MARK AND PERIOD OF KANGXI, DATED 54TH YEAR (CA. 1715)
the large bell finely cast, suspended from a double-headed dragon handle, each beast powerfully cast with eyes bulging and nostrils flaring above long curling whiskers, the mouth clenched open to reveal its tongue thrust between sharp fangs, with two long studded horns extending back over its head along a combed mane with finely incised details, the two scaly bodies intertwined and crouching in ambush, the large barrel-shaped body with four panels of alternating bosses and trigrams, divided by two rectangular panels, one inscribed with the characters Kangxi wushisi nian zhi ('Made in the fifty-fourth year of Kangxi'), and the other with ying zhong, denoting its musical pitch
The inscription on one side records the date of manufacture and reads Kangxi wushisi nianzhi, which translates as 'made in the 54th year of the Kangxi reign' (corresponding to 1715 AD). The reverse is inscribed with two characters yingzhong which possibly denote its classical pitch.
Two sets of bells of this form appear to have been created during Kangxi's reign; the first in the 52nd year (1713) and the second in the 54th year (1715), and are believed to have been made for the Temple of Agriculture in Beijing. Eight bells from the latter set are known, five of which were formerly in the Audrey B. Love collection and were sold at Christie's New York, 20th October 2004, lot 456. Two further bells have been sold at auction; a taicu bell (third tone) was sold in these rooms, 19th March 2007, lot 25; and a wushe bell (fifth tone) was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 26th April 1999, lot 520. For bells from the earlier set, see one sold in our New York rooms, 24th April 1975, lot 240; and two sold in these rooms, 9th October 2007, lot 1327, and the other, 17th May 1979, lot 454.
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. The music produced by these musical instruments was believed to facilitate communication between humans and deities.
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