During China’s Shang Dynasty, the production of elaborate and beautiful bronze vessels was perfected and elevated to an art form. Unique shapes and detailed motifs characterise these guangs (ritual vessels) used for ancestral worship or special banquets. The allure of these regal receptacles remains stronger than ever. For evidence of their timeless appeal, look no further than from the late Shang Dynasty (13th-11th centuries BC), which sold for US$37.2 million during the auction house’s Asian Art Week. Not only was the price more than four times its pre-auction estimate, but it also set a new auction record for an archaic bronze piece.
The vessel is decorated with taotie (monster masks) – a characteristic design of the period in which a face is split down the centre, creating two profiles. It also features a number of mythical birds and kui dragons, some of which are curiously adorned with elephant trunks or hooked beaks. This fang zun-style vessel was just one of the highlights of Christie’s ‘Important Chinese Art from the Fujita Museum’ auction in New York. Another item, a rare bronze ritual wine vessel in the shape of a ram – also from the late Shang Dynasty – sold for a none-too-shabby US$27.1 million. The elaborately engraved ram is decorated with kui dragons, a taotie mask, crested birds and crouching tigers – a truly majestic sight.