The gui form, already practiced under the Shang, is particularly appreciated 3000 years ago by the 'Western' Zhou for pieces of high prestige, richly decorated with the classic symbols whose meaning has not been deciphered. 'Gui' means the open globular shape of the pot, which can be superposed over various elements. The handles are used to carry and not to pour the sacred food.
On September 13 in New York, Christie's sells a gui bronze. It is cast with four legs, a Zhou innovation compared to the classic three legs of Shang vessels. These legs are zoomorphic with hooves. It is 19 cm high overall with an opening 18 cm in diameter. This piece is a Zuo bao yi gui, because it bears within its bowl the phonetically transcribed mark Zuo bao yi, meaning "made precious vessel".
This specimen is described in the catalog of the ritual bronzes from the imperial collection published in the mid 18th century at the request of the Qianlong emperor. It is estimated $ 4M, lot 888. Please watch the video shared by Christie's.
The comparison with another Zuo bao yi gui of the same period, sold for $ 6.7M including premium by Sotheby's on September 17, 2013 from the Eberhardt collection, allows to try some interpretations.
The two gui are very different in their realization, with an important relief in the bronze figures of the Eberhardt specimen. There is therefore no common origin in their production. Zuo bao yi thus appears as a generic formula to attest that the vase has been sanctified, without a need to identify the artist or the patron. Note however that the writing has been inscribed with a stylus in the clay before the bronze was cast.
The Eberhardt specimen is not on feet but on a base. It is thus elevated for an exclusively ritual need, since it is impossible to bring a stove from below.