Zoomorphic Bronze Kettle
Sarawak or Brunei, Borneo
This extraordinary kettle, cast using the lost wax process, is from Sarawak in Malaysia or Brunei, both on the island of Borneo. It has been cast with prominent dragons in high relief to either side as well as a scorpian, a spout in the form of an elephant head and a moveable spout cover surmounted by a cast frog, and a handle cast with lizards. The shoulder and lid have been cast with fo dogs or lions. The flared foot features scrolling vegetal open-work. The kettle has a dark patina and obvious age.
Kettles such as these were not used for heating liquids but were used to hold drinking water perhaps at important ritualised events such as weddings, or to offer to guests in an important household. Several related examples are in the Sarawak Museum and are illustrated in Chin (1980).
Extant examples of old brassware from Brunei and elsewhere on the island of Borneo frequently exhibit strong Chinese influence such as dragons despite Islam being Brunei’s main religion today. The Chinese influence is apparent in this kettle with its dragons and stylised fo dogs.
Children’s stories that are still told in Brunei and Borneo feature tales of Chinese princes and dragons. One tells of a dragon that lives atop Mount Kinabalu (Borneo’s highest mountain) where it guards a magnificent precious stone the size of a peacock’s egg. The Emperor of China hears about the stone and tells his three sons that whichever one of them brings back the stone will be made his heir; the other two will be killed. One son manages to trick the dragon and captures the stone. But the other sons lie to their father that they were the ones to take the stone. Ultimately, the Emperor discovers this deception and the wayward sons escape China, one of whom returns to Brunei and founds a princely dynasty there.
Overall, this kettle is an unusual items with superb sculptural form.
Chin, L., Cultural Heritage of Sarawak, Sarawak Museum, 1980.
Life, Death & Magic: 2000 Years of Southeast Asian Ancestral Art, National Gallery of Australia, 2010.
Malay Brassware, National Museum of Singapore, 1985.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 1286