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Impressive Chinese imperial bell that defines music now on sale

Nalynn Dolan Caine ▼ | December 10, 2019
During the traditional week devoted to Asian arts at Parisian house Drouot, on December 16th, the house Tessier & Sarrou will present an imperial bianzhong bell of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) in gilded bronze, with estimated price of 200,000 - 300,000 euros.
Bianzhong bell
France    Tessier & Sarrou - A Chinese imperial bell under the hammer
This is the first appearance of this object on the art market because it is preserved by the Semallé family since his arrival in France in 1884.

This imperial bell, named bianzhong, is quite exceptional.

From the outset, the richness and finesse of carving are impressive; the decor is sumptuous. The upper part is decorated with a dragon with two heads, an imperial symbol, the muscular body firmly standing on clawed legs, and serves to suspend the instrument on the wooden frame.

The body of the bell is organized in three registers: the upper part decorated with stylized clouds and the lower part taking the same pattern, alternating with round medallions on which the musician types the bell to produce the note.

In the center, the dragon's body in pursuit of the inflamed pearl unfurls among the clouds, twinkling its finely carved scales.

Bianzhong bells were grouped into chimes, that is, groups of 16 bells: 12 notes and 4 flats. There were small bianzhong chimes, 15 centimeters high, used for indoor ceremonies; large bianzhong chimes, 30 centimeters high, for outdoor ceremonies, often of a military nature and between; and the chimes of average bianzhong whose use is not identified, of 21 centimeters in height.

Only two medium-sized chimes are known, preserved in the Forbidden City Museum in Beijing.

Not only will the bell that will be presented on December 16th come from the rarest ensemble, that of medium size chimes, but it also has the most important sound.

The inscription Huangzhong specifies that it is the first note of the range, equivalent to our western do, and is related to the principle yang, male and powerful. The huangzhong note is not only the base of the Chinese scale and harmonic, but it is also the founding principle of the music: huangzhong generates the other notes, and thus all the music.

Each imperial ritual begins with the huangzhong note, which attracts luck and bliss.

Finally, the inscription Kang Xi Bing Shen Zhi Nian, chiseled on one of the sides, corresponds to the date 1716. It was therefore executed shortly after the redesign of the Chinese tonal range by Kangxi in 1713.

This period marks the heyday of the production of musical instruments in the Qing Dynasty when imperial workshops strove to produce high quality instruments to promote the new range decided by the emperor.