Lot 663
  • 663


100,000 - 150,000 USD
325,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Height of tallest 17 1/4  in., 43.8 cm
each bell of pointed oval section with the two sides rising up in an arc, set on each side with rows of evenly distributed bosses, divided by two horizontal bands of stylized bird motifs and one vertical band enclosing a nine-character inscription reading wei shi you er yue wang chu X pang, all above a band of highly stylized taotie mask, the flat top similarly decorated with a pair of taotie masks, surmounted by a tall tapering tubular shaft with a bulged mid-section issuing a loop handle decorated with a raised animal head and leiwen, the surface patinated with malachite encrustation, fitted stands (14)


Sotheby's New York, 20th March 2002, lot 22.

Catalogue Note

This form of bronze bell with a shank and a lug, or yongzhong, was one of the most important musical instruments of the Zhou dynasty. Instead of being suspended vertically like a bozhong, a yongzhong was made to be hung at an angle. Large percussion sets, comprising yongzhong and other bells, were played during rituals and banquets of the aristocracy. According to the Zhouli [The Rites of Zhou], from the Eastern Zhou, only kings, marquises and other select members of the aristocracy were entitled to possess such bronze bells, which in turn symbolized social status becoming auspicious gifts among the aristocratic class. It is believed that these bells were made only with refined material on an auspicious day and their completion was celebrated with receptions where guests could enjoy the tunes and the original golden sheen of the newly cast bells; see Feng Guangsheng, ‘Chime-bells. Musical Instruments’, Artistic Style of Cultural Relics from the Tomb of Zenghouyi, Wuhan, 1991, p. 158. The inscription on the present bell set consists of nine characters, which can also be found on the cover of an early Western Zhou dynasty bronze you. The cover is cast to the interior wall with a long inscription, which begins its sentence with the same nine characters. See Wu Zhenfeng, Shangzhou qingtongqi mingwen ji tuxiang jicheng [Compendium of Inscriptions and Images of Bronzes from Shang and Zhou Dynasties], vol. 24, Shanghai, 2012, no. 13345.

Surviving Western Zhou dynasty bronze bells are rarely found in sets. Only a few examples appear to be published, including a set of eight known as the Zuo Zhong, from the middle to late Western Zhou dynasty, excavated in Qijia village, Fufeng county, Shaanxi province in 1960, now in the Shaanxi History Museum, Xi'an, published in Bronzes of Shang and Zhou Dynasties Unearthed in Shaanxi Province, Beijing, 1980, pls 156-163; another set of sixteen bells known as the Jinhou Mu Zhong, dated to the reign of King Li of Zhou (890-828 BC), discovered from tomb no. 8 in Qu village, Quwo county, Shanxi province in 1992, fourteen of which are now in the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, and the remaining two in the Shanxi Archaeology Institute, Taiyuan, published in Chen Peifen, Xiashangzhou qingtongqi yanjiu. Xizhou [Study of bronze from the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasty. Western Zhou], vol. 2, 2004, pl. 427.

Examples of sets of bronze bells at auction are incredibly rare, and no other Western Zhou dynasty bell sets appear to have been sold. For later examples, see a set of nine Eastern Zhou dynasty, Spring and Autumn period, niuzhong, sold in our London rooms, 17th November 1999, lot 706; and a set of eleven niuzhong, from the Spring and Autumn period, sold at Christie's New York, 25th March 1998, lot 42.