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The Personal Collection of the late Sir Joseph Hotung. Lot 19. An important and extremely rare silver-inlaid bronze corner-piece, Eastern Zhou dynasty, Warring States period (475-221 BC)h. 11 cmLot sold: 6,930,000 HKD (Estimate: 5,000,000 - 7,000,000 HKD)© Sotheby's 2022

cast in the form of two mythical winged beasts confronted at the corner with their heads merging into one, each beast shown in profile in a semi-crouching position, depicted with narrow eyes, a broad ridged snout and mouth agape, along with long pointed ears framed by curled horns detailed with fine striations, the sinuous body set with feathery wings and terminating in an S-shaped bifurcated tail, their muscular haunches accentuated with elaborate scrollwork and short fur, the entire corner-piece surmounted by an angled bracket, inlaid overall in silver with intricate scrollwork and fine striations, the reverse set with an L-shaped brace and two tabs.

Provenance: Paul Mallon (1884-1975), New York and Paris, 22nd December 1920.
Collection of Baron Adolphe Stoclet (1871-1949), Brussels.
Collection of Madame Raymonde Féron-Stoclet (1897-1963), Brussels, and thence by descent.
Eskenazi Ltd, London, 25th March 2003.

Literature: Henri d'Ardenne de Tizac, Animals in Chinese Art, Paris, 1922, pl. XVIB.
Leigh Ashton, An Introduction to the Study of Chinese Sculpture, London, 1924, pl. IX, fig. 2.
Exhibition of Chinese Art, Amsterdam, 1925, cat. no. 39.
Walter Perceval Yetts, Chinese Bronzes, London, 1925, pl. 10B.
Gregory Borovka, Scythian Art, New York, 1928, pl. 72a.
Otto Kümmel, Chinesische Kunst, Berlin, 1929, cat. no. 75.
René Grousset, Les Civilisations de l'Orient, Paris, 1930, t. lll: La Chine, p. 134, pl. 95.
Sueji Umehara, O-Bei shucho Shina kodo seika, (Selected Relics of Ancient Chinese Bronzes from Collections in Europe and America), Part III: Miscellaneous Objects, vol. I, Osaka, 1933, pl. 52.
Georges Salles, Bronzes Chinois des Dynasties Tcheou, Ts'in and Han, Paris, 1934, cat. no. 418.
International Exhibition of Chinese Art, London, 1935, cat. no. 413.
H.F.E. Visser, Asiatic Art in Private Collections of Holland and Belgium, Amsterdam, 1948, pl. 63, no. 129.
La Découverte de L'Asie, Paris, 1954, cat. no. 417.
Georges A. Salles and Daisy Lion-Goldschmidt, Collection Adolphe Stoclet, Brussels, 1956, pp. 366-67.
Chinese Works of Art from the Stoclet Collection, Eskenazi Ltd, New York, 2003, cat. no. 5 and cover.
Pirazzoli-t'Serstevens Michèle, 'Inner Asia and Han China: Borrowings and Representations', New Frontiers in Global Archaeology: Defining China's Ancient Traditions. Proceedings of the International Symposium Celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology at Peking University, New York, 2008, pp. 437-52, fig. 7.
Giuseppe Eskenazi in collaboration with Hajni Elias, A Dealer's Hand: The Chinese Art World Through the Eyes of Giuseppe Eskenazi, London, 2012, Chinese version, Shanghai, 2015, pl. 72.
Sarah Wong and Stacey Pierson, eds, Collectors, Curators, Connoisseurs: A Century of the Oriental Ceramic Society, 1921-2021, Hong Kong, 2021, cat. no. 15.

Exhibited: Animals in Chinese Art, Musée Cernuschi, Paris, 1922.
Exhibition of Chinese Art, Municipal Museum, Amsterdam, 1925.
Chinesische Kunst, Preussische Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 1929.
Bronzes Chinois des Dynasties Tcheou, Ts'in and Han, Musee de l'Orangerie, Paris, 1934.
International Exhibition of Chinese Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1935-36.
La Découverte de L'Asie, Musée Cernuschi, Paris, 1954.
Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, on loan, 1980-93.
Chinese Works of Art from the Stoclet Collection, Eskenazi Ltd, New York, 2003.

