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photographer New Owner.
Water, Pine and Stone Retreat. Qianlong  Large picture | Small picture
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 8 October 2009: Lot 1814 


the globular body raised on a tall waisted pedestal foot and rising to a long slender neck flaring at the bulbous mouth, the body divided into sections by seven horizontal filets the shoulders set with the head of a dragon with a C-shaped square-sectioned handle issuing from its mouth, opposite a curved upright spout extending up from the mouth of a mythical beast, the olive-green bronze surface randomly splashed with large patches of gold, with gold further liberally applied to the handle, spout and mouth, the underside engraved with a four character seal mark Qianlong nianzhi (fitted box)
15.2 CM.

Christie's Hong Kong, 29th April 2002, lot 700.

The present gilt-splashed bronze ewer is a fine example of the trend during the Qianlong emperor's reign to produce vessels in imitation of antiques. Wares belonging to this exquisite group of bronzes were either faithfully rendered after ancient forms or made to evoke the past in their decoration. This ewer is after large vessels of related form that were used for serving wine at banquets. Its particularly attractive small size suggests that the vessel was possibly made for the personal use of the emperor.

Ewers of related pear-shaped body, tall neck and curling handle are modelled after Middle Eastern ewers of the 7th century; for example, see a Mosul ewer made for Abu'l-Qasim Mahmud ibn Sanjar Shah illustrated in Islamic Metalwork. The Nuhad Es-Said Collection, London, 1999, pl. 6. Vessels of this type were brought to China via the trade routes between China and the Middle East and are a testament to the influence they had on Chinese artisans who established a link between Persian forms and Chinese decoration in their repertoire. These elegant ewers became a staple for Chinese potters and metalworkers and were made in various mediums including ceramics, bronzes and lacquer.

Qing ewers were also influenced by Ming dynasty examples; see a large gilt-copper ewer and cover sold in these rooms, 23rd October 2005, lot 404; a gilt-bronze ewer sold at Christie's London, 16th December 1987, lot 300; and a long-necked ewer, from the Clague collection, included in the exhibition China's Renaissance in Bronze, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, 1993, cat. no. 26. Compare another Ming bronze ewer with a slender spout and without a handle, but with similar applied rings to the neck and body sold in our London rooms, 12th November 2003, lot 117.

The origins of gilt-splash decoration remains a subject of speculation. Gerard Tsang and Hugh Moss in Arts from the Scholar's Studio, Hong Kong, 1986, p. 184, mention that the popularity of this surface decoration was possibly fostered by Xuande bronzes of the Ming dynasty where the appearance of the gilt-splashes was caused by the uneven surface patination of the vessel. Some scholars have linked gilt-splashed decoration on bronzes to the influence of the iron-brown splashes, known as tobi seiji, applied to qingbai and 'Longquan' wares of the Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties. Robert Mowry in his work on the Phoenix Art Museum exhibition op.cit., p. 169, mentions the appearance of fine paper enlivened with flecks of gold and silver from the early 15th century and suggests that this 'might have also played a role in the creation of such abstract decoration, either directly inspiring those who designed the bronzes or indirectly moulding taste to appreciate objects sprinkled with gold and silver'. Furthermore, R. Soame Jenyns and William Watson in Chinese Art. The Minor Arts, London, 1963, p. 116, illustrate a bronze double vase with gold inlay in the form of splashes, pl. 50, which the authors describe as 'decorated with elaborately simulated patches of apparent corrosion, the rough projecting parts consisting of pure gold, resembling un-worked nuggets and grains, inserted into the bronze'.


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Hugh Moss |