Northern Song Ding Basin and Ming Seated Figure of Bodhisattva to Lead Christie’s Chinese Works of Art Sale

Christie’s Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art will be held next week, presenting a selection of work spanning imperial porcelain, Buddhist bronzes, jade carvings and snuff bottles. We are going to introduce several lots carrying high estimates, starting with a large ding ‘fish’ basin from the Northern Song dynasty.

In the mid-Northern Song (11th century), China was at peace. In response to the demand for high-quality goods in the bustling cities, porcelains came into common production with a rising number of kilns. The ding kilns improved production quality by means of saggar support rings and the "upside-down" firing process, and broadened the decorative range of their wares through the use of incised or moulded motifs.

Ding wares were fired in kilns known either as mantou kilns (bread bun kilns) or horse-shoe shaped kilns. The current basin has a diameter of 32.4m. It is rare to find vessels of this large size upside-down since there would have been significant risks of warping and cracking during firing. Given these attendant risks, the small size of the firing chamber, and the high cost of fuel for firing, the creation of a vessel of the size of the current basin would have been a costly undertaking and one which would almost certainly have been prompted by a specific order.

The interior of the current basin is skilfully decorated with a fish swimming in water amidst waterweeds. The fish has a dynamic quality which suggests energetic movement through the water. The water itself is indicated by undulating groups of fine parallel incisions, while the aquatic plants have been depicted in such a way as to accentuate the rippling of the water.

Starting from the Northern Song Dynasty, ding kiln craftsmen began decorating their porcelain vessels with incised decor, using broad-bladed carving tools in a variety of techniques to quickly execute lines that mimic the variations in thickness of brush-strokes. They were also adept at using comb-like multi-pointed tools to incise multiple parallel flowing lines amid the main decorative motifs, enhancing the fullness of the flowers and leaves or mimicking the fluidity of rippling water.

A lobed Dingyao Basin, Northern Song Dynasty, was sold for HK$146,840,000 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong

The auction record for a ding ware was set in 2014 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong when a Northern Song lobed ding basin from the collection of legendary antique dealer Sakamoto Gorō was sold for HK$146.8m (US$18.8m).

Eskenazi is a renowned collector of Chinese antique

A gilt bronze seated figure of Bodhisattva from the Early Ming dynasty, late 14th-15th century, is estimated at £300,000-500,000. It has an illustrious provenance as it comes from the collection of Giuseppe Eskenazi, a renowned collector of Chinese antique.

This sculpture presents the bodhisattva seated in lalitasana, or the pose of royal ease. The figure sits with back straight and body erect, the head turned slightly to the left and with the eyes downcast and heavily lidded. The figure’s right leg is flexed and pulled up with the knee at chest height, the extended right arm resting on the right knee and the fingers of the right-hand gingerly holding either a wish-granting jewel, or cintamani, or a bead, perhaps from a now-lost rosary.

Though its exact identity remains uncertain, the figure likely represents the so-called Water Moon Guanyin, a subject frequently depicted in Buddhist paintings of the Song, Yuan (1279–1368), and Ming (1368–1644) periods but only infrequently portrayed in contemporaneous sculptures.

Regarded as a spiritual emanation of the Buddha Amitabha, Guanyin ordinarily is identified by the small representation of Amitabha that appears in the bodhisattva’s crown or at the front of the tall topknot of hair. The lack of an image of Amitabha atop this figure’s head has led some to question whether this sculpture truly represents Guanyin or might represent another bodhisattva.

Since the wish-granting jewel, or cintamani, ordinarily is associated only with Bodhisattvas Guanyin and Dizang (Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit), but not with Manjushri, the presence of both book and jewel or bead, in association with the pose of royal ease, argues that this figure most likely represents Guanyin.

A gilt bronze sculpture of Manjushri. 18th Century. Collection of the Musée Guimet

The collection of the Musée Guimet, Paris, includes a closely related, if slightly smaller (H. 23.5 cm) gilt bronze sculpture that also depicts a bodhisattva seated in the pose of royal ease and with the left hand resting on a book. In the Guimet collection since 1894, the sculpture traditionally has been labelled Manjushri and dated to the eighteenth century, but Ma Yuanhao, a specialist in Chinese Buddhist sculpture, recently has reassigned it to Yuan-dynasty China and has identified the figure as Guanyin, his argument based on the assumption that the somewhat unconventionally presented figure atop the head represents Amitabha. Given that the Guimet sculpture probably represents Guanyin and that the present sculpture and the Guimet sculpture are closely related in style, general appearance, and mode of presentation, the present sculpture indeed likely represents Guanyin.

Another highlight is a musical chime called bianqing from the Kangxi period, estimated at £120,000-180,000 (US$156,720-235,080). It is decorated in two shades of gilding with confronted five-clawed dragons running amidst clouds in pursuit of a flaming pearl.

Bianqing is an ancient Chinese percussion instrument consisting of a set of L-shaped flat stone chimes known as qing. Chime stones appeared in the Shang dynasty and are amongst the earliest musical instruments in China. The chime would have been suspended from the circular aperture at its right angle and assembled in graduated sets of sixteen, according to size. During the early Qing dynasty, the desire to follow Confucian traditions saw a revival of chime stones made by imperial commission for use in ritual ceremonies, banquets and processions.

Top lots with the highest estimates

A Magnificent and Superbly Carved Large Ding 'fish' Basin. Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127)

Lot no.: 206
Diameter: 32.4cm
Estimate: £800,000 - 1,200,000

A Magnificent Gilt-bronze Seated Figure of Bodhisattva. Early Ming Dynasty, Late 14th-15th Century

Lot no.: 116
Height: 37.5cm

  • Private Collection.
  • With Eskenazi Ltd, London, 2000.

Estimate: £300,000 - 500,000

A Rare and Finely-Painted Yixing Brush Pot. Signed Yang Jichu, Qianlong Period (1736-1795)

Lot no.: 94
Height: 15.4cm

  • Hugh Moss Ltd. 1970s.
  • Yixing Stoneware from the Mr. & Mrs. Gerard Hawthorne Collection; Bonhams Hong Kong, 28 November 2011, lot 208.
  • Property from a Princely Collection.

Estimate: £300,000 - 500,000

A Large Imperial Gilt-decorated Spinach-green Jade Musical Chime, Bianqing. Kangxi Period, Dated by Inscription to 1716

Lot no.: 81
Width: 49.8cm

  • Sotheby's New York, 16 March 1984, lot 345.
  • The Personal Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman.
  • Roger Keverne, London, May 2008.
  • Property from a Princely Collection.

Estimate: £120,000 - 180,000

Auction details

Auction house: Christie’s London
Sale: Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art
Lots offered: 267
10 May 2019|10am - 4:30pm
11 - 12 May 2019|12pm - 5pm
13 May 2019|9am - 4:30pm、6pm - 8:30pm
Sale dates:
14 May 2019|11:15am (lot 70 - 168)
14 May 2019|2pm (lot 169 - 336)