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Lot 102. A very rare gold and silver-inlaid bronze tapir-shaped vessel, xizun, Yuan-Ming Dynasty (1271-1644); 17cm (6 11/18in) long. Sold for £38,100 (Estimate  £30,000-50,000). © Bonhams 2001-2022

Finely cast after the archaic bronze wine vessel zun in the form of a tapir, the beast standing foursquare with head facing forward with an upturned snout, cast in relief with bulging gold-inlaid eyes below curved brows, the face and pricked ears further decorated with archaistic motifs inlaid with gold and silver, the neck encircled with a collar, the taut muscular body inlaid in silver with broad spirals on either side, the densely inlaid tail pointed downwards, the hollow body fitted with a small leaf-shaped hinged cover, the bronze with an enhanced greenish-brown patina with patches of malachite-green encrustation

Provenance: Mark Dineley (1901-1975)
Peter Dineley (1938-2018), and thence by descent.

Note: Mark Dineley and his son Peter Cleverly Dineley collected antique arms and armour, Chinese, Tibetan and Nepalese art amongst other interests. The collections were displayed in the former family home, Aubrey House, located in Holland Park, London - a stately 18th century house. The house came into the Dineley family when it was acquired in 1873 by William Cleverly Alexander (1840-1916) from whom Mark and Peter were descended. W.C. Alexander was a banker and a great connoisseur and patron of the artist James McNeill Whistler, as well as a renowned collector of Chinese ceramics, jade and Japanese art, much of which is now in the British Museum, London, including the celebrated Northern Song Alexander bowl. He was amongst the lenders to exhibitions held at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1895, 1896 and 1910 and to the City of Manchester Art Gallery's Exhibition of Chinese Applied Art in 1913, and to exhibitions held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. In May 1931 his collection of Chinese ceramics, including 355 lots, was sold over two days and Sir Percival David acquired a significant part, now in the British Museum.

This rare zoomorphic vessel illustrates the scholar's interest in antiquity and especially in ancient bronzes. Bronze vessels of this form with inlaid silver and gold decoration are based on ancient prototypes which originated as early as the Western Zhou dynasty. Tapir-form bronze vessels of this type began to appear in greater numbers in the Eastern Zhou dynasty, see for example a tapir-form vessel featuring intricate inlay, Spring and Autumn or Warring States period, illustrated in Masterworks of Chinese Bronze in the National Palace Museum, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1969, pl.25.

The examples from the Bronze Age appear to have found favour with the Northern Song Emperor Huizong (reigned 1100-1126), who was a very keen antiquarian and who instigated the publication of illustrated catalogues of the items in his collection. One of these - the Xuanhe Bogu tulu (Xuanhe Illustrated Collection of Antiques)- included an illustration of such an early bronze vessel. While the original edition would not have been readily available to later craftsmen, it was reprinted on a number of occasions, and the illustration of this zoomorphic vessel appears, for example, in the 1528 edition, known as the Bogu tulu.

The popularity of these zoomorphic vessels continued into the Yuan and Ming periods. See a related bronze 'tapir' vessel inlaid with gold and silver, Yuan dynasty, in the collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis (acc.no.273:1919), illustrated by P.K.Hu, Later Chinese Bronzes: The Saint Louis Art Museum and Robert E. Kresko Collections, St. Louis, 2008, p.45, fig.3, and another Ming dynasty example, similarly inlaid in gold and silver, in the collection of the Cernuschi Museum, Paris, acc.no.M.C.583.

A related gold and silver-inlaid bronze tapir-form vessel, Yuan/Ming dynasty, was sold at Christie's New York, 25 September 2020, lot 1538.

Bonhams. FINE CHINESE ART, 3 November 2022, London, New Bond Street