Chi­nese group to bring an­cient bronze relic back to Hu­nan

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By LIN QI in Bei­jing linqi@chi­

A 3,000-year-old Chi­nese bronze, called min fan­glei, will soon re­turn to its birth­place to be re­united with the lid from which it was sep­a­rated nearly a century ago.

The re­union was made pos­si­ble by a pri­vate pur­chase by Chi­nese col­lec­tors on April 19 in New York.

Ac­claimed as the “king of all fan­glei”, the square bronze, which dates to the Shang Dy­nasty (c.16th century-11th century BC), served as a rit­ual wine ves­sel. It was ex­ca­vated in Taoyuan, Hu­nan prov­ince, in 1922.

It was sup­posed to ap­pear in a Christie’s auc­tion on April 20, but a deal was reached be­fore the sale be­tween its Euro­pean owner and a group of Chi­nese col­lec­tors from Hu­nan. It will be do­nated to the Hu­nan Provin­cial Mu­seum, where the lid has been kept for decades.

Chi­nese buy­ers of­fered $20 mil­lion, but Tan Guobin, one of the col­lec­tors, de­clined to re­veal the fi­nal price.

“It’s not ex­pen­sive at all. Bids would have gone much higher if it had gone un­der the ham­mer,” Tan said.

Tan first saw the ves­sel dur­ing Christie’s au­tumn sales in Hong Kong in Novem­ber, when the auc­tion house also pre­viewed ob­jects to ap­pear in its other sale rooms world­wide. Tan col­lects Chi­nese paint­ings, cal­lig­ra­phy and con­tem­po­rary art.

He said he was thrilled by the ves­sel, and af­ter re­turn­ing to Hu­nan he per­suaded sev­eral en­ter­prises and the provin­cial mu­seum to jointly pur­chase it.

On March 15, the mu­seum wrote to Christie’s to ex­press a de­sire for a pri­vate pur­chase. It of­fered $20 mil­lion, which had been raised from lo­cal en­ter­prises. The mu­seum’s and col­lec­tors’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives brought a 3D printed pro­to­type of the lid to New York and it turned out that the pro­to­type matched the ves­sel.

Christie’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Steven P. Mur­phy said in a post-sale state­ment: “As al­ways, it is our duty to be a re­spon­si­ble stew­ard of the im­por­tant cul­tural ob­jects that are en­trusted to our care. Christie’s feels priv­i­leged to have acted as cus­to­dian of the min fan­glei and to have fa­cil­i­tated its trans­fer.”

A staffer at the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Cul­tural Her­itage who did not want to be named said the ad­min­is­tra­tion has been pay­ing close at­ten­tion to the pur­chase but right now can­not pro­vide fur­ther in­for­ma­tion about when the ves­sel will ar­rive in China.

Fan­glei first ap­peared in the 13th century BC in the Shang cap­i­tal of Anyang, He­nan prov­ince. Dur­ing the 12th and 11th cen­turies BC, ves­sels of this shape were trans­formed into bolder works of art, with dec­o­ra­tions cast in higher re­lief.

“With a com­bi­na­tion of mas­sive size, su­perb cast­ing and pow­er­ful pro­por­tions, the bronze rit­ual wine ves­sel is among the most im­por­tant Chi­nese ar­chaic bronzes that ever ap­peared at auc­tion,” said Nick Wil­son, a se­nior specialist of Christie’s depart­ment of Chi­nese ceram­ics and works of art.

“The pre­cise cast­ing and bold con­cep­tion of de­sign vividly il­lus­trates why bronze ves­sels cre­ated dur­ing the Shang Dy­nasty and Zhou Dy­nasty (c.11th century-256 BC) rank among the finest ex­am­ples of the bronze cast­ing the world has ever seen.”

The dec­o­ra­tion on the min fan­glei is dom­i­nated on the lower po­tion by prom­i­nent and strik­ingly mys­te­ri­ous zoomor­phic masks, with ei­ther drag­ons or birds en­cir­cling the foot, shoul­der and neck. Hy­brid crea­tures on the ves­sel’s shoul­der and han­dles are formed by pairs of drag­ons that fea­ture sharp tusks and pointed teeth. Sun Yuan­qing in Bei­jing and Feng Zhi­wei in Chang­sha con­trib­uted to this story.


The an­cient Chi­nese bronze called min­fan­glei served as a rit­ual wine ves­sel.

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