An unusual bronze 'Duck' censer and cover. Zhengde Incised Mark And Of The Period (1506-21). Photo Christies Ltd 2011
Well cast as a duck standing on a waisted rectangular base decorated with wave patterns, with the head raised and beak open, with wings forming the detachable cover, finely detailed with naturalistically modelled tail feathers, webbed feet, and incised all over with feather markings, the base of the tail pierced for the release of smoke, the reign mark incised in a line along the rim of the opening on the back; 14¾ in. (37.4 cm.) high . Estimate £80,000 - £120,000 ($133,680 - $200,520)
Notes: According to written records, censers in duck or goose-form were popular during the Yuan and Ming periods when these were used to fumigate clothes. It is also mentioned by Jin Youzi in the 15th century, when describing imperial banquets in celebration of the Lantern Festival during Yongle and Xuande reigns, that: 'auspicious portents of lovely smoke rise forth from the golden duck censers' (Legacy of Chenghua, The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 156). A related Song dynasty goose-shaped bronze censer in the Victoria and Albert Museum is illustrated by R. Kerr in Later Chinese Bronzes, London, 1990, p. 82, no. 62, where it is noted that such geese censers have been excavated from Song tombs.
The present censer relates most closely to an imperial porcelain duck censer excavated from the Chenghua stratum of the imperial kiln site at Zhushan, Jingdezhen, and illustrated in Legacy of Chenghua, op. cit., p. 156, no. C34. It is interesting to note the close similarities of the hollowed body, moulding of the body in two parts, the opened beak exposing the tongue, and detailed rendering of the plumage. To drive the smoke up the hollow of the neck, the ceramic version has six concealed holes across the body where the two parts of the censer meet. The present lot differs in that it has a pierced opening in its back which is characteristic of earlier bronzes such as the example found in the Eastern Zhou tomb of the Marquis of Zeng.
Duck censers seem to have been popular in the 16th century , and also appear in cloisonné enamel. There is a 16th century bronze duck censer from the Tokugawa Art Gallery illustrated in A Legacy of Chenghua, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 57, fig. 11b. A 16th century duck censer in cloisonné enamel was shown by Eskenazi in New York in 2003 (illustrated in Chinese works of art from the Stoclet collection, New York, 2003, pp. 60-1, no. 18). A further 16th century cloisonné duck censer is illustrated by Chen Xiasheng in 'Ming Qing falang gongyi yi', Gugong wenwu yuekan, no. 191, Taipei, 1999, p. 4, while an early 17th century example is illustrated by Sir Harry Garner in Chinese and Japanese Cloisonné Enamels, London, 1962, pl. 58a.
Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art , 10 May 2011. London, King Street www.christies.com