Lot 35. An inscribed archaic bronze ritual food vessel (Liding), Late Shang - Early Western Zhou dynasty. Height 8½ in., 21.6 cm. Estimate: 200,000 - 300,000 USD. Lot sold: 252,000 USD. © Sotheby's 2021
the deep bowl divided into three lobes each resting on a columnar leg tapering slightly toward the foot, the everted rim set with a pair of plain loop handles, each lobe of the body finely cast with a taotie mask with protruding eyes and horns, flanked by descending serpentine creatures, all against a dense leiwen ground and below a further leiwen band, the interior cast with a single character inscription ya.
Exhibited: Ancient Ritual Bronzes of China, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1976, cat. no. 16.0
Note: Associated with royal power, ding were among the most significant objects produced in China's Bronze Age, legitimizing a ruler's authority to lead the religio-political complex. According to legend, King Yu, founder of the Xia dynasty, cast nine large bronze ding, one for each of the nine provinces in his kingdom. This form, which continuously evolved over the centuries, derived from pottery tripod vessels made in the preceding Neolithic period. Used during ritual ceremonies as food or cooking vessels, ding continued to play an important role in the Shang and Zhou dynasties, as evidenced by the large numbers found in royal tombs. The tomb of Fu Hao in Anyang, for example, contained over twenty-six vessels of this type.
The design of such large taotie masks covering the globular lobed body of the vessel, and featuring protruding eyes, raised curled horns and curved fangs, is a motif most frequently found in the Shang/Western Zhou transitional period. Excavations in 1984 of tomb M1713 in Anyang, Henan, revealed a liding of similar design, the Ya Yu Ding, recorded in the Institute of Archaeology CASS, Yinxu xin chutu qingtongqi [Ritual bronzes recently excavated in Yinxu], Beijing, 2008, pl. 196. See also four similarly decorated lobed vessels, illustrated in Robert Bagley, Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Cambridge, 1987, nos 93-95.
See an early Western Zhou liding cast with the same single ya character as the present bronze in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Wu Zhenfeng, Shang Zhou qingtongqi mingwen ji tuxiang jicheng [Compendium of inscriptions and images of bronzes from the Shang and Zhou dynasties], Shanghai, vol. 1, 2012, pl. 81. See also a late Shang dynasty ding with the same inscription, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, illustrated in ibid., pl. 79; and another late Shang dynasty fangding excavated in a Shang dynasty tomb in Anyang, illustrated in ibid., pl. 78.
Sotheby's. Important Chinese Art, New York, 21 September 2021