Lot 37. A finely chased silver shell-form box, Tang dynasty (618-907); 7.6cm wide; 12.8cm wide when open. Sold for US$25,500. © Bonhams 2001-2023
Cast in the shape of a natural clamshell, decorated on both sides with lush flowering vines and songbirds in flight over a dense ring-punched 'fish roe' ground, the tip where the two halves join decorated with simple parallel lines to contrast the design, a small silver hinge with silver rivets on the exterior, the interior also cast realistically following the natural clamshell.
Note: Two natural clam shell boxes found in the Tang dynasty tomb of Jinxiangxianzhu near Xi'an, Shaanxi province are illustrated in the excavation report, Tang Jinxiangxianzhu mu (Tang Dynasty Tomb of Jinxiangxianzhu), Beijing, 2002, pl. 130, with description on p. 80, where the author suggests that the shell boxes probably were used to hold cosmetic powder.
Compare the silver clamshell box similarly decorated with chased leafy vines over ring-punched 'fish-roe' ground, in the collection of the Henan Museum, illustrated by Zhou (ed.) in Magnificence of Gold and Silver Wares from Beijing, Hebei, Shanxi, Henan and Shaanxi, Beijing, 2020, p. 177.
A smaller Tang dynasty parcel gilt clam shell form silver box in the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago, is illustrated by Trubner in the catalogue of the special exhibition, The Arts of the T'ang Dynasty, Los Angeles, 1957, p. 125, no. 354. The same silver shell form box and cover is illustrated again in the catalogue of the special exhibition which toured Japan in 1989, Masterpieces of Chinese Arts from The Art Institute of Chicago, Osaka, 1989, p. 35, no. 27.
A small parcel gilt clam shell form silver box and cover excavated from the tomb of Li Jingyou, dated by epitaph to A.D. 738, is illustrated in the excavation report entitled Yanshi Xingyuan Tang mu (The Tang Tombs in Yanshi Xingyuan), Beijing, 2001, col. pl. 4-3 and pl. 25-3, with a line drawing on p. 131, no. 120-1. Another parcel gilt clam shell form silver box excavated from the tomb of Zheng Xun, dated by epitaph to A.D. 778, is illustrated in the same excavation report, op. cit., col. pl. 7-2 and pl. 25-4, with a line drawing on p. 133, no. 122-2.
Compare also the larger clam shell form silver box in the Freer Gallery of Art, illustrated in Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Art: the Freer Gallery of Art Handbook, Washington D.C., 1976, p. 24, no. 30.50.
Bonhams. J. J. Lally & Co. Fine Chinese Works of Art, New York, March 20, 2023