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One of my favourite works sold by the Chinese Works of Art department in 2015 is a rare bronze phoenix-form ewer dating to the late Western / early Eastern Zhou dynasty (8th to 7th century B.C.) from the Robert H. Ellsworth Collection. The exquisite pouring vessel sold for a staggering $665,000.
Cast as a seated phoenix, the ewer would have held either wine or water and been used during ritual ceremonies. Vessels of this type typically are found in geometric forms, so it is highly unusual to find one as elaborately designed as this. A small spout extends from the breast of the bird, and a smaller bird perched atop the larger seated bird forms the lid, while the loop handle is cleverly cast below the large tail. The naturalistic design and small size only help to enhance the features of the animal.
Vessels cast as animals provide insight not only to the ritual culture and values of the people, but also the flora and fauna that surrounded them.
This remarkable ewer is an example of the highly sophisticated technological skills of ancient Chinese bronze workers. Using advanced casting methods, they were able to recreate fine details in the feathers, feet, and eyes of the birds. Examples such as this bird-form ewer not only highlight their technical abilities, but also the creative energy and vibrant imagination of ancient foundry workers.
A rare, small bronze phoenix-form ewer. China, late Western-early Eastern Zhou Dynasty, 8th-7th century B.C. Estimate: $60,000-80,000. Sold for $665,000 on 17 March 2015
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