A Chinese Ritual Bronze Comes to Auction at Christie’s

Priyanka Patil
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The Chinese Bronze Age started in 2000 B.C. and flourished mainly in today’s Henan Province. This region along the Yellow River became a prime political and military center during the Shang dynasty. The Shang era first made use of bronze to design weapons, ritual vessels, and chariot parts. 

Elites often used these bronzes for serving wine or food during rituals. One such rare Shang dynasty bronze wine vessel will go on sale in the upcoming Christie’s New York auction on March 18.

Luboshez Chinese Ritual Bronze Wine Vessel
Image source: Christie’s
Luboshez Chinese Ritual Bronze Wine Vessel
Image source: Christie’s

Christie’s Shang: Early Chinese Ritual Bronzes from the Daniel Shapiro Collection auction showcases a 13th-12th-century B.C. bronze ritual wine vessel, cover, and Luboshez gong. The available Shang dynasty bronze has an estimate of USD 4 million to $6 million.

The ancient Chinese bronze vessels during the Shang era utilized the piece-mold casting technique. This method lasted throughout the Shang dynasty. Its most prominent aspect involved direct stamping or carving patterns on the mold’s interior. It offered sharpness and finish to the bronze objects. 

Explaining the rarity of this Shang dynasty bronze vessel, Christie’s Chinese Works of Art specialist Margaret Gristina exclaims, “This is one of the most extra-ordinary archaic bronzes I’ve ever handled. The quality of the craftsmanship is so intricate and sophisticated. It’s a type of lidded wine vessel known as a gong, which is among the rarest of all Shang-dynasty vessel shapes.”

Kui dragon adornments
Image source: Christie’s
Kui dragon adornments
Image source: Christie’s

Another prime feature of the piece-mold casting technique involved the production of thin-walled and hollow vessels. This feature of intricate surface decoration is also visible in the available deep wine vessel with a conforming cover. This ancient Chinese bronze vessel features a pouncing tiger on the front and a standing owl on its back. The cast patterns also involve Kui dragon adornments and a scroll-filled tiger body. The entire decoration of the vessel uses the Leiwen technique. The bronze also carries a green patina and Wei inscription in the center.

Wei inscription
Image source: Christie’s
Wei inscription
Image source: Christie’s

Commenting further on the “extra-ordinary” ritual vessel, Gristina says, “When I first saw the Luboshez gong, I was amazed by the animation of the animals’ faces, as well as the wonderful details of the tiger’s curled forelegs and springing hind legs. The overall creativity and refinement are incredibly striking.”

The Shang dynasty bronze will also be sought after by collectors for its rich hues. The bronze has a blue-green patina due to years of moisture contact leading to the creation of azurite and malachite deposition. 

The Luboshez gong accompanying this lot is named such after the well-known Chinese art collector, Captain S.N. Ferris Luboshez. The gong was acquired before 1949 by Captain Luboshez during his posting in Shanghai, where he developed a taste for Chinese arts. The ancient Chinese bronze was a part of Captain Luboshez’s jade and bronze collection for nearly thirty years before he decided to part ways with it. The Luboshez gong last appeared at an auction in New York in 1982.

Experts suggest that this exceptional Chinese art piece might set a new record for Christie’s Shang bronze vessels sale. It is one of only six existing gong vessels of its type. One of those six is a part of the Harvard Art Museum’s collection, while two more are in Japan, and two were discovered Lady Fu Hao’s tomb in Anyang in China in 1976.

Fangyi Ritual Bronze Wine Vessel
Image Source: Christie‘s
Fangyi Ritual Bronze Wine Vessel
Image Source: Christie‘s

The auction will also feature four more Shang bronze ritual vessels from the renowned collection of Daniel Shapiro. These vessels acquired over twenty-five years offer a glimpse of China’s ancient spiritual culture. Collectors can explore open bronze wine vessels like the Hu and Pou and the Fangyi in the upcoming Christie’s auction. Interested collectors can register to bid on Christie’s website.

Want to learn more about this year’s Asia Week New York? Read Auction Daily’s extended coverage.

UPDATE, AUGUST 2021: On March 18th, 2021, the Luboshez gong achieved $8.6 million, well past the Shang dynasty bronze’s $6 million high estimate. The 12-minute bidding war saw 23 bids. Eventually, the lot went to an anonymous bidder who also purchased two other featured lots. In total, they spent $9 million during the sale. 

Christie’s reported strong results across their Asia Week New York 2021 offerings, with nine separate lots crossing the $1 million threshold. Over half of the featured lots in Christie’s Asia Week New York events went to Asian buyers, yet another signal of the strong demand for fine and ethnographic art on the continent. While many auction houses are building their online infrastructure, Christie’s also noted that many Asian bidders utilized WeChat to get involved in the sale. 

As of now, the dates and participating auction houses for Asia Week New York 2022 are still unclear. Interested collectors can check Asia Week New York’s website to stay up to date on the latest.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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