Bronze Wine Vessels That Date Back To 3,000 Years Ago Could Fetch A Collective US$5m

From musical instruments, religious sculptures, to weapons, Chinese bronzes are seen in a myriad of forms. Then there are ceremonial objects that inextricably intertwine both ritual and art.

Christie’s has selected five archaic bronze ritual vessels for the upcoming sale, taking place on March 18. Spearheaded by the Shang-dynasty (13th-12th century BC) Luboshez Gong, expected to fetch in excess of US$4m, the collection amassed by US lawyer and antique collector Daniel Shapiro is bound to bring an exciting start to the New York Asia Week.


The Luboshez Gong | Estimate: US$4,000,000 - 6,000,000


Among the vast array of wine vessel forms, we often see such classifications as gong, fangyi, hu, gu, and pou. So how are they different from one another? Through the five different bronze ritual wine vessels from Christie’s Shang: Early Chinese Ritual Bronzes from the Daniel Shapiro Collection sale, let’s delve into the arena of the mysterious Chinese rituals and ancient culture.


Lot 505 | The Luboshez Gong 

A bronze ritual wine vessel and cover, gong

Late Shang dynasty, Anyang, 13th-12th century BC

Length: 29.8 cm


  • The collection of Captain S. N. Ferris Luboshez, USN (Ret'd) (1896-1984), acquired in China prior to 1949
  • Important Chinese Ceramics, Bronzes and Works of Art: The Collection of Captain S. N. Ferris Luboshez, USN (Ret'd); Sotheby -Parke Bernet, New York, 18 November 1982, lot 12
  • Private collection, Switzerland, 1982-1996
  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, 1996
  • The collection of Daniel Shapiro, New York

Estimate: US$4,000,000 - 6,000,000


Gong, also guang | Characterized as metamorphic forms of animals:

While some gongs go for a single animal as the blueprint, some take the forms of more than one animal, like the present example.

Leading the sale is the Luboshez gong, expecting to fetch in excess of US$4m. The front of the vessel has been cast as a feisty tiger, with its ferocious face seen on one end of the lid. The vessel is believed to be used to serve hot wine, so the steam would have poured out between the tiger’s fangs. In ancient China, tiger was seen as the king of all beasts, bearing the symbolisms of bravery and power.


A standing owl at the rear


The other end of the gong takes form as an owl with a rounded chest. The nocturnal bird was believed to be a vital connection between the deceased and the living in ancient Chinese culture. 

A closer examination reveals the third animal of ram. Kneeling is seen as a respectful gesture in Chinese culture. The way a young ram kneel down to be fed by its mother suggests gratitude, hence the revered animal is often seen in ritual objects.


A closer look at the vessel, decorated with ram’s horns cast in low relief


An inscription cast in the center of the bronze vessel's interior base


The gong also bears an inscription at the vessel floor. The four footprints around a sanctuary has later been interpreted as the ancestor of the modern Chinese character wei (衛), meaning to guard or defend. Wei is also a family name in China, pointing to the possibility that the inscription could be a clan sign.

The Luboshez Gong is a part of the collection curated by Captain S.N. Ferris Luboshez (1896-1984). Raised in England by American parents, Luboshez was trained as a scientist and later, a barrister. He joined the US Navy at the outset of World War II, and was stationed in Shanghai. It was during the period of 1945 to 1949, when Luboshez acquired a substantial part of his Chinese antique collection.


S.N. Ferris Luboshez with the present gong


The present bronze vessel went to auction in a dedicated Sotheby’s New York sale back in 1982, and was sold to a private collector for US$126,500. In 1996, renowned Chinese antique dealer James J. Lally acquired the vessel for the present owner, New York-based collector Daniel Shapiro and was kept in his collection until now. 

Lot 504 | A Bronze Ritual Rectangular Wine Vessel, fangyi

Late Shang dynasty, Anyang, 12th century BC

Height: 22 cm


  • The Collection of Mildred R. and Rafi Y. Mottahedeh, New York
  • Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, November 4, 1978, lot 318
  • James J. Lally, New York, 1992
  • Daniel Shapiro Collection, New York

Estimate: US$600,000 - 800,000


Fangyi | A vessel with tapering body of rectangular casket and a roof-shaped cover:

Resembling a small, square house with a gabled roof, or some say - the architecture of a typical Shang palace hall, a fangyi vessel was often used in pairs. Of all ritual bronze shapes, fangyi is one of the rarest due to its relatively short production period and characterized by its distinctive foot with an arched opening.

The slightly tampering body is cast in high relief on each side, with a large taotie mask depicting a Chinese mythological beast against a leiwen ground, which comprises small, squared spirals. There are two long-tailed birds and two dragons with backward-turned heads on either side of the arched opening on the foot, divided by narrow, notched flagnes repeated at the corners.


A single pictogram is cast in the interior base as well as the interior wall of the cover and may be read as a clan sign

Lot 502 | A bronze ritual wine vessel, hu

Late Shang dynasty, 12th century BC

Height: 35 cm


  • Acquired in Macao in 1985
  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, 2003
  • The collection of Daniel Shapiro, New York

Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000


Hu | A classic pear-shaped vessel:

A more commonly seen shape, the hu flares into a narrow neck and is supported on a spreading foot. The present hu jar features a band with two large masks of taotie - a Chinese mythological beast, formed by two crested dragons. 

Originally, a typical hu would have come with a lid, which might have been fastened to the body by a cord from the two rams-head lug handles below the bowstring band.

Lot 503 | A bronze ritual wine vessel, pou

Late Shang dynasty, 13th-12th century BC

Diameter: 33 cm


  • Sotheby's London, November 14, 2001, lot 4
  • J. J. Lally & Co., New York, 2004
  • The collection of Daniel Shapiro, New York

Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000


Pou | A jar characterized by its rounded body, used for storing wine or food:

The globular bronze pou jars date back to the late Erligang period (1400-1300 BC) and continued to be made throughout the Shang dynasty. 

The body of the present pou is flat cast around the sides with frieze of three taotie masks formed by pairs of dragons. The bulbous body with tapering sides rises from a slightly flared foot encircled by a narrow band of scrolls below three apertures.

Lot 501 | A bronze ritual wine vessel, gu

Late Shang dynasty, Anyan, 12th-11th century BC

Height: 30.4 cm


  • J. J. Lally & Co. New York, 1988
  • The collection of Daniel Shapiro, New York

Estimate: US$80,000 - 120,000


Gu | A ritual wine vessel with a slender silhouette:

One of the most recognizable Shang bronze vessels, gu first appeared as a slender beaker in the Erlitou period (2000-1500 BC) and gradually evolved into a trumpet-mouthed vessel in the late Anyang period (12th-11th century BC).

The neck of the present gu is decorated with four elongated blades crisply cast in relief with a dissolved taotie mask on a leiwen ground that rise from a narrow band of four kui dragons. The middle section and the spreading foot are each cast with two taotie masks divided and separated by notched flanges.

Auction Details:

Auction house: Christie’s New York

Sale: Shang: Early Chinese Ritual Bronzes from the Daniel Shapiro Collection

Total no. of lots: 5

Date: March 18, 2021 | 8:30am (EDT)

Venue: 20 Rockefeller Plaza New York, NY 10020