An Over 1000-Year-Old Parcel-Gilt Silver Bowl From Junkunc Collection To Lead Sotheby’s Asia Week

Chinese antique lovers should be no stranger to Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1987). The Junkunc name is synonymous with exceptional quality, with his collection gracing the New York Asia Week every year since 2018.

This spring sees no exception. The name is seen at both a dedicated Christie’s sale, and in the saleroom of its rival Sotheby’s Important Chinese Art sale, headlined by the Junkunc Collection’s Tang parcel-gilt silver bowl, which is poised to fetch in excess of US$1m. 

Bearing both Western and Eastern aesthetic appeals, the present bowl is a rare example that dates back to the Tang dynasty (618-907) - when many of the gold and silver vessels were molten down, at times when there was a scarcity of the metals. 


Lot 202 | A parcel-gilt silver “lotus and pomegranate” bowl, Tang dynasty
Width: 24.3 cm

  • Fritz Low-Beer & Co., New York, February 8, 1951
  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978)

Estimate: US$1,000,000 - 1,500,000

The Hungarian-born preeminent Chinese art collector Stephen Junkunc III moved to Illinois, Chicago as a child. Outside of his time working at his father’s company, Junkunc began the curation of his collection of Chinese art, with his first acquisitions made in the early 1930s. 

Throughout the years, Junkunc acquired some of the most highly sought-after examples of porcelain bought directly from leading US and UK dealers such as C.T. Loo, Bluett & Sons, W. Dickinson & Sons and John Sparks.


Renowned Chinese art collector Stephen Junkunc III

Besides porcelain, the Junkunc Collection, at its height numbered over 2,000 examples, spanning archaic jades, bronzes, paintings, and Buddhist sculptures. The fabled Ru ware dish now in the hands of prominent collector Au Bak Ling, once resided in the Junkunc Collection as well.

Since the Chinese imperial history, precious metals such as gold and silver have always carried the symbolic connotations of wealth and luxury. Widely seen at imperial courts and banquets, gold and silver vessels also served as imperial rewards for meritorious officials and as presents to foreign envoys.

The production of gold and silver objects reached its zenith in the Tang dynasty (618-907); which marked an era of cultural exchange between China and such regions as Central Asia, India, and Persia (present-day Iran).


Portrait of Stephen Junkunc III

The flourishing trades and influx of wares via the Silk Road also explained the strong exotic influences displayed by various art forms, with Persia shaping the Tang-dynasty gold and silver works of art.

The Sasanian Empire (224-651) - the last Persian imperial dynasty before the Arab Muslim conquest - was known for its gold and silver ware production, in particular, their parcel-gilt silver wares that use the juxtaposition of the two metals to striking effect. 

The technique was introduced to China, thanks to the opened diplomatic and cultural exchange between the two countries. At first glance, the outlines of the decorative motifs look engraved, yet a close examination would reveal that they are created through impressions - by a continuous series of punches in form of short linear strokes. 


 A closer look at the short strokes on the present Tang parcel-gilt silver bowl


An eight-petalled Sasanian lobed bowl, circa 6th-7th century | Collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Sasanian influence is also seen in the shape of the metalwares produced in the 6th and 7th centuries. Recognized by the concave rim and scalloped lobes - most commonly 8- and 12-petalled, the Persian prototype was infused with Chinese aesthetics. The oriental iterations created by Chinese artisans result in a comparatively higher ring foot with a reduced number of petals. 

The present example features a widely flared four-petalled form, often identified as begonia-shaped, and showcases a foot conceived like a lotus leaf with curled-up tips.

Rendered in the shape of an open begonia flower, featuring four-petalled lobes

The fully-gilt exterior with motifs of lotus blooms

The interior of the bowl finely engraved and parcel-gilt with a central medallion

The contrasting shades of gold and silver, thanks to the partially gilded interior enhance the sophisticated arrangement of the blooms. The exterior of the vessel, on the other hand, is entirely gilded and decorated with both single and double lotus flowers, all reserved on a ring-punched ground, above a band of overlapping lappets.

With the introduction of Buddhism to China, lotus had become a prime decorative motif seen on a plethora of art forms. Qualities such as purity and integrity are often associated with lotus as it rises unsullied from the mud. 

The lush floral design in the center of the vessel, blooming into a pomegranate - an exotic fruit originated from the Persian region, is also seen as a symbol of life and fertility. 

Other highlights of Sotheby’s New York Important Chinese Art sale include:

Lot 193 | An archaic bronze ritual food vessel (gui)
Late Shang dynasty, probably c. 1072 BC
Width: 28.3 cm

  • Collection of Aisin Gioro Shengyu (1850-1899)
  • Dr. Ernst Hauswedell, Hamburg, December 9, 1957, lot 4
  • Dr. Ernst Hauswedell, Hamburg, May 23, 1970, lot 1
  • Collection of Sammlung Gottfried Hertel (1925-2019)

Estimate: US$600,000 - 800,000 

Lot 137 | A coral-ground famille-verte “peony” bowl
Yongzheng yuzhi mark and period
Diameter: 11.4 cm

  • Japanese Private Collection (by repute)

Estimate: US$500,000 - 700,000

Lot 130 | A blue and white “floral” bowl
Ming dynasty, Yongle period
Diameter: 16 cm

  • American Private Collection, acquired in Connecticut

Estimate: US$300,000 - 500,000

Lot 131 | A blue and white lobed “fruit and flower” bowl
Xuande mark and period
Diameter: 22.8 cm

  • Collection of a Canadian diplomat, acquired in Southeast Asia between the 1950s and 1970s
  • Canadian Private Collection

Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000

Auction Details:

Auction house: Sotheby’s New York

Sale: Important Chinese Art

Total no. of lots: 184

Venue: 1334 York Avenue, New York, NY 10021

Exhibitions: March 11-16 (by appointment only)

Sale date: March 17, 2021 | 10am (EDT)