Lot 720
  • 720

AN EXTREMELY RARE PAIR OF MASSIVE LUDUAN-FORM BRONZE CENSERS QING DYNASTY, KANGXI PERIOD |

Estimate
300,000 - 500,000 USD
Sold
740,000 USD
bidding is closed

Description

  • Height 31 in., 78.7 cm
each cast with a rotund beast standing on a serpentine dragon, the sinuous body coiling into a ring-form base, the tail flicking the luduan's hindquarters and the head slithering up the beast's chest, the luduan with a nearly spherical torso supported on four stout legs clutching the dragon-base with muscular four-clawed paws, the body and legs richly textured with coiling tufts of fur, broad scales, and flame scrolls all cast in high relief, the separately-cast head with an immense fleshy face with the mouth agape exposing rows of serrated teeth, long fangs, and a broad tongue all beneath a knobby snout, the bulging eyes accentuated by long bushy eyebrows rising beneath a tall forehead surmounted by a crested horn, tubular ears flaring out to each side, the thick mane falling in waves across the chest and back, a large bell and two tassels suspended at the chest, oxidized to a pale green patina mottled with black (4)

Provenance

Collection of Wilhelm Anton Fritz Euler (1911-1994), and thence by descent. 

Catalogue Note

GRAND SYMBOLS OF A MERITORIOUS EMPEROR: A PAIR OF LUDUAN CENSERS In their imposing size and superb casting this striking pair of censers embody the power and wealth of the newly established Qing empire under the Kangxi reign. The censers are expertly cast with ferocious expressions, bulging eyes and sharp fangs, their powerful muscular and stout bodies are accentuated by their mane and extravagantly spiraling tufts of hair. They each stand confidently atop a menacing dragon; its head slithering upwards threatening to strike.

Luduan are mythical and auspicious creatures with strong lion bodies, a single horn and the paws of a bear. They are believed to have the ability to traverse vast distances and to master all languages, as well as foretelling the future, giving life to the good and killing evil. According to legend, they were originally known as ‘jiaoduan’, and their name changed to ‘luduan’ because the character for ‘lu’ matched their appearance better. Known as guardians of enlightened rulers, luduan were said to appear in areas where a wise and virtuous leader was present.

The auspicious nature of luduan was particularly appropriate for the purpose of these censers. Cast with hinged or removable heads, they were made for burning incense and smoke would emerge from the beast’s mouth, animating and empowering the sculpture. As Chuimei Ho and Bennet Bronson note in their discussion of a pair of Qianlong cloisonné enamel examples from the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in the exhibition Splendors of China's Forbidden City. The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong, The Field Museum, Chicago, 2004, these burners were traditionally valued at the Imperial Court, as with their open mouths and smoke billowing forth, they were a reminder to the emperor that he should always be receptive to honest advice (see p. 37).

The origin of incense burners of this form is difficult to determine; an example attributed to the Song dynasty was recovered from the Ming dynasty tomb of the scholar-official Zhang Shupei (1552-1615) in Tonglian, Sichuan (Wenwu, 1989, no. 7, pp 45-46, figs 14-16). Mythical beast incense burners however, became a popular model only from the Xuande period onwards. A censer in the form of a mythological animal was included in the painting ‘Enjoying Antiquities’ by Du Jin (ca. 1467-1505), where two scholars are depicted scrutinizing a selection of antiquities (illustrated in Through the Prism of the Past: Antiquarian Trends in Chinese Art of the 16th to 18th Century, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2003, cat. no. I-44). A drawing of a similar beast is also published in the Shizu zhai jian pu (Ten Bamboo Studio Catalogue of Letter Paper Designs), a woodblock printed book of stationery papers from 1645, compiled by Hu Zhengyan and illustrated in Ip Yee and Laurence C.S. Tam, Chinese Bamboo Carving, vol. 1, Hong Kong, 1978, p. 179, fig. 15. Its popularity continued well into the Kangxi reign, when censers of this form were made in a variety of media, including porcelain, cloisonné enamel and bronze. For a Xuande period prototype of this form, see two censers sold in our Hong Kong rooms, the first from the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, 8th April 2014, lot 233, and the second, 8th October 2014, lot 3759.

