Christie's will be auctioning The Sze Yuan Tang Archaic Bronzes from the Anthony Hardy Collection as part its Fall Asian Art Week.
The collection of approximately 120 lots has been valued in excess of $15m will be led by a very rare and important archaic bronze ritual tripod food vessel, Li, from the late Shang dynasty, 12th century BC.
"Anthony Hardy has studied and amassed an unrivalled personal collection of important Chinese archaic bronze vessels," said Theow H Tow, Honorary Chairman of Asia and Deputy Chairman of Americas.
"His connoisseurship over the past 40 years has been informed by his interest in the precision of casting, patination, pictogram inscription and of course provenance of each item.
"[Collectors can] own part of a highly respected, well-published and exhibited collection... of a knowledgeable collector of impeccable taste who formed his collection with patience and deliberation," he said.
The Anthony Hardy Collection
The inspiration for Anthony Hardy's Sze Yuan Tang Collection of ancient Chinese bronzes originated in his childhood in England in the early 1950s.
Then he was struck by the architectonic beauty of a jue, a ritual tripod wine decanter, from the Shang dynasty (circa 16th-11th century BC) in his father's collection of predominantly Western medieval art.
This early encounter sparked what was to become a profound life-long fascination with early Chinese art, and in particular, the exquisitely cast ritual bronzes of ancient China.
The Sze Yuan Tang Archaic Bronzes
Many of the magnificent bronze vessels from the Sze Yuan Tang Collection date to the 13th-12th centuries BC: the Golden Age of the Shang dynasty.
This was the period when Anyang, in Northern Henan province, served as the capital, and when some of the finest and most sophisticated bronzes were created.
The bronzes were employed by the Shang ruling class for ritual offerings of food and wine to invoke the aid of ancestral spirits. One of the most famous bronzes in the collection is the striking li, a ritual tripod vessel for cooking grains or meat, from the late Shang dynasty, 12th century BC.
Formerly in the renowned collections of Dr A F Philips and the British Rail Pension Fund, it was previously exhibited in 1939 by the famed Chinese art dealer, C T Loo.
This important vessel is cast with three startling taotie animal masks, each formed by a pair of confronted zoomorphic creatures and which, in full face, feature an animal mask with formidable horns and sharply angled eyes, reserved on a richly patterned ground of quills and leiwen.
Another significant lot from the Collection is an important archaic bronze ritual wine vessel and cover, fangyi, from the late Shang dynasty, Anyang period, 12th-11th century BC. Prominent hooked flanges effectively articulate and focus attention on the motifs displayed within the compartments on the striking wine container.
Taotie appear on both the cover and body, their individual features - eyes, brows, nose, jaws and horns - standing out in relief on a sea of leiwen. The crisply cast pupils filling the eyes of the taotie on this bronze suggest a semi-human being; the hint belied, however, by the fantastic horns and the pointed ears.
The inscription on both vessel and cover provides the clan names of those who made the vessel as well as ancestors to which the vessel was dedicated.
This remarkable and important bronze was first published by the late Qing dynasty scholar Wu Dacheng (1835-1902) and has been exhibited extensively ever since.
Another magnificent bronze is the rare and impressively large ritual wine vessel known as a zun, from the late Shang dynasty, Anyang period, circa 13th century BC (estimated at $400,000-600,000) that also prominently features taotie, which adorn the wide bands encircling the tall splayed foot and the broad mid-section.
The canted shoulder is cast in high relief with three bovine masks sporting curled, ram-like horns, while upright blades cast with patterns encircle the expansive trumpet mouth.
Sealed bronze vessels from the Shang and Western Zhou dynasties (circa 1100-771 BC) have yielded specialised rice and millet wines flavored with herbs, flowers and possibly tree resins, reminding one that the Chinese have enjoyed drinking wine for more than 9,000 years, longer than any other civilisation.
The sale takes place at Christie's in New York on September 16. Pre-sale viewings will be held at Christie's Rockefeller Center Galleries, between September 10-15
- Learn how you can get pleasure and profit from unique and historic bronze collectibles
- Click here for all the latest Memorabilia, Unique Items and Art news
Join our readers in 171 countries around the world - sign up for your free weekly Collectibles Newsletter today