AN EXTREMELY RARE AND LARGE PAIR OF BRONZE FIGURES OF DAOIST OFFICIALS, MING DYNASTY, 16TH / 17TH CENTURY
PROPERTY FROM THE WILLIAM BOYCE THOMPSON COLLECTION
AN EXTREMELY RARE AND LARGE PAIR OF BRONZE FIGURES OF DAOIST OFFICIALS
MING DYNASTY, 16TH / 17TH CENTURY
明十六 / 十七世紀 銅文官立像一對
each finely cast as a heavenly official, standing with hands clasped together in front of the chest, wearing voluminous robes, the courtly garment secured with a belt defined in high relief at the back suspending a grid of knotted silk cords securing a pair of bi discs, strands of tessellated beads at the sides, and in the front a long fluttering sash elegantly tied with a looping knot, the pleated garment with borders intricately chased with scrolling foliate and ruyi over ruyi-toed shoes, the full face with a benevolent expression and a long, neatly tapering beard beneath a modest smile, one figure gazing intently frontward, the other with eyes contemplatively downcast, the head surmounted by a ridged cap with a tall foliate-incised backflap and a band in the front depicting a three-peaked mountain flanked by the sun and moon, secured by a hairpin and trailing cords that fall behind the ears crossing at the neck above a lock-form pendant, all raised on a stepped rectangular base with a cusped ruyi-motif in low relief on the apron, traces of gilding, the patina a silvery greenish-gray (2)
Height of figures 68 in., 172.7 cm
One figure has some losses to the tip of the left index finger and to the back of the collar. The official cap is missing the hairpin on one side, and some losses to the hairpin on the other side. The other figure leans slightly forward. The official cap is missing the hairpin, and there is a small circular tool mark near the bottom of the rectangular base on the proper right side. Both figures are missing the tabula held in the hands; otherwise, they are in general good condition with some age-appropriate wear and expected minor casting imperfections, including scattered small casting patches, a few of which are now missing. The surface with general oxidization.
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In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.
Collection of Vilhelm Meyer (1878-1934).
Collection of William Boyce Thompson (1869-1930), acquired in Beijing, 1917, and thence by descent.
偉賀慕•馬易爾 (1878-1934) 收藏
William Boyce Thompson (1869-1930) 收藏，1917年得於北京，此後家族傳承
It is extremely rare to find such life-size standing figures in bronze, particularly Ming dynasty (1368-1644) bronze figures of officials. Bronze statues are more commonly known in a religious context and are then of much smaller size and often in a seated position. The present figures are also exceptional for their sculptural excellence and naturalistic portrayal. The sculptor artfully conveyed their spirit of benevolence and serenity, especially noticeable in the modeling of the softened features and dignified expressions. The skill of the sculptor is further patent in the way the clothing is depicted. There is a sense of movement in the drapery of the long flowing robes and voluminous sleeves, while the rich texture of the cloth is fully palpable as a result of the exquisite rendering of the embroidered motifs.
Such attire represented the typical dress code for civil officials of high rank. Following the sumptuary laws of 1391, which regulated Ming dynasty dress, the classical Chinese clothing traditions of the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties were revived. Tang and Song official costumes themselves can be traced even further back, to the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). The long robe with wide sleeves, the sash embellished with beaded jewelry, the rectangular office plaque across the chest and the hand-carried tabula or hu were all part of Han dynasty court apparel. One can, therefore, find a close similarity between traditional attires of Chinese court officials over many centuries. Nowhere can this be observed as clearly as on the larger-than-life stone figures of civil officials lining the spirit roads leading to their emperors’ mausoleums. Despite their stylistic differences, the figures look very much alike, see Ann Paludan, The Chinese Spirit Road, New Haven and London, 1991, pl. 142 a Tang example, pls 167- 8; two Song examples, pls 202, 205, 213, 228 and 230; several Ming examples. The last Ming example is probably the one illustrated in full length in Zhongguo meishu quanji: Diaosu bian [Complete series on Chinese art: Sculpture section], 6: Yuan Ming Qing diaosu [Yuan, Ming and Qing sculptures], Beijing, 1988, pl. 128, together with another example of a Ming civil servant, pls 124-5.
The hu or tabula, now missing in the hands of the present figures, symbolized high office and were often made out of ivory. The specific function is explained in the Former Han dynasty Book of Rites (Liji) as an official tool for writing down the emperor’s orders during audiences.
Only one closely related bronze figure, attributed to the Ming dynasty, appears to be recorded. It is of the same size and stands in a similar frontal position, but holds both hands differently and lacks the lifelike facial expression of the present examples, see the exhibition catalogue The Crucible of Compassion and Wisdom. Jin tong fo zaoxiang tezhan tulu / Special Exhibition Catalog of the Buddhist Bronzes from the Nitta Group Collection at the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1987, pl. 122. Compare also a standing bronze figure of smaller size representing the Duke of Zhou (r. 1042 BC-1035 BC), similarly attributed to the Ming dynasty, included in the exhibition Guan miao guan jiao. Shanxishengguan cang daojiao wenwu / Ancient Taoist Art from Shanxi Province, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2003, cat. no. 32.
Similar headdresses to those worn by the present figures can be seen in paintings of famous Ming officials, see the exhibition catalogue Confucius. A l’aube de l’humanisme Chinois, Musée Guimet, Paris 2003, cat. nos 55-58, together with a related bonnet, found in the tomb of Zhu Tan (1370-89), son of the Hongwu emperor (r. 1368-1398), at Jiulongshan, and now in the Shandong Provincial Museum at Jinan, cat. no. 83.
Vilhelm Meyer (1878-1934) was born in Denmark and settled in Shanghai in 1902. He was a founding partner of Andersen, Meyer & Co., a Danish engineering firm that imported Western technology as a means to encourage industrial development in 1900s China. The company’s success was assured in 1907 when it gained exclusive rights to represent General Electric in China. Meyer and his wife Kristen Bramsen were great admirers of Chinese art and culture, amassing a varied and impressive collection.
此類衣著風格當屬典型明朝高級文官服飾。明洪武十六年，始定冠冕制度，至洪武二十六年時又做過補充修改。明制取法唐宋，唐宋則源襲於漢。長服寬袖，佩綬，持笏，戴冠冕，皆屬漢朝官服制式。中國冠冕之制，自漢代以來歷代沿襲，源遠流長。參考歷代皇陵神道兩側之文官石像，如見一唐例，錄安•帕盧丹，《The Chinese Spirit Road》，紐黑文及倫敦，1991年，圖版142；另見兩宋例，圖版167-8；以及數明例，圖版202、205、213、228及230。上述最後之明例應同錄於《中國美術全集•雕塑編6：元明清雕塑》，北京，1988年，圖版128，同書另見一明例，圖版124-5。
相似頭冠亦可見於明代文官畫像，例見展覽圖錄《Confucius. A l'aube de l'humanisme Chinois》，吉美博物館，巴黎，2003年，編號55-58，同書另見一類似頭冠，出土於九龍山洪武帝之子朱檀之墓，現藏山東省博物館，編號83。