Art and Warfare in Ancient China

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The celebrated collection of Stephen Junkunc, which comes to auction again on 10 September, is exemplary in numerous respects, but one of its most fascinating facets is the number of archaic warfare instruments, both ceremonial and functional. These include chariot ornaments, fittings and weapons, many of which are comparable to those found at important excavations. These splendidly decorated and impeccably crafted objects hint at the majesty and power of ruling kingdoms of ancient China.

Art and Warfare in Ancient China

  • A Rare Archaic Bronze 'Bird' Ornament, Late Shang Dynasty. Estimate $5,000–7,000.
    Bronze circular plaques of this type with a horizontal bar set to the reverse are called pao (‘bubble’) in Chinese. They could be used as ornaments to decorate horse bridles or to adorn the carriage of a chariot—usually along the handrails or the sides of the base.
  • A Rare Pair of Gold and Silver-Inlaid Bronze Chariot Yoke Ornaments, Eastern Zhou Dynasty, Warring States Period. Estimate $80,000–120,000.
    Excavations have revealed that these intricately designed fittings are chariot ornaments once used to crown the curved ends of the yoke that was fitted around the horse's neck.
  • An Exceedingly Rare Set of Gold and Silver-Inlaid Bronze Fittings, Warring States Period - Han Dynasty. Estimate $100,000–150,000.
    Holding ten chariot parasol bone ends, 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. 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.
  • A Gold and Silver-Inlaid Bronze Chariot Fitting, Han Dynasty. Estimate $15,000–25,000.
    Excavation discoveries have shown that cylindrical fittings of this type were used to connect the wood support of the parasol on a chariot.
  • A Rare Archaic Bronze Axle Cap and Linchpin, Early Western Zhou Dynasty. Estimate $10,000–15,000.
    The fine casting of this linchpin, decorated as a tiger head, hints at the splendid decoration of the chariots of ancient China.
  • A Very Rare Archaic Bronze Linchpin, Western Zhou Dynasty. Estimate $15,000–20,000.
    Rhinoceros were highly prized animals in ancient China, often gifted as tribute to kings and rulers. The rhinoceros-form decoration on this chariot linchpin suggest the cosmopolitan and worldly power of its owner and kingdom.
  • A Rare Silver-Inlaid Bronze 'Beast Head' Chariot Ornament, Warring States Period - Han Dynasty. Estimate $5,000–7,000.
    Although it is unclear what the specific function of this ornament was, comparable excavation findings suggest that it was likely once used as a finial to cap a pole or stick.
  • An Exceptionally Rare and Important Archaic Turquoise-Inlaid Bronze Sword, Late Spring And Autumn - Early Warring States Period. Estimate $80,000–120,000.
    The present sword is a very rare example among inscribed weapons produced during the Eastern Zhou dynasty. The pictorial style of inscription, niaochongzhuan (‘bird-worm seal script’) was a very popular form of calligraphy during the Eastern Zhou dynasty. Following the collapse of the Zhou dynasty, this extraordinary form of writing was gradually replaced by other styles of calligraphy, but has survived as an art form to this day.
  • An Exceedingly Rare Gold and Silver-Inlaid Fitting, Warring States Period - Han Dynasty. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    The identification of the function of the present lot is fundamentally challenging without access to its place of discovery and full knowledge of its mechanism. However, speculation based on archeological findings suggests that the present fitting may have be a component for the door lock on the carriage of a chariot.
  • An Exceptional and Rare Archaic Green Jade Ceremonial Blade (Ge), Shang Dynasty. Estimate $120,000–150,000.
    The luminous quality of the stone and the high level of workmanship suggest that the present blade belonged to a powerful person who was in the position to command such an important piece.
  • A Rare Archaic Bronze Spearhead (Mao), Shang Dynasty. Estimate $8,000–12,000.
    Although typical in form of Shang dynasty spearheads, the present lot is notable for having a cast cicada motif design on the socket, as most examples of this type are undecorated.
  • A Rare Gold and Silver-Inlaid Bronze Fitting, Warring States Period - Han Dynasty. Estimate $10,000–15,000.
    Although the exact function of the present lot remains unknown, it can be compared to the end cap of crossbows from the Eastern Zhou to Han dynasty.
  • A Rare Gold and Silver-Inlaid Iron Finial, Warring States Period - Han Dynasty. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    This finial has an fan-shaped axe blade on one end. Highly ornamented axe heads of this type were likely made for ceremonial use as a finial crowning a long pole, together with a matching ferrule to cap the foot rather than as a functional weapon used in warfare.
  • A Rare Archaic Bronze Dagger and Scabbard, Eastern Zhou Dynasty, Spring And Autumn Period. Estimate $40,000–60,000.
    These belong to a small group of swords that were popular in the Northern regions of ancient China, recognizable by its characteristic intricate openwork handle adorned with turquoise inlay, now lost.
  • A Gold and Silver-Inlaid Bronze Ferrule, Warring States Period - Han Dynasty. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    Excavated ferrules of this type have been shown to have capped the foot of ceremonial poles or weapons, such as spears.
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