Sunday 21 March 2021

Later Chinese Bronzes of the Song to Qing Dynasty


Later Chinese Bronzes of the Song to Qing Dynasty

Later Chinese Bronzes

later chinese bronzes

Kangxi Gilt bronze

Later Chinese Bronzes, Dating Them and Their Values

Later Chinese bronzes of the Song to Qing Dynasties up until around the 1970's got very little to no attention from scholars or collectors on a wide scale. The dating and understanding them was of little interest, especially in comparison to the ancient examples from the Shang, Zhou and Warring States eras until fairly recently on the collector-scholar spectrum. This lack of attention did not curiously include religious bronzes tied to figural examples of Buddhism.

Prior to the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE), bronzes in China were primarily viewed and appreciated purely as ritual objects. Examples from the Song to Qing dynasties were created as works of art based on old forms as well as new shapes based not only on earlier bronzes but contemporary shapes adopted from popular ceramic types.

During the late 19th and early 20th C., later Chinese bronzes were bought and sold as low-priced curiosities and were sent to the west in massive numbers and sold only as "Asian" or "oriental decor".  Most were sold with no information other than the obvious regarding it's shape, use, and material used. i.e. "old Chinese bronze incense burner", "dark Chinese bronze vase" .

A few years ago we did another post on this topic a few years ago with additional images. Click HERE.  You can also see additional images in the Bidamount reference section of the Ulrich Hausmann Collection sold at Sotheby's  you can see the catalog here.

Additional fine examples can also be found in The British Museum collection linked off the Museum link from the Bidamount Home Page or by Clicking Here. 

Images and Information From Sotheby's, Later Chinese Bronzes From The Collection of Mr And Mrs Gerard Hawthorn 03 DECEMBER 2015 || HONG KONG

Auction results with lot notes.



150,000 — 200,000

LOT SOLD. 1,180,000 HKD
the deep rounded sides rising from a short foot rim to an everted mouth rim, the exterior cast and chased with a continuous scene of Wang Xizhi watching the goose, and Meng Haoran watching the prunus, all amidst a wondrous landscape laden with pavilions, jagged cliffs and large overhanging pine trees, all between two silver-inlaid key-fret bands bordering the mouth rim and foot rim, the countersunk base inlaid in silver wire with a four-character bingchen nianzhi cyclical date
9.3 cm., 3 5/8  in.
The quality of the gold and silver inlaid decoration on the wine cup is reminiscent of that on the finest cast works of Hu Wenming. However, his workshop specialized in incense-related objects and is not known to have made wine cups. The current wine cup appears to be closely related to the shallow bronze dish illustrated by Paul Moss, The Literati Mode, Sydney L. Moss, London, 1986, pp. 294-295. That dish demonstrates the same subtle and fluid variation of depth in the relief, which in combination with the skillful use of the different surface coloring gives a strong three-dimensional impression.

It is also somewhat related to an unusual and rare lian shaped incense burner by Lü Cizhou from the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection, sold in these rooms, 8th April 2014, lot 219.

Clearly, the inlaid bowl is the work of a late Ming bronze workshop. From the small number of extant dated Hu Wenming vessels, it is possible to speculate that the bowl is more likely to emanate from the early 17th century, making 1616 the more probable date. For a Hu Wenming-marked bronze pou (dated in accordance with 1613) from the Dr and Mrs Peter Plesch Collection and later the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection, see the example sold 4th April 2012, lot 188.

later chinese bronzes



Estimate 30,000 — 50,000
LOT SOLD. 375,000 HKD
finely cast with a compressed globular body rising to a waisted neck, all supported on a low foot, the sides set with two lion-head handles cast in high relief, the base with an apocryphal kaishu inscription in a recessed panel reading Daming Xuande wunian jiandu gongbu guanchen Wu Bangzuo zao (‘Made for the Board of Works under the Supervision of Wu Bangzuo in the Fifth Year of Xuande’), the patina of a variegated warm caramel-brown colour
19.7 cm., 7 3/4  in.
The inscription is one of a series of apocryphal ones stating that Wu Bangzuo, the Minister of the Ministry of Works in the 5th year of the Xuande reign, supervised production which tend to appear on late Ming and Qing incense burners.  Whether or not such an inscription appeared on any Xuande period bronzes is unclear, as there do not appear to be any credible extant examples, but it became a standard late Ming or Qing designation. For a related example, see Paul Moss and Gerard Hawthorn, The Second Bronze Age. Later Chinese Metalwork. Sydney Moss Ltd., London, 1991, cat. no. 46. See also a bronze incense burner stand with this inscription from the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection, sold 8th April 2014, from the collection of Ulrich Hausmann.

