China / Society

Homecoming set for 'king' of ancient bronze wine vessels

By Feng Zhiwei in Changsha and Chen Mengwei in Beijing (China Daily) Updated: 2014-06-06 07:46

Homecoming set for 'king' of ancient bronze wine vessels
The bronze wine vessel, known as Min Fanglei, has been considered the "king" of its kind since its discovery in 1919. 

Hunan Provincial Museum will welcome home a 3,000-year-old Chinese bronze wine vessel on June 14.

A group of Chinese collectors struck a private deal for the sale of the vessel with auction house Christie's New

Homecoming set for 'king' of ancient bronze wine vessels

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York and donated it to the Hunan Provincial Museum, which has been the home for the vessel's lid since 1956.

"We attributed the return of (the vessel) to the joint efforts of various parties, the government, private collectors and private enterprises," said Chen Yuanping, head of the cultural relics bureau of Hunan province. "We're glad that we finally bought it back in the name of the Hunan Provincial Museum."

The bronze wine vessel, known as Min Fanglei, has been considered the "king" of its kind since its discovery in 1919 because it is "the biggest and finest ever found", said Fu Juliang, a researcher from the Hunan Provincial Museum who specializes in bronze.

The vessel, at a height of 63.6 cm, is massive, Fu said.

With powerful proportions and superb casting, the ritual bronze wine vessel represents a defining masterpiece, not only of Chinese art, but also within the context of global art history, Fu added.

The vessel got its name soon after its discovery based on the eight characters inscribed on its lid, Fu said.

"The eight-character inscription in ancient Chinese means that a man named Min Tianquan created this wine vessel for his father," Fu explained.

Discovered by local farmers in Taoyuan county, Hunan province, the vessel was bought by an antiques dealer in 1924. Since 1928, the vessel and its lid have been separated as the celebrated bronze vessel was bought and sold among various famous collectors worldwide.

The vessel regained international attention in 2001 when it was auctioned by Christie's New York and bought by a French collector for $9.246 million, which set a world record for any Asian work of art and remains the world auction record for any archaic Chinese bronze sold at auction, according to Christie's.

In November, Tan Guobin, a Hunan collector, found out that the vessel was listed again by Christie's for its 2014 spring auction, which was held on March 20.

Tan called for a joint effort to retrieve the vessel. Many collectors joined the campaign to get it back.

On March 17, a private transfer agreement was reached through Christie's.

The price, according to Chen of the cultural relics bureau, cannot be revealed due to a confidentiality agreement between the seller and the buyer, but Hunan TV said the sale price was $20 million.

A delegation of 17 local experts and collectors recently left Hunan for New York for the transfer. The group will fetch the vessel from Christie's on June 12 and return on June 14 to Changsha, the capital of Hunan, where the museum is located.

To honor the reunion of the bronze vessel and its long-separated lid, Hunan will host a celebration on June 25, Chen said.

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