Covered jar of gold inlaid with gems


Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, Xuande reign, 1426-1435
Gold with semiprecious stones
H x W x D: 9.5 x 9.4 x 8.4 cm (3 3/4 x 3 11/16 x 3 5/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Accession Number
On View Location
Freer Gallery 13: Looking Out, Looking In: Art in Late Imperial China
Metalwork, Vessel


China, dragon, hammering, incising, inlay, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), WWII-era provenance, Xuande reign (1426 - 1435)

In about 1938
Otto Burchard (1892-1965), Beijing, in about early 1938 [1]

From 1938 to 1939
George Eumorfopoulos (1863-1939), London, purchased from Otto Burchard in 1938 [2]

Sale, Sotheby’s, London, “The Eumorfopoulos Collection,” May 28-31, 1940, lot 512 (ill.): “The Magnificent Gold Furnishings of a Fifteenth Century Ming Emperor Tomb” [3]

From 1940 to 1952
Spink & Son, London, bought at the Sotheby’s sale on May 31, 1940 [4]

From 1952
Freer Gallery of Art, bought through Fritz Low-Beer from Spink & Son on August 18, 1952 [5]


[1] F1952.29 is part of a set of eight gold objects which reportedly came from the tomb of the Emperor of the Xuande reign (1426-1435). According to information provided by Fritz Low-Beer to the Freer Gallery of Art at the time of the object’s acquisition, Otto Burchard owned the entire group in China by 1937 or 1938 when he offered it for sale to the collector George Eumorfopoulos, see F. Low-Beer to A. G. Wenley, April 2, 1951, copy in object file. Burchard, a former owner of Dr. Otto Burchard & Co. in Berlin, moved in 1932 to Beijing from where he dealt in Chinese art and sold objects sourced there to European and American clients. For reported circumstances of the excavation of the gold objects collection see also A. J. B. Kiddell, “Note On A Blue And White Vase From The Tomb of The Emperor Hsuan Te,” Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 21 (1945-1946), 17, pl. 4; A. J. B. Kiddell, “Further Note on A Pair of Blue and White Vases From The Tomb of Emperor Hsuan Te,” Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 22 (1946-1947), 39, pl. 17, 18a, b; and John A. Pope, “Ming and Blue-and-White at Philadelphia,” Oriental Art, vol. III, no. 1 (1950), p. 21.

[2] See note 1. It is known that one object from the set, the basin now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (acc. no. 1950-74-1), was lent by Eumorfopoulos to the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco and exhibited in the Department of Fine Arts within the Division of Pacific Cultures in 1939, see Golden Gate International Exposition: Pacific Cultures, exh. cat. (San Francisco, 1939), p. 39, no. 198. The basin was also exhibited that year at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University.

[3] Sotheby’s, The Eumorfopoulos Collections: Catalogue of the Celebrated Collection of Chinese Ceramics, Bronzes, Gold Ornaments, Lacquer, Jade, Glass, and Works of Art…, auction cat. (London, May 28-31, 1940), p. 152.

[4] The entire gold objects set in lots 509-515 of the 1940 Sotheby’s sale was sold for £1450 to the London dealer Spink & Son, see Ostasiatische Zeitschrift: Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Ostasiatische Kunst, vol. 15-16, no. 5/6 (October 1940), p. 200. See also “Prices and Buyers’ Names” list attached to a copy of the Sotheby’s 1940 sale catalogue preserved in the Saint Louis Museum of Art Library.

[5] The dealer Fritz Low-Beer handled the objects from the Eumorfopoulos set on behalf of Spink & Sons. In November 1949, Low-Beer alerted prospective buyers in the US that the Eumorfopoulos set of gold objects was to appear on the market, see A. Wenley to F. Low-Beer, November 10, 1949, copy in object file. Two objects from the set, the jar, eventually acquired by the Freer Gallery, and the bowl, which subsequently entered the Carl Kempe collection, were sent to the Freer Gallery for examination on April 2, 1951, see F. Low-Beer to A. Wenley, April 2, 1951, copy in object file. The purchase of F1952.29 was concluded on August 18, 1952, see Spink & Sons’ Invoice issued to the Freer Gallery of Art on July 1, 1952 and approved on August 18, 1952, copy in object file.

Previous Owner(s)

Spink & Son Ltd.
Fritz Low-Beer
Otto Burchard 1892-1965
George Aristedes Eumorfopoulos 1863 - 1939


In the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) gold connoted luxury and purity. During part of the dynasty laws restricted its use to the imperial family and ranking officials. This jar belonged to a set of eight gold objects, each bearing a chased design of dragons and clouds and studded with gemstones, allegedly recovered from the tomb of the Xuande emperor. Tibetan objects circulating in China seem to have stimulated a taste for gold set with gems.

Published References
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Thomas Lawton, Harold P. Stern. The Freer Gallery of Art. 2 vols., Washington and Tokyo, 1971-1972. cat. 108, p. 176.
  • Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Art: Freer Gallery of Art handbook. Washington, 1976. p. 27.
  • Ming Porcelains in the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington, 1953. .
  • 17, pl. 4.
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • p. 200.
  • p. 152.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
Rights Statement

Copyright with museum