3,000-year-old Bronze Vessel Gui to Lead Christie’s Autumn Sales in New York

As New York auction week is opening in a month, Christie’s unveils an array of Asian art from Buddhist figures to Chinese paintings in the coming autumn sales. Leading the sale is a 3,000-year-old bronze vessel known as a gui. It carries an estimate of US$4m-6m. What’s so special about this gui? What purpose did it serve? How impressive is the provenance? We are going to answer all your questions in this article.

The photo shows the size of this bronze ritual four-legged food vessel

Gui was a ritual vessel for serving cooked millet, sorghum, rice or other grains. Bronze casting came fully into its own in China during the Shang dynasty (circa 1600BC -1046 BC) with the production of sacral vessels intended for use in funerary ceremonies. Chinese people in the old times believed in afterlife and spirits so they would bury their relatives with everything they could possibly need in the afterlife, including food, wine, jade and tools. In daily life, too, regular offerings would be made in ancestral temples to keep the family spirits nourished and happy.

Gui vessels typically rest on a circular footring|National Palace Museum in Beijing

Western Zhou (circa 1047 BC - 772 BC) succeeded some five and half centuries of the Shang dynasty in around 1046 BC. People quickly introduced changes while keeping standard vessel shapes and established decorative motifs. This gui foodserving vessel is conservative in shape, exhibiting the basic Shang interpretation of the vessel form.  However, this vessel refects the new, post-Shang age as it underwent a transformation by the addition of the four legs.

Other four-legged gui examples in museum|Captial Museum, Beijing

Gui vessels typically rest on a circular footring. Thus, the present gui with a four-legged design is very rare. According to the auction house, there are only 15 such four-legged examples. The majority of which are housed in museum. Other extant examples include three-legged gui vessels, but they are not included as one of the 15 four-legged examples here.

Other four-legged gui examples in museum|Captial Museum, Beijing

The vessel’s ornamentation, featuring zoomorphic rams’ heads and lozenge-shaped geometric scrollwork, was also inherited by the Zhou from the Shang, although the motifs’ significance has been lost over time.

The bronze gui features an inscription of three character ‘zuo bao yi’ on the inside. It can be translated “Made [this] precious honourable vessel]”, suggesting to that the piece would have been commissioned by ‘someone of immense wealth and status’.

The gui was once owned by the Chinese emperor Qianlong, who reigned from 1736 to 1795. Qianlong was known as a greatest collector of Chinese art. Qianlong commissioned a catalogue of his vast trove and this bronze is listed in the bronze catalogue Xiqing gujia.

This bronze is listed in the bronze catalogue Xiqing gujia

C.T. Loo was a celebrated art dealer in Chinese art

The vessel will be offered in a dedicated one-lot-sale ‘Qianlong’s Precious Vessel: The Zuo Bao Yi Gui’ at Christie’s New York on 13th September.  


Auction details

Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: Qianlong's Precious Vessel: The Zuo Bao Yi Gui
7 - 8 September 2018|10am - 5pm
9 September 2018|1pm - 5pm
10 - 11 September 2018|10am - 5pm
12 September 2018|10am - 2pm
Auction: 13 September 2018|11am