Parasols were associated with chariots that belonged to high-ranking officials, nobles and royals. As symbols of authority, umbrella-shaded chariots conferred status to their owners, and were taken into their graves upon their death. Constructed of wood, these vehicles would be perishable, but models cast in bronze have been excavated from burial sites. The most famous come from the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huangdi (259 - 210 BC) near Xi’an in Shaanxi province, see Wu Hung et. al., Chinese Sculpture, New Haven, London and Beijing, 2006, figs 1.28 and 1.29, for two half-size bronze replicas of umbrella-shaded carriages drawn by four horses.
For a smaller-size example of a light carriage drawn by one horse, unearthed from an Eastern Han (AD 25-220) tomb of a general or governor, at Leitai, Wuwei county, Gansu province, see Annette L. Juliano and Judith A. Lerner, ‘The Silk Road in Gansu and Ningxia’, Monks and Merchants: Silk Road Treasures from Northwest China, The Asia Society Museum, New York, 2001, pp 41-2.
The sumptuous ornamentation of the present set of bronze fittings illustrates the importance given to the parasol in the Warring States period (475-221 BC), when the chariot assumed a less military and a more ceremonial role. Embellishment became the focus of attention with inlay as the most prestigious decorative technique, and the simultaneous use of gold and silver the most expensive by far. Meant to reflect the social rank of their owners, these bronze ornaments became emblems of prestige, see Colin Mackenzie, ‘From Diversity to Synthesis. Changing Roles of Metalwork and Decorative Style in China’, Asian Art: The Second Hali Annual, London, 1995, pp. 170-187, where, pl. 10, a parasol fitting inlaid in gold and silver from the late 2nd-1st century BC is illustrated. The same piece was included in the exhibition catalogue Inlaid Bronzes and Related Material from Pre-Tang China, Eskenazi, London, 1991, cat. no. 16, where it was catalogued as ‘chariot fitting’.
The exquisite curvilinear inlay of the present fittings appears to be inspired by contemporary painted lacquer and textile designs, see G. Andersson, ‘The Goldsmith in Ancient China’, The Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities’, no. 7, Stockholm, 1935, pp. 1-38, where a comprehensive account is given of the various inlays, their styles and developments.
Similar bronze pieces with small hooks are illustrated and explained as parts of a structure that held a canopy aloft on a chariot, in Mancheng Hanmu fachu baogao / Excavation of the Han tombs at Man-ch’êng, vol. 1, Beijing, 1980, pp 168-195 and vol. 2, pls 117, 120, 129 and 130. Compare a parasol fixture of related geometrical design with gold-and-silver inlay in the Musée Guimet, Paris, attributed to the 4th-3rd century BC, illustrated in Catherine Delacour, De bronze, d’or et d’argent. Arts somptuaires de la Chine, Paris, 2001, pp.151-2, where the royal tombs at Jincun near Luoyang are mentioned as possible provenance. Compare also a gilt-bronze parasol top, formerly from the collection of Mayuyama & Co, sold in these rooms, 19th March 2013, lot 44.
The pair of protruding fittings flanking the present set are ornaments used to crown the curved ends of the horse yoke. For a detailed discussion on yoke ornaments, see lot 217 in this sale. Related examples of this form with a flat top include a gold-inlaid bronze example, published in Pierre Uldry, Chinesische Gold und Silber, Zurich, 1994, cat. no. 63; a pair of gold and silver-inlaid bronze examples, exhibited in Ancient Chinese and Ordos Bronzes, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1990, cat. no. 95.
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