This rare zoomorphic vessel illustrates the scholar’s interest in antiquity and especially in ancient bronzes. Bronze vessels of this form with inlaid silver and gold decoration are known from the middle of the Warring States period (475-221 BC). An example from Jiangsu, and now in the collection of the Nanjing Museum, is illustrated in Zhongguo meishu quanji – Gongyi meishu bian - 5 - Qingtongqi (xia), Beijing, 1986, p. 126, no. 144. This bronze vessel shares with the current example the small cover set into its back. The examples from the Bronze Age appear to have found favor with the Northern Song Emperor Huizong, who was a very keen antiquarian and who instigated the publication of illustrated catalogues of the items in his collection. One of these - the Xuanhe Bogu tulu (Xuanhe Illustrated Catalogue of Antiques)- included an illustration of such an early bronze vessel. While the original edition would not have been readily available to later craftsmen, it was reprinted on a number of occasions, and the illustration of this zoomorphic vessel appears, for example, in the AD 1528 edition, known as the Bogu tulu.
Even in the Song dynasty inlaid bronze copies appear to have been made of these zoomorphic vessels, and their popularity continued into the Yuan and Ming periods. A Yuan dynasty example with gold and silver inlay from the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is illustrated in Through the Prism of the Past, Taipei, 2003, p. 186, no. III-55. Another example, in the Royal Ontario Museum, dated Yuan-Ming dynasty, is illustrated in Homage to Heaven, Homage to Earth, Toronto, 1992, p. 102, no. 53; and another dated Song dynasty from the collection of E. B. Ellice-Clark, illustrated in the Catalogue of a Collection of Objects of Chinese Art, Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, 1915, pl. XXXV, was sold at Christie’s Paris, 12 June 2012, lot 286. An example from the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection dated to the Ming dynasty was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 8 April 2013, lot 171.