East Asia, China, Middle to Late Shang Dynasty, ca. 13th to 11th century BCE. A beautiful cast-bronze ritual wine vessel from the Chinese Bronze Age known as a gu. The cylindrical vessel features a flared, concave base that is densely decorated with curvilinear and spiraling motifs, a stem with four cruciform punch-outs, and a planar interior basin surrounded on the outside with a pair of Taotie masks. The trumpet-form neck expands gradually before culminating in a bell-shaped rim perfect for sipping wine. Thick layers of green and brown patina have formed across the densely etched motifs with scattered areas of russet patina visible as well. Size: 5.3" W x 9.3" H (13.5 cm x 23.6 cm)
We owe the preservation of these ancient bronzes to their burial, either in storage pits, where they were hastily hidden by fleeing members of a defeated elite house, or, more commonly, in tombs. During the Shang dynasty, members of the royalty were accompanied in the afterlife by their bronzes, ceramics, weapons, amulets, and ornaments, and even the human and animal entourage that surrounded them in life: servants, bodyguards, horses, chariots, and charioteers. Each tomb had a set of specialized bronze vessels, of which the gu was one designed to hold wine.
A slightly larger example hammered for $22,500 at Christie's, New York "Fine Chinese Art from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections" auction (sale 2268, March 18, 2009, lot 201)
Provenance: private Ventura County, California, USA collection, acquired in the 1980s to 1990s
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Slight bending to overall form of foot and rim, with softening to some etched decorations, and extensive encrustations across interior and exterior surfaces, otherwise intact and excellent. Great patina and nice preservation to etched motifs throughout.