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Masterpieces of Early Chinese Gold & Silver

Christie's New York

September 12, 2019

Sale 18338

Headdress 573


Lot 573, a "very rare" gold headdress, 12 1/4 inches wide, 7th-8th Century

By Carter B. Horsley

This September 12, 2019 auction of Masterpieces of Chinese Gold and Silver at Christie's New York is highlighted by a stunning gold headdress from the 7th to 8th Century, an impressive silver bowl, a gold finial and several fine hairpins.

Lot 573 is a
semi-circular headdress is cast at each end in repoussé with a galloping horse with small antlers and flowing mane above two circular loops pendent from the lower edge and another in front of the mouth. Between the two horses is a band of floral diaper pattern centered by a large, repoussé rosette, and on the reverse are six small horizontal tubes below the upper edge. The 7th to 8th Century piece is 12 1/4 inches wide.

Before 1929, it was in the Dr. Friedrich Perzynski Collection in Rissen/Holstein and then with Paul Cassirer/Hugo Helbing in Berlin.  Before 1953, it was in the collection of Dr. Johan Carl Kempe of Sweden,  It was sold at Sotheby's in London May 14, 2008.

It was shown at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington in 1954-5 and at the Asia Society in New York in 1971.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"The decorative motifs of this very rare gold headdress are representative of the cultural exchanges that informed the art of the nomadic peoples of the northern steppes during the Tang-dynasty period. The influences came from not only Central Asia and South Asia, but also the Tang empire and the nomads themselves, with their focus on horses and the other animals with which they were familiar.

"The nomadic reliance on horses is reflected in the depiction of the horses that decorate each end of the headdress. They are shown not only in a gallop but almost as if flying, their speed implied by the position of the legs, the wind-blown manes, the open mouths and their intense expressions. There is also something mythical about their representation, which includes the small flames on the sides and the small antler-like horns. Winged horses with bifurcated horns are included with other mythical winged animals depicted on the gold saddle fittings illustrated by Jenny F. So, Radiant Legacy: Ancient Chinese Gold from the Mengdiexuan Collection, vol. II, Hong Kong, 2013, pp. 40-49, where the fittings are dated 7th-9th century. Like the present headdress the fittings are gold sheet worked in repoussé.

"The diaper pattern that decorates the band between the horses and the central rosette most likely shows the artistic influence of Tang-dynasty China and imitates woven fabric with alternating ring-punched and stippled grounds. It is also very possible that the rosette was originally inlaid in the center, possibly with turquoise. The loops at the ends were for the attachment of cords to secure the headdress and the loops at the bottom edge and the small tubes on the reverse for the attachment of various decorative elements."

The lot has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.  It sold for $250,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.



Silver bowl  551

Lot 551, a "very rare and important" large parcel-gilt silver bowl, Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), 9 5/8 inches in diameter

Lot 551 is a very rare and important large parcel-gilt silver bowl from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).

The large bowl, which is the cover illustration of the catalogue, is finely worked in repoussé with three rows of overlapping lotus petals, each gilded and exquisitely chased with a pair of birds in flight confronted on a ribbon tied in four loops against a background of leafy foliate sprays amidst leafy foliage, all below a further row of smaller repoussé petals that alternate with clusters of stamen below slender lancelot leaf tips that point towards the everted rim. The center of the interior is chased with a large medallion depicting eight birds in flight against a background of leafy foliate sprays as they encircle a ribbon tied in four loops with trailing ends.  It is 9 5/8 inches in diameter.
It was once in the collection of Dr. Johan Carl Kempe in Sweden.


The bowl has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.  It sold for $3,495,000.

Garment hooks  510

Lot 510, very rare set of gold and jade garment hook plaques, Eastern Zhou Dynasty, 4th Century B.C., largest 1 inch long


Lot 510 is a very rare set of gold and jade garment hook plaques from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, 4th Century B.C.  The largest is 1 inch long. Each gold plaque is chased in high relief with a pair of dragons with interlaced bodies. Each jade plaque is delicately carved with detached comma scrolls. The set was once in the collection of Dr. Johan Carl Kempe (1884-1967) in Sweden. The lot has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.  It sold for $75,000.

Openwork  511

Lot 511, a "superb and extremely rare turquoise-inlaid gold inlaid chape, Northwest China, Late 6th-Early 5th Century B.C., 2 1/8 inches high

Lot 511 is a "superb and extremely rare turquoise-inlaid gold inlaid chape, Northwest China, Late 6th-Early 5th Century B.C., 2 1/8 inches high."  It is also from the collection of Dr. Johan Carl Kempe of Sweden.  It has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.  It sold for $591,000.


