Remarkable for its striking form and precise modeling, through which a powerful dynamism is successfully captured, the present lot is a testimony to the unlimited creativity of ancient artisans who ingeniously transformed a functional object into a form of sculptural art. Although it is difficult to conclude definitively without direct evidence, the present lot was likely functioned as a support for bronze censers during the Han dynasty.
Dragon-form supports of this type are extremely rare, and only a very small number of examples appear to be recorded, including a nearly identical bronze dragon, attributed to the Han dynasty, exhibited in Fine and Rare Chinese Works of Art and Ceramics Summer Exhibition, Roger Keverne, London, 2008, cat. no. 6. Another gilt-bronze dragon of a larger size, cast in a very similar posture, but missing its head and legs, attributed to the Han dynasty, was sold in our London rooms, 29th February 1972, lot 142, and later published in Hayashi Minao and Higuchi Takayasu, Fugendō Sakamoto Gorō Chūgoku seidōki seishō (Ancient Chinese Bronzes in the Sakamoto Collection), Tokyo, 2002, pl. 298.
Han dynasty bronze censers are often supported on similar dragon-form bases. Compare a related gilt-bronze dragon of a smaller size, cast with a similarly coiled body, supporting on its head a boshan censer, attributed to the Han dynasty, published in Pierre Uldry, Chinesische Gold und Silber, Zurich, 1994, pl. 92; another attributed to the Eastern Han dynasty, exhibited in Unearthing China's Past, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1973, cat. no. 43; one of a simpler design, from the Han dynasty, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Bronze Articles for Daily Use, Hong Kong, 2006, pl. 93.
Similar depictions of the present dragon can also be found as the design on the base of Han dynasty censers, such as one, as part of the reticulated foot of a censer, closely modeled in the same posture with its head raised high, attributed to the Han dynasty, exhibited in ibid., Roger Keverne, London, 2008, cat. no. 7. A further example is found on the foot of a Western Han dynasty gilt and silvered bronze censer, where it is depicted in openwork with a sinuous body and a raised head issuing the long stem of the censer, illustrated in Zhongguo meishu quanji gongyi meishu bian qingtongqi [Complete collection of Chinese fine art. Archaic bronzes], vol. 2, Beijing, 1986, pls 209-211; and another gilt-bronze example from the Stoclet Collection, exhibited in Ancient Chinese Bronzes from the Stoclet and Wessen Collections, Eskenazi, London, 1975, cat. no. 9.