Subject:Re: Was Kaolin clay used in Zhou bronze cores???
Posted By: Sun, Jun 24, 2012 IP: 22.214.171.124
Hello Tony and Pierre.
Tony, this piece was purchased from an obscure New Jersey based auctioneer in the fall of 2011. The auction had mostly typical American antique items (furniture, etc), but also a small number of higher end Chinese items that apparently came from a New York estate. I live in Texas, therefore I bid remotely using liveauctioneers.com. I collect Chinese carved lacquer, and I originally was on the live auction application waiting for a cinnabar lacquer piece to come up, when I spotted this bronze just by chance. The photos were horrible, but there was something about the form of the vessel that grabbed my attention. I took a chance and bid for it, and won it against just one other internet bidder for a very modest $450.00.
The interesting thing here is that there were a small quantity of really nice and seemingly authentic Chinese pieces presumably from the same estate. I knew the Cinnabar box I wanted was 19th C and authentic, and believe it or not a full Han dynasty (I assume) Jade burial suit was also sold to a solitary on-site bidder for $145,000. Nobody is going to pay $145K for a jade burial suit without performing due diligence and having some confidence that the piece is authentic. So if the jade suit was authentic, what were that chances that my bronze was real? At least 50/50 in my book.
The bits of sand still encrusted over the patina certainly is something to investigate and presumably the x-rays will be of great value here.
Pierre, yes my Yi is enormous compared to most museum and high end auction pieces. You would need two hands to pour from my vessel, and when it is full of water it must weigh 15 kilos or more. Why is it so large? I have no idea. Professor Gary Todd is well known for photographing and cataloging ancient Chinese bronzes, and his opinion is that my vessel may well be unique - a one off piece unlike any other. (Assuming that it is authentic of course). If you take a close look at the decoration of my piece and compare it to the National Museum Yi that Tony identified, you will quickly see that mine is far more detailed and refined casting. Maybe that's because the large size allows room for more sophisticated decoration - I'm not sure why. If my piece was created as a copy of the National Museum Yi, why would it be so much larger, and why would the decoration be more elaborate than the original? Gary Todd believes that my piece may originally have come from Yan State where the similar museum Yi was excavated in 1923. Were the two pieces contemporaneous, or is mine just a modern copy? Look at the pig dragon handle. Have you ever seen any dragon depiction in bronze that is similar? It looks like a neolithic jade form. And how did the ancient TL tested core material get inside the handle? If an ancient handle was found and someone built a vessel around it, they certainly paid a lot of close attention to the design motifs on the museum yi. And the form of the taotie mask is not random - it is a coiled snake design with inverted ruyi that has been found on only a couple of obscure Spring and Autumn pieces in the Shanghai museum. Someone went to a LOT of trouble to make sure the taotie mask design perfectly fit the Spring and Autumn style of the overall vessel.
The auction company will not tell me who the previous owner of the piece was, so I have no provenance. That is actually a huge problem for me. No large auction company would ever accept this piece without provenance as there is no proof that it was acquired in compliance with UNESCO regulations. Even if the Oxford University metallurgical testing clearly establishes that it was cast from the right sort of bronze material, this (plus the TL certificate) is still not sufficient to overcome the lack of provenance.
Thanks again, and I will update the thread when I have additional information.