On 5 November 2014 in London, Sotheby's
will sell two revered and equally sought after Chinese artefacts that although produced over 3,000 years apart, are in direct dialogue with each other across the intervening dynasties in their timelessness of form.
An archaic bronze ritual gu wine vessel dating from the late Shang dynasty, 13th-11th century BC, is of a type that only the wealthiest of patrons could afford. These vessels are one of the oldest forms in the Chinese archaic bronze repertoire and were produced specifically for rituals. They were originally glittering and golden brown in colour, and their robust shapes and bold designs were purposefully created to increase the dramatic effect in which they would appear from the billowing smoke during rituals performed by the priest from the front altar. The crisp decoration on this particular piece is remarkably preserved.
In the eighteenth century, such exquisite bronze vessels inspired artistic production during the Qing dynasty, particularly under the Yongzheng (1723-1735) and Qianlong (1736-1795) emperors who were avid collectors. Bronze shapes and design elements entered the general repertoire of Qianlong porcelain and provided a stimulus for vessels otherwise unrelated to the ancient metal versions. The example presented for sale is a rare Ru-type Beaker Vase from the Qianlong period, which also references a further celebrated tradition in its glaze, that of Ru ware of the Song dynasty, the finest, rarest and most prized ware produced for the court.
Monochrome vessels required the highest level of skill and precision in every stage of their production. The slightest irregularity would result in the rejection and destruction of the piece, thus pushing the craftsmen to the limits of their abilities in the pursuit of perfection. By stripping back all the decorative elements, the vase highlights the elegance of the archaic form while also signifying the emperor's all encompassing role as preserver of Chinese cultural traditions.
Both the bronze vessel and the porcelain vase were acquired by a European Vice Consul in Shanghai in the early 1940s. Collectors today pursue such objects with equal passion and the two examples to be offered in Sotheby's sale of Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art are each estimated at £100,000-200,000.
A Fine Pale Celadon Jade Quail and Millet Ruyi Sceptre, Qing Dynasty, 18th/19th Century. Estimate: £40,000-60,000
A Gilt-Bronze Figure of Manjushri, Yongle Mark and Period. Estimate: £100,000-150,000
A Rare Pair of Green-Ground Famille-Rose Bottle Vases, Qianlong Seal Marks and Period. Estimate: £200,000-300,000