Important Chinese Art
Live Auction: 17 March 2021 • 10:00 AM EDT • New York

Important Chinese Art 17 March 2021 • 10:00 AM EDT • New York

S otheby's is honored to present a diverse assemblage of rare and exceptional Chinese ceramics and works of art from distinguished collections in March 2021, spanning 4,000 years of Chinese history from the Shang dynasty onwards. Highlights include two early Ming blue and white masterworks from the Yongle and Xuande reigns, a superb and important parcel-gilt silver ‘lotus and pomegranate’ bowl from the collection of Stephen Junkunc III, an important documentary archaic bronze Gui from the late Shang dynasty, early ceramics from the Aoyama Studio collection, Chinese ceramics from the collection from the Studio of Serendipitous Encounters, and Ming and Qing dynasty works of art from the estate of Allen O. Battle, Ph.D.

Sale Highlights

Imperial Porcelain with an Exotic Touch



ESTIMATE $300,000 – 500,000

Property from the Studio of Serendipitous Encounters

Besides being an accomplished scholar in physics, Professor Chia-Shi Lin (1930-2020) had a discerning eye for Chinese art across the categories of ceramics, painting and calligraphy. Born and brought up in the Taichung area of Taiwan, Prof. Lin attended the National Taiwan University in Taipei, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics. After further training in the US, he began teaching at National Tsinghua University in Hsinchu. There he oversaw the installation of the first research nuclear reactor in Taiwan and assumed the role as a professor of nuclear physics. After leaving the academia, he worked as an international civil servant for the United Nations in Vienna, Austria.

While he traveled around the world working for the U.N., including to Japan, Hong Kong, London, and Taiwan, he never ceased searching for great works of art from unexpected places. It was this process of unexpected discoveries that inspired the name of his collection – the Collection of Serendipitous Encounters. This collection is the result of Prof. Lin’s lifelong dedication to Chinese art, and as much to his unique approach to acquiring each piece.

Tang Gold and Silver Currency of Influence, Recognition and Tribute at the Court

Gold and silver are eternal symbols of wealth and luxury and were coveted in every period, but perhaps never more so than at the court and among the elites of the Tang dynasty (618-907). This silver bowl, with its rich gilding and the baroque opulence of its decoration, is an archetypal work of the period that stands firmly in the tradition of the best Tang dynasty silverwares, yet it is in many ways unique. It is extremely rare in being fully gilded on the outside, for example, rather than gilding being used only to high-light parts of the design, as seen to the interior. The lush floral designs to the center and around the exterior are highly stylized and distinct. The elaborate open flower to the central medallion is developing into a pomegranate, whilst lotus flowers represented in different stages adorn the outside of the bowl.

Close comparisons to the present bowl as a whole are difficult to find. The closest is a parcel-gilt silver bowl, now in the Uldry Collection, which is decorated with a continuous design of related flowers and some butterflies on the outside. Other similar examples are housed in prestigious museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis.



ESTIMATE $1,000,000 – 1,500,000

Commemorating a Successful Shang Military Campaign

This archaic bronze gui is one of the exceedingly rare vessels of historic significance, with its dated inscription recording a well-known military expedition of the Shang against the Renfang, also known as Yifang, an enemy tribe in the east. In addition to the present gui, three other bronze vessels are also known to have recorded this historic battle, including the famous rhinoceros-shaped zun from the Avery Brundage collection in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. This military campaign is believed to have been a nine-month long expedition undertaken by Di Xin (proposed reign dates c. 1086-1046 BC), which started in the 14th ritual cycle of his reign and concluded in the 15th, with the date of the present vessel falling at the end of cycle 14 which, if the dates assumed for king Di Xin’s reign are correct, would be equivalent to c. 1072 BC. It is extremely rare that an archaic ritual bronze vessel can be dated so precisely. The inscription on this gui has been known and studied since 1935, but the vessel itself had not been published until very recently.

Property from a Boston Private Collection

This exquisite group of ceramics represents an inspiring journey of a discerning Boston private collector into the aesthetic realm of the Song dynasty. In the collector's eyes, the creativity and sophistication in artistic fields of the Song dynasty are captivating and enlightening, and are reflected in the refinement and beauty of the ceramics from this period. Delicately assembled over forty years with acquisitions from major Chinese art dealers mostly in New York and Boston, this charming group is a testament to the collector’s elegant taste, and each carefully selected piece is a memory of enjoyment and pleasure from his long, incredible adventure in collecting.

LOTS 101-115

Communicating with the Celestial Realms: An Imperial Gilt-bronze Temple Bell

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  • The imperial mark, reading Kangxi wushisi nian zhi (made in the fifty-fourth year of the Kangxi reign), corresponding to 1715.

    This mark denotes the year of manufacture and that the bell was produced for use in imperial rituals and ceremonies. The present bell is among two sets of bells made in 1715 for use at the Temple of Agriculture.

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  • The mark reading huangzhong (first tone).

    This mark denotes the musical tone that the bell produces. The huangzhong tone is the first, and most important tone. It was considered the founding principal in music, and was the note played at the beginning and end of each ritual.

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  • The solid, unbroken line beneath the imperial mark.

    This denotes the musical key of the bell, which in this case is the yang key, represented by the yang (masculine) hexagram component. Within a set of ritual bells, some would be marked with a solid line (yang) while others were marked with a broken line (yin), which generated minor or major keys corresponding to the complimentary yin-yang forces in the universe. Thus, striking the bells would contribute to a ceremony’s aim of communicating between the human and celestial realms, and restoring harmony to the cosmological order.

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  • The dragon-form loop.

    These dragons are known as pulao, one of the nine sons of the dragon. Pulao lived on the shore and would sound a ferocious roar whenever his archenemy, the whale, would attack. When the bell is in use, the striker represents the whale, and the sound of the bell represents the dragon’s roar.

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Moon jars, with their large spherical bodies and luminous white tone, are celebrated for their simple form and monochrome surface. Due to their voluminous proportions, moon jars had to be made by forming two roughly hemispherical bowls on a wheel, joining them together at the rims, dipping the resulting jar in a transparent or white-tinged translucent glaze, and firing it at a high temperature. The craftsmen took care to make the two halves compatible, but to avoid making them identical. Part of the allure of a moon jar are the slight idiosyncrasies in the tonalities and contours of its surface, qualities that naturally arise from the clay and the individual hands that go into making them.

The restraint of the potter in allowing these intrinsic irregularities to remain in the finished product, and by doing so eschewing any unnecessary expenditure of time or capital in the over-refinement or ornamentation of the surface, created a form that embodies the Joseon neo-Confucian values of purity, pragmatism, frugality, and preservation of the essence of the earth and mankind. As a physical manifestation of the philosophical currents of the time, and in their distinctly indigenous shape, moon jars of the 17th and 18th century are considered a quintessential expression of mid- to late Joseon culture.


Property from the estate of Allen O. Battle, Ph.D

This season, Sotheby’s is honored to present a selection of works collected by Dr. Allen O. Battle over the course of 70 years. As a well-loved and dedicated psychiatrist at the University of Tennessee, Dr. Allen O. Battle spent his spare time collecting works that reflected a great appreciation of the Chinese aesthetic. Buying from dealers such as Yamanaka & Co., Nagatani Inc., and Mathias Komor, while also frequenting auctions from the 1940s up until the 2010s, Battle amassed a varied collection of Asian art. The present selection of jade, porcelain and Buddhist sculptures in the sale reveals Battle’s aesthetic taste and a selection of jadeite from the collection will also be offered in our The Hundred Antiques: Fine and Decorative Asian Art sale.

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