Later Chinese Bronzes

later chinese bronzes incense burner

Late Ming to Qing Synasty

ming bronze mask

Ming to Qing bronze detail.

ming bronze seal mark


Estimate 40,000 — 60,000 LOT SOLD. 325,000 HKD
of unusual proportions, reminiscent of a stylized table, the rectangular form elegantly raised on four feet below sloping sides, set with a pair of flat-topped handles, the underside cast with an apocryphal six-character Xuande mark, the surface of a deep chocolate-brown color
across the handles 18 cm., 7 1/8  in.
The form of the current incense burner boldly cast of straight rectangular form supported on four tapering legs, is rare, and reminiscent of furniture from the late Ming to early Qing dynasty. For a Yongzheng mark and period bronze incense burner of similar 'table-form', in the Palace Museum, Beijing, see Classics of the Forbidden City. Splendors from the Yongle and Xuande Reigns of China's Ming Dynasty, Beijing, 2012, p. 265, pl. 145. The Palace Museum incense burner differs from the current example in that it is cast with straight legs set at right angles to the body, and is preserved with its original stand.
early qing bronze

Early Qing Bronze

early qing bronze seal


Estimate 40,000 — 60,000, LOT SOLD. 93,750 HKD
finely cast supported on three bracket feet divided by a cusped fringe, the stout body accentuated by raised fillets below an everted mouth, the base cast with an apocryphal six-character Xuande mark in a recessed panel, the patina of an attractive reddish-brown color
width 10 cm., 3 7/8  in.
Ulrich Hausmann, the scholar, and collector of later Chinese bronzes, discusses Xuande reign-marked bronzes from the late Ming dynasty in his essay, 'In Search of Later Bronzes', ed. Paul Moss, Documentary Chinese Works of Art in Scholar's Taste, Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, 1983, p. 232:"The end of the Ming dynasty, for many a period of decadence and decline, saw a surprising variety of new creations and proves to be a much underrated period which produced fine and often highly original metalwork. Many pieces show an uninhibited display of differing designs and unusual shapes which probably make this period the most individualistic of all the later periods. Because of the diversity of appearance, sometimes rather fancy, many of these pieces are wrongly ascribed to the eighteenth century, rather than one hundred years earlier".

With its unusual but highly pleasing circular form, punctuated by raised fillets, this simple, yet highly tactile and pleasing incense burner fits perfectly into Hausmann's description. It is indeed a highly original and finely cast piece from the late Ming dynasty.

The enduring question as to which of the vast production of bronze incense burners cast with Xuande reign marks are indeed of the period and which are apocryphal is discussed by Gerard Tsang and Hugh Moss, Arts from the Scholar's Studio, Hong Kong, 1986, pg. 150, where it is concluded that the textual evidence is unreliable, and that 'accurate identification ... must therefore rest largely on the wares themselves'.

circular ming bronze

Circular Ming bronze

circular ming bronze

Seal marked base, Xuande Apocryphal mark


detail qing bronze beast

Detail Qing bronze beast

Estimate: 100,000 — 150,000 SOLD. 600,000 HKD

cast in the form of a mythical beast resting on its hindquarters with its head turned sharply to one side looking over its shoulder, the beast fantastically envisaged with armor-like scales, a serrated spine, and limbs covered in stylized flames, its mouth wide open in a ferocious expression, the cover solidly cast and modeled as a smaller beast nibbling on a hind leg, the vessel with two apertures along the back of the larger animal, patinated to a rich chocolate-brown color
height 13.2 cm., 5 1/8  in.
later chinese bronzes

Chinese mythical bronze beast, early Qing Dynasty

Chinese mythical bronze beast, early Qing Dynasty

Chinese mythical bronze beast, early Qing Dynasty


Estimate 100,000 — 150,000
LOT SOLD. 2,960,000 HKD
heavily cast of compressed globular form, elegantly formed with broad rounded shoulders below a small lipped rim, the flat base centered with a six-character mark reading Xuehai Tangzhuren zhi ('Made for the Master of the Xuehai Hall') within a recessed panel, the bronze richly patinated to a deep brown color
14.2 cm., 5 5/8  in.
This elegantly cast vessel is notable for its form, after a Buddhist alms bowls. Among later bronzes, alms bowls were converted into incense burners for the scholar's studio, although more commonly found with two ring handles on the body. This is a more elegant version of the type, intricately cast with an apocryphal six-character Xuande reign mark.For a gold-splashed bowl, also with an apocryphal Xuande six-character reign mark, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, see the exhibition Guan cang yadiao ji Ming, Qing tonglu tezhan / Special Exhibition of Ivory Carvings and Ming and Qing Incense Burners from the Museum's Collection, Kumamoto City Museum, Kumamoto, 1997, cat. no. 178. See also a plain bronze bowl of this type, attributed to the Ming dynasty, published in Paul Moss and Gerard Hawthorn, The Second Bronze Age. Later Chinese Metalwork, London, 1991, pl. 45.

Compare also two other examples of bronze alms bowl incense burners, both from the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection, a small Yongzheng reign-marked example sold 8th April 2014, lot 203, and a gold-splashed vessel inscribed with the mark baoyong ('for treasured use'), sold, 8th April 2013, lot 117.

ming to qing alms bowl

Bronze to Qing to Ming Alms Bowl.

seal Bronze to Qing to Ming Alms Bowl.

