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the large bell finely cast, suspended from a double-headed dragon handle, each beast powerfully cast with eyes bulging and nostrils flaring above long curling whiskers, the mouth clenched open to reveal its tongue thrust between sharp fangs, with a pair of straight horns extending back over its head along a combed mane with fine details, the two scaly bodies intertwined and crouching in ambush, the large barrel-shaped body with four panels of alternating bosses and trigrams, divided by two rectangular panels, one inscribed with the characters Kangxi wushier nian zhi ('Made in the 52nd year of Kangxi') corresponding to 1713, and the other with taicu, denoting its musical pitch (3rd tone)
The present bianzhong is a fine example of bells produced for ritual ceremonies at the Imperial altars during the Qing dynasty. Made on the orders of the court, bells of this type became an essential component of Confucian rituals with the music produced believed to facilitate communication between humans and deities. Gilt-bronze bells of this type were assembled in sets of sixteen and produced twelve musical tones, with four tones repeated in a higher or lower octave. Of equal size but varying thickness, these bells were attached to tall wooden frames in two rows of eight. See a set depicted in one of Giuseppe Castiglione's paintings, Imperial Banquet in Wanshu Garden, from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, included in the exhibition Splendours of China's Forbidden City. The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong, The Field Museum, Chicago, 2004, cat. no. 101.
The inscription on this bell dates its manufacture to the 52nd year of Kangxi's reign, corresponding to 1713. It appears that under Kangxi's reign bells of this form were made for the Temple of Agriculture in the capital in 1713 and 1715. In total four sets of bells of this type appear to have been commissioned by the emperor, two in each year. This bell belongs to the early group with another also made in 1713 sold in our New York rooms, 24th April 1975, lot 240; and a third sold in these rooms, 9th October 2007, lot 1327.
Several bells from the later year, 1715, have been sold at auction; one of yingzhong tone was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 1st December 2009, lot 1942; and two sets of five bells, formerly in the Audrey B. Love collection, were sold at Christie's New York, 20th October 2004, lots 455 and 456. Another taicu bell made in 1715 was sold in our New York rooms, 19th March 1997, lot 25; and a wushe bell, of the eleventh tone, was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 26th April 1999, lot 520.
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