233
233
A Gilt-Bronze 'Mythical Beast' Incense Burner and Cover
Cast Mark and Period of Xuande
Estimate
3,500,0004,500,000
LOT SOLD. 4,240,000 HKD
JUMP TO LOT
233
A Gilt-Bronze 'Mythical Beast' Incense Burner and Cover
Cast Mark and Period of Xuande
Estimate
3,500,0004,500,000
LOT SOLD. 4,240,000 HKD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection: Later Bronzes

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Hong Kong

A Gilt-Bronze 'Mythical Beast' Incense Burner and Cover
Cast Mark and Period of Xuande
cast as an incense burner in the form of a xiezhi depicted standing on a snake-like mythical creature, gripping it with its four claws, the serpentine figure coiled around to form the base of the vessel, its head with ears and a single horn resembling a chilong, the tail curling up the beast’s rear left leg as the head rises up the rear right leg, the hollow body cast with flaming flanks, the back flames terminating in stylised ruyi heads, around an elaborate tail with skilfully delineated tufts of hair, the chest cast with a long strip of scaling decorated with an elaborate collar around its shoulders, suspending a bell and two ornamental tassles framing the six-character reign mark cast in kaishu in a curved horizontal line at the neck, the head also hollow with mouth open enabling egress, with a single horn in the form of a ruyi sceptre rising above an additional ruyi head, with an additional four depicted radiating outwards across the elaborate hair of its mane, the outer surfaces, and the inner lip of the head all richly gilt
16 cm., 6 1/4  in.
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Provenance

Alvin Lo, New York.
A&J Speelman, London, 1999.

Catalogue Note

The Xuande reign mark on this outstanding gilt-bronze incense burner and cover is superbly articulated, distinguishing it from the group of later vessels, mostly archaistic in form, which routinely bear apocryphal Xuande marks.  It is clearly an independently conceived piece, produced as a unique example or as a small number for the Xuande court, which is recorded to have been active in commissioning new incense burners for imperial palaces and temples. The texture of the metalwork and the quality of the rich gilding are closely reminiscent of that on early fifteenth century cloisonné enamel workmanship.

The only other recorded incense burner of this form is an almost identical example from the Corneur Collection, Paris, offered at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1st November 2004, lot 835, which is conceived in exactly the same manner, differing only in that the mark is cast in a rectangular cartouche on the underside. See also a select group of Xuande reign-marked gilt-bronze incense burners, decorated with brilliantly articulated dragons in high relief, which share prominent features with the current burner, notably the depiction of the beast’s expression, the combed effect of the hair, the claws and the swirling motifs, one of which was sold in these rooms, 5th October 2011, lot 1943, and another, illustrated by Hugh Moss and Gerald Tsang, Arts from the Scholar’s Studio, Fung Ping Shan Museum, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1986, cat. no. 139, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 27th May 2008, lot 1912.

Although this mythical beast when found as an incense burner is usually referred to as a luduan, here the leonine form and single horn pointing forwards enable identification as a xiezhi, a mythical beast with a single horn, renowned for its ability to distinguish good from evil, hence its role as the emblem of imperial judges and censors.  It stands on a snake, and the upper section of the head and mane can be raised to grant access to the inside of the incense burner.  This became a popular model from the Xuande period onwards, often with the head attached to the body by a hinge, and are relatively common from the Late Ming period onwards.  For two later versions, see Paul Moss and Gerard Hawthorn, The Second Bronze Age. Later Chinese Metalwork, Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, 1991, cat. nos. 18 and 19.

A mythical beast of similar form, depicted with a serpentine dragon emerging from water, is shown in a woodblock print in Shijuzhai zhencang jianpu, first published in 1645, illustrated by Ip Yee and Laurence Tam, Chinese Bamboo Carving, Part I, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1978, p.174, fig.15. 

Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection: Later Bronzes

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Hong Kong