Finial head  512

Lot 512, a very rare and important gold feline head finial, Spring and Autumn Period, 6th to Early 5th Century B.C., 1 1/4 inches high

Lot 512 is another lot from the Kempe collection.  He had acquired it from C. T. Loo.  It has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.  It sold for $175,000.

Ornament 576

Lot 576, a "rare" gold "kalavinka" hairpin ornament, Liao Dynasty (AD 907-1125), 2 inches wide

Lot 576 is
a "rare" gold "kalavinka" hairpin ornament from the Liao Dynasty (AD 907-1125).  It is 2 inches wideAnother Kempe work, the front of the ornament is shaped in repoussé as a bejeweled kalavinka, its hands crossed in front of the chest as it floats amidst clouds. All of the outlines are beaded and it is soldered to a plain gold back. 

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"This rare gold ornament is in the form of a kalavinka, a winged celestial being that is half woman- half bird. This unusual being can be seen as the central decoration of several gold and silver bowls dated to the Liao dynasty and illustrated in Chinesisches Gold und Silber: Die Sammlung Pierre Uldry, Zürich, 1994, pp. 215-16, pls. 244-247. Like the present figure, the kalavinkas on the bowls have feathered wings and bodies and the hair is worn in a topknot. Based on its size and construction, it is likely that the present gold ornament is the head or terminal of a gold hairpin. Such a terminal, in the shape of Xiwangmu seated on a phoenix, can be seen on a gold hairpin dated to the Song dynasty illustrated by Julia M. White and Emma C. Bunker, Adornment for Eternity: Status and Rank in Chinese Ornament, Denver Art Museum, 1994."

The lot has an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000.  It sold for $27,500.


Silver hairpins  548

Lot 548, a "rare pair of parcel-gilt silver hairpins," Tang Dynasty, 11 inches long

Lot 548 is a "rare pair of parcel-gilt silver hairpins from the Tang Dynasty."  They are 11 inches long and were once in the collection of Dr. Johan Carl Kempe of Sweden. 

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"The opulence of the Tang court is reflected not only in the use of gold and silver for the manufacture of vessels, but also for the decoration of everyday objects and personal adornment. For the ladies of the court this included rich jewelry such as necklaces, earrings and bracelets, as well as combs and hairpins that adorned their hair styles, which became more elaborate as the dynasty progressed. Later in the Tang period the ends of the hairpins were often made from thin sheet silver with cut-out designs that made them light in weight and, along with the addition of gilding, made the hairpins shimmer and quiver as the woman moved.

"The present hairpins are very similar to one dated Tang dynasty, late 8th-9th century, in the collection of the Art Museum, Princeton University, and illustrated by Clarence W. Kelley, Chinese Gold and Silver in American Collections, The Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio, 1984, p. 39, no. 5....All of these hairpins include a pair of confronted mandarin ducks, an appropriate motif for a lady of the court as mandarin ducks symbolize connubial bliss and fidelity."

'Two further openwork, gilded silver hairpins in the Royal Ontario Museum, also illustrated pl. 127, have similarly feminine motifs - one of knotted cords representing the unbreakable union of marriage, the other of a phoenix, the symbol of the empress who embodied all feminine attributes.
"

The lot has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000.  It sold for $60,000.

Tang hairpins  527

Lot 527, a pair of parcel-gilt hairpins, Tang Dynasty, 13 1/8 inches long

Lot 527 is a pair of parcel-gilt hairings from the Tang Dynasty.  The hairpins are 13 1/8 inches long. The openwork head of each hammered silver, double-pronged hairpin has a fine openwork design of a lion facing a small bird perched on top of a large feathered plume surrounded by scrolling tendrils.  The lot has an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000.  It sold for $5,625.

Gold hairpin  563

Lot 563, a pair of gold filigree hairpins, 10th to 13th Century or later, 7 1/2 inches long

Lot 563 is a lovely a pair of gold filigree hairpins, 10th to 13th Century or later, 7 1/2 inches long  The ornate head of each double-pronged hairpin is comprised of a very fine sheet of delicate latticework decorated with a small bird with a leafy spray in its beak below a scrolling meander, all outlined in fine twisted wire and enclosed within a geometric border.  The lot has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000.  It sold for $32,500.



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