. Post Center, Long Island University, Greenvale, New York, The Arts of China, 4 February - 27 March 1977, no. 6.
Note: With its successful combination of elegant proportions, shape and unified design, this vessel is a classic example of the finely cast bronzes produced during the period from 13th-11th century BC when Yinxu, Anyang in Henan province served as the capital of the Shang dynasty.
For a full discussion of the evolution of the fangyi, see R. Bagley, Shang Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, 1987, pp. 428-44. The earliest fangyi, as represented by those in figs. 77.7-77.9, have a distinctly defined foot with larger arched openings, the body does not have flanged corners, and the covers seen in figs. 77.7 and 77.9 have a straight cant. What may be considered a slightly later group is represented by the current example: there is no distinct demarcation between the foot and the body, but instead a straight tapering profile, there are flanges at the corners as well as dividing the sides, and the covers have a slightly convex profile. The last group have a more robust, more sharply tapering shape, and still have flanges, but seem to have reverted to the more distinctly defined foot and the straight canted cover of the earliest type. This type is represented by no. 79, pp. 440-44.
The decoration on all fangyi is arranged in registers, with a large taotie mask on the body, small dragons or birds on the foot and above the mask, and either a large taotie repeated on the cover or, in at least one instance, a bird. See d'Argencé, The Hans Popper Collection of Oriental Art, Japan, 1973, no. 2, for the latter. In some instances the decoration is flat-cast or the decorative motifs are filled with leiwen scrolls.
The present fangyi is very similar to one in the Hakutsuru Art Museum, Kobe, illustrated in Zhongguo Qingtongqi Quanji - 4 - Shang (4), Beijing, 1998, no. 73, where another similar fangyi, formerly in the collection of Arthur M. Sackler, and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is illustrated, no. 75. Another comparable fangyi, formerly in the collections of Gladys Lloyd Robinson and the British Rail Pension Fund, was sold in these rooms, 24 March 2004, lot 106
Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, New York, 21 - 22 March 2013