Lot 2011. A finely cast bronze ritual wine vessel, gu, late Shang dynasty, 11th century BC; 12¾ in. (32.5 cm.) high. Estimate USD 100,000 - USD 150,000. Price Realized USD 245,000. © Christie's Images Ltd 2014.
The trumpet-shaped neck is cast in crisp relief with four upright blades filled with the detached elements of inverted taotie masks rising from a narrow band of serpents. Both the center section and the tall, spreading foot are cast with two taotie masks, also with detached features and divided and separated by pronounced, notched flanges. The masks on the foot are below two pairs of confronted, elephant-trunked dragons. All of the decoration is reserved on leiwen grounds. The vessel has a mottled milky green and reddish-brown patina. A graph of a decapitation is cast inside the foot.
Provenance: Sir Alan Barlow (1881-1968) Collection.
J.J. Lally & Co., New York, December 1991.
Literature: 'Early Chinese Bronzes', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, 1950-51, vol. 26, pp. 75-82, no. 39 (not illustrated).
M. Sullivan, Chinese Ceramics, Bronzes and Jades in the Collection of Sir Alan and Lady Barlow, London, 1963, No. B. 11, pl. 148b (discussed on p. 144).
Exhibited: Oriental Ceramic Society, London, Early Chinese Bronzes, 7 November - 15 December 1951, no. 39.
Cincinnati, Ohio, The Taft Museum, Cincinnati Collects 5000 Years of Chinese Art, 28 February - 20 April 1997, no. 3.
Note: A very similar graph depicting a decapitation can be seen on a gu of smaller size (27.3 cm.) and with less elaborate decoration sold at Sotheby's London, 25 March 1975, lot 146. A gu of similar proportions, size and decoration, but cast with kui dragons, rather than elephant-trunked dragons, in the band above the spreading foot, is illustrated in A Catalogue of Shang Dynasty Bronze Inscriptions, Ancient Chinese Script From the 1st Millennium B.C., National Palace Museum, Taipei, pp. 56-57, no. 8, and bears a simplified version of this graph, with just one figure surmounted by an axe. The authors suggest the graph may be the origin of the character Liu, a conventional surname.
A gu of slightly smaller size (29.2 cm.), but of similar proportions and with similar cast decoration, including the band of unusual elephant-trunked dragons above the spreading foot, was sold at Christie's New York, 22 March 2012, lot 1501.
Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, New York, 20 - 21 March 2014