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‘My highlight of 2017’ — An archaic bronze ritual wine vessel

Why this exceptionally rare, record-breaking bronze wine vessel — commissioned for high-ranking Chinese nobility to use during ritual offerings to their ancestors more than 3,000 years ago — stood out for specialist Vicki Paloympis

On 15 March 2017 this bronze ritual wine vessel dating from the 13th to the 11th century BC sold in New York for $37,207,500, helping to realise a total of $332,783,188 across Asian Art Week — the highest total ever achieved for the auction series. 

Although there were several archaic bronzes in the sale, this one stood out for Vicki Paloympis, specialist in Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art: ‘It was one of the best I had ever seen — the photographs hadn’t conveyed its real power.’ 

Intricately cast from solid bronze, such vessels were commissioned by China’s most powerful figures, and represent a high point of ancient Chinese craft, design and innovation. The vessel came to Christie’s from the collection of the Fujita Museum in Osaka, Japan, which deaccessioned a 31 items to pay for a refurbishment. 



‘The vessel had great proportions, institutional provenance and an important published history — everything buyers look for’ 

‘News of its upcoming sale sparked huge interest,’ Paloympis says. ‘We had great success with public and private viewings of the piece in many countries.

‘The vessel had great proportions, institutional provenance and an important published history — everything buyers look for,’ the specialist continues. The unusual hybrid dragon, bird and animal-mask motifs on its surface highlight the imagination and skill of the craftsman.

The fangzun  sold for more than six times its low estimate, in the process breaking the world-record price for an archaic Chinese bronze vessel at auction. ‘The sale reaffirmed the strength of the Chinese market,’ says Paloympis, ‘with eagle-eyed buyers searching for top-quality works with fantastic histories.’