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Lot 3. An archaic bronze ritual food vessel, gui, Early Western Zhou dynasty, 11th–10th century BC; h. 14 cmEstimate: 1,200,000- 1,800,000 HKD. Lot sold: 2,394,000 HKD. Courtesy Sotheby's.

cast with a deep 'U'-shaped body, the sides decorated with large taotie masks bisected by a vertical flange and flanked by a pair of loop handles surmounted by bovine heads and ending in hooked tabs, all supported on a tall pedestal foot decorated with a band of confronting sinewy dragons, the raised decoration all reserved against a leiwen ground, the smooth surfaces with attractive green and dark red patina, the interior cast with a five-character inscription reading Bo Gong zuo bao gui (Bo Gong had this precious vessel made), rubbing by Wu Libo.

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Provenance: J.J. Lally & Co., New York.
Sotheby's New York, 20th March 2012, lot 17.

NoteThis bronze vessel is remarkable for its bold design of taotie masks with outsized, elaborately curled horns against an intricate leiwen (‘thunder pattern’) background, as well as for the lively dragon figures depicted around the foot. Such zoomorphic masks, spreading across both sides of the body, represent arguably the most prominent decorative motif on ritual bronzes of various forms from the Shang (c. 1600-1046 BC) and early Western Zhou (c. 1046-771 BC) dynasties, but are usually less flamboyant in style. Bisecting each mask is a vertical flange, a feature that gained popularity around the late Shang period. After taking over Shang territories, the Western Zhou inherited their predecessors’ tradition and culture, including the production of ceremonial bronzes in Shang style. Used during ritual ceremonies throughout the Shang and Zhou (c. 1046-256 BC) periods, gui were vessels for offerings of grain.

Compare three smaller gui from the early Western Zhou dynasty, with their masks composed of simpler elements, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei; the first two without a leiwen ground on the body and hooks on the tabs of the handles, illustrated in Catalogue to the Special Exhibition of Grain Vessels from the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1985, cat. no. 35, and Shang Ritual Bronzes in the National Palace Museum Collection, Taipei, 1998, pl. 100 respectively; the third one, with an additional small mythical-beast head on top of each taotie mask (accession no. Zhong tong 001878 [http://antiquities.npm.gov.tw/Utensils_Page.aspx?ItemId=11557]), illustrated in Catalogue of Western Chou Bronze Inscription in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2001. See also two related gui from the Shang dynasty, in the Palace Museum, Beijing (accession nos Gu 00076921 [https://digicol.dpm.org.cn/cultural/detail?id=b2b859c7d4064e5eb5cfe827f09506be] and Gu 00076922 [https://digicol.dpm.org.cn/cultural/detail?id=a1c30b38a3784741b49224a2aecba991]).



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Gui food container of Nong, Early Western Zhou Dynasty, c. 11th to 10th century B.C.E., accession no. Zhong tong 001878, National Palace Museum, Taipei.


Gui food container, Shang dynasty, accession nos Gu 00076921, Palace Museum, Beijing.


Gui food container, Shang dynastyaccession nos Gu 00076922, Palace Museum, Beijing.

Sotheby'sMonochrome III, Hong Kong, 22 April 2021