Group of Ordos Bronzes

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Group of Ordos Bronzes

Group of Ordos Bronzes
1st Millennium B.C.
Central Asia
(1) H:28 cm (2) H:27 cm (3) H:10.5 cm, W:14.8 cm (4) W:11.5 cm (5) W:11.5 cm (6) H:23 cm



1) Dagger with an openwork handle decorated with what could be highly stylised birds with long hooked beaks.
2) Dagger. The handle is adorned with deeply incised wavy and striated lines, the pommel with two stylized animal heads.
3) ‘Ko’ or dagger axe, decorated at the back with an oval with an openwork cross in the middle.
4) Fragmented bit with ends shaped like lion protomes.
5) Fragmented bit with ends shaped like lion protomes.
6) Knife with curved blade. The pommel is a ram’s head whose ridged horns curve up to join the neck forming the handle.

In the first millennium BC the nomadic people in the Ordos Desert in northwest China lived as mobile herders moving in search of pasture. Covered by rich vegetation and watered with plenty of rivers and streams, the Ordos Plateau encompassed the best grazing lands on the Asian Steppe of the time. This area was home to the nomads between the 6th and 2nd century BC, until they were driven out of the region by the Xiongnu.

Archaeological finds of skeletal remains and bronze objects provide much of our information about the Ordos. Master metalworkers, their artifacts include belt buckles, small weapons, and funerary cart and canopy ornaments. In contrast to later cultures and their contemporaries further east, tinned bronze, rather than silver or gold, was the most esteemed material. The bronzes are almost always zoomorphic, occasionally featuring predatory scenes, which has led to this art being termed ‘Animal Style’. Because of their importance to the Ordos way of life, animals served as status markers and were associated with particular clans. The art style incorporates features of both Scythian and Chinese art of the period. Ordos weapons found in tomb contexts particularly resemble those of Scythia and Saka.


Olov Jansé, ‘L'Empire des Steppes et les relations entre l'Europe et l'Extrême-Orient dans l'Antiquité’ in Revue des Arts Asiatiques (March 1935, IX: 1); nos. 1 (pl. VI, fig. 10), 3 (pl. V, fig. 13), 5 (pl. VIII, fig. 3), 6 (pl. VII, fig. 4).
Collection D. David-Weill, Bronzes des Steppes et de L’Iran, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 28-29 June 1972; nos. 1 (Lot 45), 2 (Lot 27), 3 (Lot 64), 4 and 5 (Lot 9), and 6 (Lot 53).


Previously in the Private Collection of David David-Weill (1871-1952), nos. 1, 3, 5 and 6 since at least 1935, nos. 2 and 4 since at least 1952.
Private Collection, Paris, kept in an Hôtel Particulier in the VII Arondissement.
Thence by descent.
ALR: S00233287, With IADAA certificate, this item has been checked against the Interpol database.

Note on the Provenance

David David-Weill (1871-1952), was an American-born collector, philanthropist and French banker, chairman of his family’s bank, Lazard Frères, in Paris. He was born in San Francisco on 30 August 1871. He was a serious and dedicated art collector who eventually bequeathed more than two thousand artworks to French and American museums.

David-Weill’s far-ranging philanthropy included funding medical research, education and sanatoriums. His art patronage was equally diverse. He participated in the organisation of the 1928 Exposition des Arts Anciens d’Amerique and the 1931 Exposition d’Art Byzantine. He served as President du Conseil des Musées de France and in 1934 was elected to the Academy of Fine Arts. He actively worked for the development of the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris and in tribute the avenue David-Weill was named after him in 1960.

He collected broadly, including French eighteenth-century art, Chinese bronzes (which he donated to the Musée Guimet), and cloisonné objects (which he donated to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs). David‐Weill seems to have held bronze objects in high regard, as he amassed an enormous group of small‐scale Iranian and Eurasian bronzes (ultimately auctioned at Hôtel Drouot in 1972, including the two present pins).

In August 1939, with the threat of war looming, his large collection was packed into 152 wooden crates, marked with the initials D. D‐W. 130 crates were sent to the Chateau du Sources in the south of France where his collection was stored alongside treasures from the Louvre. The other twenty‐two boxes went to Chateau de Mareil‐le‐Guyon. On 11 April 1941, German officers of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) arrived at Chateau du Sources, seizing the David‐Weill collection. The ERR also discovered and seized David‐Weill objects stored in Mareil‐le‐Guyon. The ERR sent David‐Weill’s collection to Germany for distribution amongst German museums. However, by the conclusion of the war in 1945, when David‐Weill’s collection resurfaced, it amazingly remained in its original, unopened crates. David‐Weill’s collection arrived in autumn 1945 at the Munich Central Collecting Point (MCCP), a depot organized by the American Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program (MFAA), where MFAA officers sorted, inventoried, and returned Nazi‐looted art to the rightful owners. The following year was spent coordinating the safe return of the David‐Weill collection to Neuilly. David‐Weill was reportedly so thrilled that they had found his collection that he sent ‘fine French wine and champagne’ to the MCCP. Allied forces recovered the majority of David‐Weill’s collection and returned it to him by 1947. Objects that remained missing were included in the massive publication, produced between 1947 and 1949, ‘Répertoire des biens spoliés en France durant la guerre, 1939–1945’.

David-Weill died in Neuilly on 7 February 1952. What objects he had not bequeathed to the French National Museums, he willed to his family.