PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE CONNECTICUT COLLECTION
Acquired in the United States in the 1950s, and thence by descent.
Bianzhong were produced for the court during the Qing dynasty as an essential component of Confucian ritual ceremonies at the imperial altars, formal banquets and processions. The music produced by these instruments was believed to facilitate communication between humans and deities. Gilt-bronze bells of this type were assembled in sets of sixteen and produced twelve musical tones, with four tones repeated in a higher or lower octave. These sets were further divided into yin or yang, indicated by a solid horizontal line or broken line under the panel of inscriptions to represent a minor or major key respectively. The present bell is the fifth pitch (guxian) of the yang key from its set. Cast in equal size but varying in thickness, these bells were attached to tall wooden frames in two rows of eight as depicted by Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) in his painting Imperial Banquet in Wanshu Garden (c. 1755), included in the exhibition Splendors of China's Forbidden City. The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong, The Field Museum, Chicago, cat. no. 101.
Four sets of bells of this form appear to have been created during Kangxi's reign for the Temple of Agriculture in Beijing: the first two sets in the 52nd year (1713) and the second two sets in the 54th year (1715). Several bells from the latter sets have been offered at auction; two, one of yingzhong tone and the other of huangzhong tone, were sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 8th April 2010, lot 1858, and 7th October 2010, lot 2105 respectively; a pair, of yingzhong and ruibin tones, was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 1st December 2009, lot 1942; and two sets of five bells, formerly in the Audrey B. Love collection, were sold at Christie's New York, 20th October 2004, lots 455 and 456. Two further bells have been sold at auction; one of taicu tone, sold in these rooms, 19th March 1997, lot 25; and a wushe bell, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 26th April 1999, lot 520.
For bells from the sets dated to 1713, see one sold in these rooms, 24th April 1975, lot 240; and two sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 9th October 2007, lot 1327, and the other, 17th May 1979, lot 454.
The dragons surmounting this bell are known as pulao, which according to ancient Chinese legend is one of the nine sons of the dragon. In this myth it was said that Pulao resided close to the shore while his arch enemy, the whale, lived in the ocean. Whenever the whale would come to attack, Pulao would sound a roar. The structure of a bell is thus associated with this legend; the clash of the bell, Pulao, with the striker, the whale, would result in the dragon producing its loud ringing roar.
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