Evidence of this rich tradition of craftsmanship has been transmitted down through a small number of high quality carvings, of which the current sculpture is one of the greatest surviving examples, perfectly encapsulating this tradition. In its exquisite articulation from a lustrous coloured pebble in which the full contours have been so skilfully and compactly utilised, it is a truly outstanding sculpture, a tour-de-force of carving.
Previously exhibited in the Stockholm exhibition Celadon-Jade, 1963 and published in the catalogue by Bo Gyllensvärd as cat. no. 65, it was also included in the 1975 Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition Chinese Jade throughout the Ages, illustrated by Jessica Rawson and John Ayers, London, 1975, cat. no. 186. It depicts a crouching lion or chimera with similar bold modelling in the round, with closely related use of fine striated lines to convey the combed arcs of the fur, grooved folds on the chest and skilfully incised spirals, and a similar dynamic posture of impending movement. The catalogue notes that ‘this type of fabulous animal is related to the monumental stone sculptures found outside tombs near Nanking, which were made during the latter part of the Six Dynasties’, referencing Osvald Siren, Chinese Sculpture, volume II, London, 1925, pls 3-7 and 9-13.
The closest related jade mythical beast to have appeared at auction was sold in our New York rooms, 2nd November 1979, lot 51, now in the collection of Sir Joseph Hotung. Catalogued as Six Dynasties in the 1979 auction, it was more recently re-dated to the Han period by Jessica Rawson, Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing, London, 1995, pl. 26:7, on account of its similarity to a jade bixie discovered in 1972 at Xianyang near present-day Xian, near the tomb of the Han emperor Yuandi (r. 48-33 BC), now housed in the collection of Xianyang City Museum, and illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua dacidian: jin yin yu shi juan, Shanghai, 1996, p.54, pl. 166.
The Hotung mythical beast shares the same distinct features of the current figure: the powerful bulging eyes and sharply defined jaws; the dynamic taut posture bristling in anticipation of impending movement, snarling and ready to pounce; the fine striated lines, especially at the edges, so typical of early Han jades, with strong bands of relief and deeply incised curved lines that radiate around the body, enhancing the overall sculptural quality; the short curved wings sprouting from the shoulders and the long coiling tail; as well as the skillful integration of the natural russet-brown inclusions into the design of the beast.
For examples of early mythical jade animals from the Qing court collection, compare the famous Eastern Han dynasty bixie in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the museum's exhibition Splendid Treasures. A Hundred Masterpieces of the National Palace Museum on Parade, Taipei, 2012, cat. no. 18; and the Han dynasty jade winged beast in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Jadeware 1, Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 201.
For other rare examples of similar quality, compare the jade mythical beast originally in the collection of Xu Hanqing (1882-1950s), sold in these rooms, 6th April 2016, lot 3025; a Six Dynasties jade chimera from the collection of Dr and Mrs Cheng Te-k’un, illustrated by James Watt, Chinese Jade from Han to Ch’ing, The Asia Society, New York, 1980, pl. 12; and two smaller chimera from the collection of Chung Wah Pui, illustrated by Ip, Yee, Chinese Jade Carving, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1983, cat. nos 126 and 127.
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