A bronze ritual food vessel (Bo Gui), Early Western Zhou Dynasty, 11th – 10th century BC. Photo Sotheby’s
boldly cast with a swelling body below an everted rim with a band of four kui dragons with slightly raised eyes on a ground of leiwen, each side with a bovine head in high relief, the vessel flanked by a pair of loop handles each issuing from a bovine mask and terminating in a hooked pendent tab, a similar band of kui dragons encircling the slightly flared foot, the interior with a five-character inscription, the base cast with a circular medallion formed by a stylized dragon, the greenish-gray patina with some malachite encrustation. Length 10 1/2 in., 26.7 cm. Estimation 250,000 — 350,000 USD
Provenance: Xu chuanjing (late 19th century), probably.
Late T. Yamamoto collection, Tokyo.
John Sparks, London, 1960.
Mary Anna Marten (1929-2010), England.
Woolley & Wallis, Salisbury, May 19th, 2010, lot. 344.
Litterature: Sheng Yu, Yuhuage Jinwen (Bronze Inscriptions in the Yuhuage Studio), unpublished manuscript, late 19th/early 20th century, p. 87.2.
Liu Tizhi, Xiaojiaojingge Jinshi Wenzi (Writings on Metal and Stone in the Xiaojiaojingge Studio), 1935, vol. 7, p. 26.6.
Sueji Umehara, Nihon Shucho Shina Kodo Seikwa (Selected Relics of Ancient Chinese Bronzes from Collections in Japan), 1959-1962, vol. 2, no. 107.
Hayashi Minao, In Shu Jidai Seidoki No Kenkyu [In Shu jidai seidoki soran ichi] (Studies of Bronzes of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties: A General Survey), 1984, Gui, no. 284.
Institute of Archaeology, CASS, Yin Zhou Jinwen Jicheng (Compendium of Bronze Inscriptions from Yin and Zhou Dynasties), 1984-1994, no. 3496.
Wu Zhenfeng, Shang Zhou Qingtongqi Mingwen Ji Tuxiang Jicheng (Compendium of Inscription and Images of Bronzes from the Shang and Zhou Dynasties), 2012, no. 4173.
This bronze gui has a fascinating history. Its inscription is first recorded in Sheng Yu’s Yuhuage Jinwen (Bronze Inscriptions in the Yuhuage Studio), a remarkable, but unpublished, manuscript containing over 1,500 bronze inscriptions. (fig. 1) Sheng Yu (1850-1900) (fig.2) was a member of the Manchu royal family, and held a number of senior official positions, including Director of the Imperial University (Guozijian jijiu). Sheng was an accomplished scholar and collector, and his collection included many rare books and manuscripts, classical paintings and archaic bronzes. Luo Zhenyu (1866-1940) obtained the manuscript in 1912, and it is now in the collection of the Library of Peking University. The ink rubbing of the inscription bears an impression of a seal of Luo Zhenyu, and a hand written title calling it the Bo Gui.
Another rubbing of the inscription was published by Liu Tizhi (1879-1963) in his Xiaojiaojingge Jinshi Wenzi (Writings on Metal and Stone in the Xiaojiaojingge Studio) in 1936. (fig. 3) This rubbing bears Xu’s hand writing and several personal seals. Xu Chuanjing (active late 19th century) was a known artist and collector from Zhejiang, and it is not impossible that he was the owner of the Bo Gui at that time. Xu also served as a Registar at the Imperial University (Guozijian), and is very likely that in this capacity he was acquainted with Sheng Yu.
In the early 20th century, this bronze gui entered Yamamoto’s collection, in Japan. Sueji Umehara published a photograph of this bronze, as well as its inscription and the decoration on its underside, in the second volume of theNihon Shucho Shina Kodo Seikwa (Selected Relics of Ancient Chinese Bronzes from Collections in Japan ») in 1959. (figs. 4) But, as the book went to press, the piece was obtained by the London-based Oriental art dealer John Sparks, who then sold it to Mary Anna Marten (1929-2010) in 1960. Marten was born into the English aristocracy, her parents being Napier George Henry Sturt, 3rd Baron Alington and Lady Mary Sibell Ashley-Cooper. She inherited Crichel House in Dorset (fig. 5) and a collection of rare books and artworks. As a passionate lover of art and archaeology, she set up The Ancient Persia Fund, and was appointed as a Trustee of the British Museum (1985-1998) by the Prime Minister. Following her death in 2010, her Chinese art collection, including this bronze gui, was put up for sale at a local auction house, with many Chinese pieces selling for some remarkable prices.
SOTHEBY’S. FINE CHINESE CERAMICS & WORKS OF ART, NEW YORK | 16 SEPT. 2014, 10:30 AM