Sela Bronze to Qing to Ming Alms Bowl.


Qing dynasty bronze foo lion, 18th to 19th C.

Qing dynasty bronze foo lion, 18th to 19th C.

Estimate 20,000 — 30,000 LOT SOLD. 60,000 HKD

sturdily cast as a mythical beast standing foursquare, with jaws agape and teeth bared, its horned head forming a hinged cover to allow access to the interior, the beast with finely delineated mane and tail flying behind, all above a well modelled stout body detailed with stylised markings
19.2 cm., 7 1/2  in.
later chinese bronzes

Qing dynasty bronze foo lion, 18th to 19th C.


Estimate 400,000 — 600,000 LOT SOLD. 1,187,500 HKD
of archaistic lian form, the cylindrical body supported on three cabriole feet, the exterior centred with a band of three raised ribs, all between two raised bands of triple-ribs encircling the rim and above the feet, the base cast with a six-character reign mark within a recessed panel, the surface with an attractive reddish-brown patina suffused with light brown speckles
diameter 12 cm., 4 3/4  in.
It is extremely rare to find Qianlong reign-marked bronze incense burners of this form, designed for daily use, as opposed to the more commonly found garniture vases produced for temples. Its rich reddish-brown patina and exquisite tactile quality rank it amongst the finest examples of its type in private hands. For two other incense burners of gui form cast with closely related Qianlong six-character kaishu marks in the Palace Museum, Beijing, see Classics of the Forbidden City. Splendors from the Yongle and Xuande Reigns of China's Ming Dynasty, Beijing, 2012, pp. 268-269, pls. 148-9. See also a burner of fangding form, also from the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated by Chan Hou Seng (ed.), Views of Antiquity in the Qing Imperial Palace, Macau Museum of Art, Macau, p. 52, pl. 1. An almost identical lian vessel cast with a Xuande six-character reign mark, from the collection of Ulrich Hausmann, was sold  8th October 2014.The specific form of this lian vessel appears to derive from the Xuande Yiqi Tupu ('The illustrated register of vessels from the Xuande era')(fig.1), the Ming dynasty work on Xuande bronzes that was widely available in the Qianlong period. The prototype for all lian is from Han dynasty cosmetic boxes found in tombs of high ranking members of the aristocracy. For a gilt-bronze prototype of similar form, with the same horizontal fillets, see the example in the Smithsonian Institution, Gift of Arthur M. Sackler, S1987.341a-b. The aesthetic of the current vessel is more restrained, lacking the ring-handles and cover, and with plain, cabriole feet where the Han dynasty example has separately cast miniature bears comprising the feet.
Qinglong bronze incense burner

Qinglong bronze incense burner

Qianlong bronze mark

Qianlong bronze mark


Estimate  100,000 — 150,00 HKD  LOT SOLD. 125,000 HKD
of archaistic gui form with a compressed globular body supported on a flared circular foot rim, the body skilfully beaten-up from copper sheet, boldly chased in relief on each side with a pair of confronted four-clawed dragons reaching for a 'flaming pearl' all set against a punched ground, the upper band with a frieze of auspicious emblems and a scrolling band of foliated lingzhi stems around the footrim, the shoulders surmounted by a pair of mythical animal heads issuing handles, the base centred with a mark reading Hu Wenming zhi within a double-lined square
19.5 cm., 7 5/8  in


Acquired at Portobello Road Antiques Market, London, 1991.


A closely related incense burner by Hu Wenming, from the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, was sold in these rooms, 8th April 2014, lot 240. It shares the same archaistic gui form, skilful use of chased and beaten registers of decoration and is flanked by similar taotie mask handles, but differs from the current example in that the central decoration is of bird-headed kui-type dragons, as opposed to the more conventional dragons found here.

Compare also another incense burner illustrated by Gerard Tsang and Hugh Moss, 'Chinese Metalwork of the Hu Wenming Group', Handbook, International Asian Antiques Fair, Hong Kong, 1984, p. 46, fig. 9.  The difference in the designs of the dragons on all three incense burners suggests that these designs were beaten into the copper freehand, rather than around pre-formed moulds. If moulds had been used, there would seem little point in producing an almost identical incense burner with a slightly different design. These three incense burners, therefore, play an important role in our understanding of the techniques of the Hu Wenming workshop.

Examining and learning how to date later Chinese bronzes requires a lot of time and exposure to authenticated examples. Today the market is filled with millions of modern copies of very good quality, as well as some fairly convincing examples made during the Republic period.  While many good examples were made from the Song Dynasty through the Qianlong period, many more were also made after 1900 right through to today.  So take your time and look at as many as possible.

Wu Wenming Bronze

Wu Wenming Signed Bronze, Ming Synasty

Wu Wenming Bronze signature

Wu Wenming Bronze signature

Later Chinese bronzes in a Kangxi period painting

later chinese bronzes

Painting, Kangxi period. A Beauty with Chinese bronzes and porcelain objects.

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