NoteSuperbly cast and sumptuously decorated in silver inlay, the present corner-piece is possibly unique and encapsulates not only the technological virtuosity of the bronze workshops but also the peak of luxury in the Warring States period (475-221 BC).

Each side of the L-shaped corner piece is ingeniously designed to dynamically depict a winged mythical beast, which, shares a common muzzle with the other, and can therefore also be interpreted as one single beast when viewed from the pointed centre of the piece. Each beast is portrayed striding forward powerfully – particularly accentuated by the extensive use of curves in the fluid outlines of the muscular body – skilfully echoed in the tail, wings, and horn as well as the delicate inlays – in a way that juxtaposes with the straight L-shaped band at the top of the corner-piece.

Like most bronze animals from this period, the current corner-piece had a practical function and was most likely made as a set of four to serve as a corner support for a low table, vessel or tray for an elite or royal patron. See a Warring States period example of mythical beasts acting as corner supports in an elaborate a gold and silver-inlaid bronze table support and frame unearthed at Pingshan county, Hebei province and now in the Hebei Museum, illustrated in Gems of China’s Cultural Relics, Beijing, 1990, cat. no. 69. The placement of mythical beasts at the corners in such a way that welcomes various angles of viewing can be found from as early as the Shang dynasty; see two bronze vessels illustrated in Zhongguo qingtongqi quanji [Complete series on Chinese bronzes], vol. 13: Ba Shu, Beijing, 1994, pl. 87, and vol. 1: Xia Shang, Beijing, 1996, pl. 117.

No identical example to the current corner-piece appears to be recorded, however, four similar silver-inlaid corner-pieces – which would have formed a set in the Warring States period – are known. These comprise two formerly in the collection of Stephen Junkunc IV and now in the collection of Pierre Uldry, illustrated in Chinesisches Gold und Silber – die Sammlung Pierre Uldry, Museum Rietberg, Zurich, 1994, cat. no. 23, the third sold at Christie’s New York, 17th March 2017, lot 1009, and another in the collection of Dr Paul Singer, illustrated in Max Loehr, Relics of Ancient China from the Collection of Dr. Paul Singer, Asia Society, New York 1965, cat. no. 71, where the current piece is referred to “as a rather close example in the Stoclet collection”.

The current corner-piece differs from the set of four most visibly in that the beasts are winged dragons and portrayed in a more naturalistic and three-dimensional manner. Each winged beast is rendered with a more sinuous body and an additional hindleg, heightening the dynamism of the figure; the paws are comparatively more defined with grooves and other subtle details such as the teeth are also more delicately depicted. The employment of the silver inlay is also different; instead of conforming to a consistent geometric pattern, the inlay in the current corner-piece complements the musculature of the beasts and further outlines details such as the striations of the horns. For a similar corner-piece depicting winged mythical beasts, but decorated in gilding instead of silver inlay, see Sueji Umehara, ‘Rakuyo kinson kobo shuei', (Report of the Findings of Old Tombs at Jincun, Luoyang), Kyoto, 1937, pl. LXVII.

A pair of silver-inlaid bronze winged mythical beasts, dated to the mid-late Warring States period, which served as “either stands or fittings for furniture” (Jessica Rawson, Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties, New York, 1996, p. 156) were unearthed from the royal tombs of the Zhongshan state, Pingshan county, Hebei province. One of the pair is illustrated in Zhongguo meishu quanji gongyi meishu bian [Complete Series on Chinese Art], vol. 5, Beijing, 1987, pl. 108, where the author proposes a link with later bixie figures from the Han dynasty and onwards. For a Han dynasty bronze bixie offered this sale, also formerly from the renowned collection of Adolphe Stoclet, see lot 1

Sotheby's. HOTUNG The Personal Collection of the late Sir Joseph Hotung: Part 1, Hong Kong, 8 October 2022