Such censers were part of the ‘throne group’, a prescribed set of imperial court assemblages that decorated throne rooms. Pairs of luduan were commonly placed on each side of an Imperial throne with the aim to protect and highlight the ruler’s elevated position. The importance of this pair is evident when compared to examples of luduan still displayed in Imperial Throne Room in the Forbidden City, all of which appear smaller than the present example. A pair of luduan standing at the side of the Imperial throne in the main room of the Yangxin dian (Hall of Mental Cultivation), is illustrated in situ in the catalogue to the exhibition Splendors from China’s Imperial Palace. Secret World of the Forbidden City, Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, Santa Ana, California, 2000, p. 38, together with a pair made of champlevé enamel, pp 34-35; another pair in the Kunming gong (Palace of Earthly Tranquillity), is illustrated in situ in Qingdai gongting shenghuo [Life in the Palace during the Qing dynasty], Hong Kong, 1985, pl. 12; a further pair in the Zhonghe dian (Hall of Central Harmony), is illustrated in A Treasury of Ming & Qing Palace Furniture, Beijing, 2007, vol. 2, pl. 780, together with a pair in the Qiangqing gong (Mansion of Heavenly Purity), pl. 781, and two pairs made of cloisonné enamel, one in the Yangzhou gong (Palace of Eternal Longevity), pl. 287, and the other from one of the rooms of the Yangxin dian, pl. 791.

While censers of this form are relatively common, the large size of the present pair is exceptionally rare; compare a  luduan censer of slightly smaller size, and cast with less refined details, from the collection of J.B. Pickering, sold at Christie’s London, 8th May 1978, lot 269, and in these rooms, 6th June 1992, lot 369; and a censer of similar size but in the form of a qilin and attributed to the Qianlong reign, sold in our London rooms, 7th March 1980, lot 42, possibly the same sold at Christie’s London, 19th March 1979, lot 185. See also a smaller censer, one of a pair, embellished with precious stones, in the Shenyang Palace Museum, Liaoning province, illustrated in Son of Heaven. Imperial Arts of China, Seattle, 2000, pl. 33; and a pair in the Musée national du château de Fontainebleau, included in the exhibition Chinese Impériale. Splendeurs de la dynasties Qing 1644-1911, Baur Foundation, Geneva, 2014, cat. nos 12 and 13.

Compare also a cloisonné enamel luduan censer of slightly larger size, standing on a rectangular platform but lacking the dragon, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Masterpieces of Chinese Enamel Ware in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1971, pl. 28; a smaller pair sold in these rooms, 31st May 1994, lot 221; one sold in our Paris rooms, 12th June 2018, lot 143; and a further pair sold at Christie’s London, 31st May 1965, lot 131.

Wilhelm Anton Fritz Euler (fig. 1) was a businessman and patron of the arts and nature. Born in Frankfurt, Germany 10th September 1911, to an illustrious family, Fritz studied at a private school and then attended Oxford University in England.  He left Germany in 1938 at the onset of World War II.  His parents, Henriette Hochschild and Rudolph Euler, felt it best their son leave the country and provided him with a ticket around the world. Fritz rearranged his transport and booked himself one-way to the United States. Fritz Euler first arrived in Wyoming, and then moved to Montana, where he spent a year working as a cowboy and ranch-hand.

Fritz Euler’s mother, Henriette Hochschild, was the daughter of German businessman Zachary Hochschild, a metal trader and the co-founder of Metalgesellschaft, one of Germany’s largest industrial conglomerates based in Frankfurt. Rudolph Euler, Fritz’s father, maintained a significant position within Metalgesellschaft. Together with Henriette, Rudi collected art spanning many hundreds of years and numerous collecting categories.

While the majority of the Hochschild-Euler family fortune was confiscated during World War II, Henriette and Rudi preserved a portion of their collection and moved from Frankfurt to Konigstien to rebuild their lives. The Imperial beasts graced the entrance of their Koinigstein residence, and often hosted birds’ nests in their fierce teeth as they looked out over the Black Forest and Rhine river (fig. 2-3).

Fritz Euler’s business career spanned more than three decades. He served as chairman and president of several corporations; Chairman of the Board of The Ore & Chemical Corp., Manhattan for 20 years, the President of the Unterwester Shipping Agency, Manhattan for 15 years, and later as Chairman of the Board of Montana Transport USA Inc., Manhattan. Upon his retirement in 1977, he served as Chairman Chief Executive Officer of Chelpin Industries, Manhattan; management consultants and investment advisers. Fritz Euler was an associate member of the Foreign Policy Association and a member of the board of the German-American Chamber of Commerce in Manhattan. 

After his retirement Fritz drew upon his love of art and nature to begin a second career of volunteerism on Staten Island, where he resided in his beloved residence, Roadside Cottage on Todt Hill Road. He served as Chairman of the board of governors of the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences from 1982 to 1990.  His commitment to making Staten Island a better place to live was legendary. He was a board member and Treasurer of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, board member of the Greenbelt Stewardship Council and a member of the Greenbelt Conservancy. Wilhelm Anton Fritz Euler died 13th August, 1994 and the present lot has passed through descent within the family.

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