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J. J. Lally & Co. Oriental Art: Chinese Archaic Bronzes, The Collection of Daniel Shapiro
February 24, 2014  | 

An important collection of ancient Chinese ritual vessels cast more than 3,000 years ago during the Late Anyang phase of the Shang dynasty (circa 13th – 11th century B.C.) will be exhibited and offered for sale at J.J. Lally & Co. during New York ‘Asia Week’ in March. The collection was formed during the last 30 years by Daniel Shapiro, a New York lawyer.

Cast for use by kings and aristocrats offering wine and food at solemn ritual banquets to honor deceased ancestors, bronze ritual vessels were the principal art form of ancient China. The dramatically shaped finely decorated ritual vessels made during the late Shang period are now recognized as the finest of all Chinese bronzes and among the greatest bronzes ever created anywhere in the world.

The rarest and most important of all the bronzes in the Shapiro Collection is a deep boat-shaped pouring vessel called a gong which was made circa 1200 B.C. The cover of the gong is cast in front with the head of a tiger with fangs bared and the back is surmounted by the head of an owl. The bodies of the owl and tiger are melded together and intertwined with a finely cast dense pattern of ‘thunder scroll’ populated with dragons and birds all along the sides of the vessel and cover. The gong was formerly in the collection of U.S. Navy Captain S.N. Ferris Luboshez who acquired it during his tour of duty in China in 1948.

Another rare Shang dynasty shape among the fourteen vessels in the Shapiro Collection is a box-shaped wine vessel with roof-shaped cover, called a fangyi, made in the 12th century B.C. The fangyi is cast in relief on all sides with the mysterious monster mask called a taotie which is a central theme of decoration on ancient Chinese bronzes. It was formerly in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Rafi Mottahedeh, New York.

The one ancient bronze in the collection which is not a ritual banquet vessel is a massive bronze clapperless bell of a special type found in Southern China, called a nao. This unique Chinese musical instrument, cast in the 10th – 11th century B.C. is raised on a columnar shaft and decorated on the barrel-rounded sides with swirling cloud scrolls interspersed with rows of bosses. It is played by striking the surface with a wooden mallet. No record clearly describing the use of nao bells has survived from antiquity, but they are thought to have been used at sacrifices and feasts, or to call up the troops and to direct military maneuvers.

Other major vessel forms include a heavily cast bronze you wine bucket, 11th century B.C. with rows of birds on the deep pear-shaped body and matching cover, and a tall jia wine vessel of deep cylindrical form raised on splayed blade-shaped tripod supports, very finely cast in the 12th century B.C. with taotie masks flanked by dragons in a dense pattern of scrolls and quills.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a scholarly catalogue with detailed descriptions, ink rubbings of inscriptions and color illustrations.

For more information:
J. J. Lally & Co. Oriental Art
41 East 57th Street, 14th Floor
New York, NY 10022
Tel. 212.371.3380