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Lot details

Expert’s note: A unique feature of copper alloys from Yunnan is the high content of arsenic, making the bronze quite soft, and leading to tiny holes in the material. Alloys from other regions do not develop this compelling tell which is clearly visible in the present lot.

A metallurgic analysis of the present lot has shown an arsenic content of 1.5%, which is remarkably elevated. A comprehensive analysis of 32 Chinese copper alloy figures from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, dating from the 4th to the 19th century, has found that only two statues had an arsenic content of above 1.2%. Both these statues are from Yunnan and date to the 11th-12th century. Only five of the other 30 figures showed an arsenic content between 0,5 and 1,2%, all others were below this value, most of them significantly. (1)

A comprehensive metallurgic analysis of six near-identical copper alloy figures of Acuoye Guanyin from Yunnan in the collections of the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Art institute of Chicago, and the collection of Robert Ellsworth, New York, has returned arsenic contents ranging between 0,53 and 3,08% with an average of 1.89%. (2)

As Paul Jett notes, it seems more likely that the singularly high arsenic content in the copper alloys from Yunnan is of natural origin, instead of being a deliberate addition, because sulfide-deposits, where arsenic appears in combination with copper, are widespread in this specific region. (3)

For the aforementioned reasons, it seems reasonable to assume that copper alloy statues with an elevated arsenic content of 1% or more are from Yunnan when they show stylistic traits characteristic of this region. Features typical of statues from the Dali Kingdom found on the present lot include for example the unusually elongated face, the minuscule yet razor sharp eye slits, the elaborate headdress with its distinct triple-topknot, the beaded floral jewelry medallions on the breast and the lengthy, almost frail hands that still show the undeniable influence of Indian and Southeast Asian Buddhist images, which at that time had already vanished from the more important centers of Chinese Buddhism.

The metallurgic analysis of the present lot furthermore returned a copper share of 75% as well as contents of lead (10%) and zinc (10%). While a zinc content of 10% may be unusual at first glance, it must be noted that coins of the Song dynasty were found to contain Zinc (4) and copper alloys with high levels of zinc eventually became so popular during this period, that they were prohibited by the government for commoners. (5) The Song empire was the eastern neighbor of the Dali Kingdom, and Dali's relationship with the Song was cordial throughout its entire existence, with cultural and economic exchange taking place on multiple levels. In the early Ming dynasty, highly elevated zinc contents of up to 36,4% were found for example in Imperial Xuande period censers dating from 1426-1435. (6)

(1) Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Denise Patry Leidy and Donna Strahan, Yale University Press, 2010, appendix D, pages 206-207.
(2) Der Goldschatz der drei Pagoden, Museum Rietberg Zürich, Albert Lutz, 1991 .Paul Jett: Technologische Studie zu den vergoldeten Guanyin-Figuren aus dem Dali-Königreich, page 73.
(3) Ibidem, page 71.
(4) Distilling Zinc in China: The technology of large-scale zinc production in Chongqing during the Ming and Qing dynasties (AS 1368-1911), Wenli Zhou, University College London, 2012, page 26.
(5) Ibidem, page 39.
(6) Ibidem, page 46-47.

China, Yunnan, Kingdom of Dali, 12th – mid-13th century. Superbly cast standing with her right hand lowered in varada mudra and her left held in front, wearing long flowing robes cascading in voluminous folds and billowing scarves, richly adorned with elaborate beaded and floral jewelry. Her elongated serene face with heavy-lidded, almost fully closed eyes centered by a prominent urna above gently arched brows. The hair falling elegantly in strands over the shoulders and pulled up into a distinct triple-topknot behind the pierced foliate tiara.

Provenance: Old Viennese private collection, built over several generations between 1910 and 1975, thence by descent in the same family.
Condition: Very good condition, commensurate with age and displaying remarkably well. Extensive wear, minor losses, nicks, scratches, minuscule dents, signs of weathering and erosion, remnants of lacquer priming with malachite and cuprite patina.

