Collection of Chester Dale and Dolly Carter.
Sotheby's London, 2nd November 1979, lot 237.
The present vessel is a fine example of Han dynasty wares that are often decorated in this lightly sketched and delicate manner. The ornaments are not cast with the vessel but are engraved into the cold metal.
According to Eleanor von Eldberg in Chinese Bronzes, Ascona, 1978, p. 148, the ten figures incised on this vessel are not related other than via their connection with cosmology. They represent the White Tiger of the West, the Green Dragon of the East, the three-legged Sun Crow, the Bird of the South and the Moon Hare. The figures that appear to have been re-incised are the Red Bird of the South, a xianren (Immortals), and the Sun Crow.
Von Erdberg further notes, ibid., p. 150, that most bronzes with incised ornaments known to us form a rather homogeneous group and recent finds have established the Guangxi, Guangdong and Hunan regions as their place of origin and the first century B.C. as their date. Similar motifs can be found on contemporary pottery indicating that the technique used on bronze was influenced by pottery designs. For example see a painted pottery jar and cover, in the Nelson-Atkins Gallery, Kansas City, illustrated in Handbook of the Collections in the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, vol. II, Kansas City, 1973, p. 77, below right, together with another large Han period jar engraved with a closely related tiger figure, p. 76, below left.
Compare also the engraving on a bronze lamp, found at the Han tomb site in Shijiazhuang, Henan province, published in Kaogu, 1965, no. 12, p. 656; and a Western Han dynasty vessel decorated with figures and animals included in Zhongguo qingtongqi quanji, vol. 12, Beijing, 1998, pl. 79.
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