Weight: 1,458 g
Dimensions: Height 25.8 cm

It was not until the American scholar Helen Chapin identified a group of bronzes in western collections as being of Yunnanese origin, based on a scroll painting known as the Long Scroll of Buddhist Images by the 12th-century Yunnanese artist Zhang Shengwen, which she published in 1944, that the origin of these distinctive Dali or Yunnanese bronzes was first realized. In the late 1970s, restoration work at the Qianxun Pagoda in Yunnan province uncovered a reliquary deposit which included a number of statues similar in style to those in the West, see A. Lutz, 'Buddhist Art in Yunnan', Orientations, February 1992.

Literature comparison:
Compare a seated Bodhisattva in “Der Goldschatz der Drei Pagoden“, Museum Rietberg, Zürich, pages 178-179, number 53 (Fig.1). The beaded floral jewelry medallions on the breast of this statue is near-identical to the jewelry on the present lot. Also compare a rare gilt-bronze figure of Avalokitesvara, Dali Kingdom, 12th century, at Bonhams London, 11 June 2003, lot 133, and note the similar tiny holes in the alloy, as well as the hairstyle with the near-identical yet unusual triple-topknot behind the foliate tiara (Fig.2).

Literature comparison:
Type: Related
Auction: Christie’s New York, 25 March 2022, lot 748
Description: A magnificent and highly important gilt-bronze figure of Guanyin, Dali Kingdom, late 11th-early 12th century
Expert remark: Compare the alloy with its characteristic remnants of lacquer priming and the distinct malachite and cuprite patina. Also compare the similar robes cascading in voluminous folds, elaborately beaded floral jewelry, billowing scarves, and manner of casting with similarly elongated face and hands. Note the significantly larger size (57.1 cm) and the highly important provenance.



(1) Denise Patry Leidy,Donna Strahan,《Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art》,紐約,耶魯大學出版社, 2010年,頁206-207。
(2) Albert Lutz,《Der Goldschatz der drei Pagoden》,蘇黎世Rietberg博物館, 1991年。Paul Jett,《Technologische Studie zu den vergoldeten Guanyin-Figuren aus dem Dali-Königreich》,頁73。
(3) 同上本書,頁71。
(4) Wenli Zhou,《Distilling Zinc in China: The technology of large-scale zinc production in Chongqing during the Ming and Qing dynasties (AS 1368-1911)》,倫敦大學學院2012年,頁26。
(5) 同上本書,頁39。
(6) 同上本書,頁46-47。


重量:1,458 克
尺寸:高25.8 厘米

直到美國學者Helen Chapin根據十二世紀雲南畫師大理國張勝溫《梵像卷》羅漢畫確定了一批西方收藏中的銅像源自雲南,並於 1944 年出版,首次確認這些獨特的大理或雲南銅器的起源。1970 年代後期,雲南省千尋塔的修復工作進展中發現了一個聖髑盒庫,其中有很多與那些西方收藏中的造像風格相似,見 A. Lutz,《'Buddhist Art in Yunnan》(雲南佛教藝術),Orientations,1992 年 2 月。

比較一件觀音坐像,見蘇黎世Rietberg博物館,《Der Goldschatz der Drei Pagoden》,蘇黎世,頁178-179,編號53(圖1)。其垂掛於胸前的瓔珞形態幾乎與現拍品相同。比較一件公元十二世紀大理王國鎏金觀音銅像,見倫敦邦瀚斯,2003年6月11日,lot 133;請注意合金上有小孔,幾乎相近的葉冠後三高髻髮型(圖2)。

拍賣:紐約佳士得,2022年3月25日,lot 748
專家評論:比較合金上的顏料殘餘和紅綠色銅鏽。比較相近的長袍,大量的皺褶、精巧的瓔珞裝飾、飄逸的圍巾,以及臉和手類似的鑄造風格。請注意尺寸較大(57.1 厘米),以及重要的來源。


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