Alain.R.Truong

03 mars 2015

A rare and important blue and white 'Dragon' bowl (bo), Xuande mark and period

A rare and important blue and white 'Dragon' bowl (bo), Xuande mark and period 1

A rare and important blue and white 'Dragon' bowl (bo), Xuande mark and period 2

A rare and important blue and white 'Dragon' bowl (bo), Xuande mark and period 3

A rare and important blue and white 'Dragon' bowl (bo), Xuande mark and period 4

A rare and important blue and white 'Dragon' bowl (bo), Xuande mark and period. Estimate 2,500,000 — 3,500,000 USDPhoto Sotheby's.

the deep rounded sides stoutly potted and well-painted in intense and varying tones of cobalt blue on the exterior with two spiritedly drawn five-clawed striding dragons in mutual pursuit amidst scattered clouds wisps, all between a border of upright lotus petal lappets and a band of cresting waves, the interior with a double lines around the rim and a six-character mark in underglaze blue within a double circle at the base - Diameter 10 1/8  in., 25.8 cm

ProvenanceCollection of General Haughton; Bluett & Sons (acquired from the above 6th August 1948 for £ 25).
Collection of Gertrude and Otto Harriman (1948 -1970), acquired from Bluett & Sons, 30th August 1948 for £ 65 and thence by descent.
Bainbridge’s Ruislip, 17th May 2012, lot 29. 

ExhibitionMostra d’Arte Cinese/Exhibition of Chinese Art, Palazzo Ducale, Venice, 1954, cat. no. 647. 
Chinese Blue and White Porcelain: 14th to 19th Centuries, Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 1954, cat. no. 81.
Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol, U.K. (on loan 1970-1989).
Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham, U.K. (on loan 1989-2012). 

NotesThe Yongle (1403-24) and Xuande (1426-35) reigns were perhaps the greatest periods of China’s porcelain manufacture and certainly the best time for blue-and-white. The common quality and yet diverging emphasis of the imperial production in these two reigns could hardly be better illustrated than by the two exceptional pieces included in this catalogue, the Mahin Banu Grape Dish of the Yongle period, lot 264, and the present Xuande 'Dragon' bowl. It was the Yongle Emperor who initiated an unprecedented command of the court over a ceramic manufactory by giving the imperial administration in Beijing, high up in the north, complete control over the kilns at Zhushan in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, south of the Yangzi River. Refinement of body and glaze materials seem to have been stipulated, high-grade cobalt provisioned, acceptable standards of workmanship and firing increased, forms and patterns pre-designed, and the output of both A-grade items and seconds requisitioned by the court, in order to distribute the former through official channels and destroy and bury the latter. 

This strict supervision of Jingdezhen porcelain continued through the Xuande reign, but not beyond, as the manufacture of imperial porcelains was low on the imperial agenda in the three short reigns of the following ‘interregnum’, a period of political instability. When the court took up its interest in fine table wares again in the Chenghua period (1465-87), materials, shapes and styles had changed. 

But whereas the Yongle Emperor appears to have used Jingdezhen’s blue-and-white porcelains predominantly for diplomatic purposes, for trade, and as imperial gifts rather than to furnish his palaces, the Xuande Emperor began to appropriate them as emblems of his imperial power. Thus, unlike many Yongle pieces that found their way into foreign lands, sent there on the Emperor’s orders, most Xuande pieces where retained in the palace and many are still remaining in the imperial collection today, either in the Palace Museum, Beijing, or the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Generally, they were inscribed with the imperial reign mark and thus display their imperial descent in eternity, a marking that was used extremely rarely in the Yongle reign. And although many forms and designs continued to be made almost identically over both periods, there is a clear domination of large sizes and motifs suitable for export in the Yongle era, whereas in the Xuande reign the dragon, as well as the phoenix, as symbols of imperial authority, became very prominent. Compared to the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), where dragons were also a popular motif of porcelain, the imperial animals of the Xuande period were depicted as less fierce and more majestic, with their mouth closed, their powerful body evenly built and their legs showing five claws. The dragons on the present bowl are prime examples of the Xuande species, a type that became the classic dragon image of China. 

The present bowl, of which there are fewer than twenty known examples, is an iconic representative of one of the most famous eras of porcelain production. Because of its distinctively robust form, this type of bowl has traditionally been referred to by Western scholars and collectors as a ‘dice’ bowl; assuming that the dense walls were made to endure the inevitable wear and tear of flying dice. Throwing six dice in a bowl during the Moon Festival remains indeed a popular tradition. However, Chinese reference sources propose a different usage and describe this particular form as bo, a term associated with Buddhist alms bowls. For instance, the example in the Palace Museum (pl. 124 cited below) is accompanied by a note discussing the specific use of the word bo and relating it to the devote Buddhist practice of the Xuande emperor and his court.  

Although associated with Buddhism, these outstanding bowls bear the quintessential imperial emblems of five-clawed dragons and a prominently positioned six-character reign mark on the base of the interior. Dragons are frequently featured on Xuande imperial ware; obviously a deliberate choice and one that left no doubt as to the singular authority of the emperor. On the present example, the powerful mythical beasts are remarkably well drawn; the finer details such as scales, claws and waves are executed with a masterful precision that is cleverly juxtaposed by dynamic poses and playful expressions. The intense, rich blue derives from the use of the higher quality cobalt, imported to the East from Islamic regions, its high iron content causing separation during firing and giving rise to the famous ‘heaping and piling’ effect. The harmonious composition is further strengthened by the perfectly proportioned use of positive and negative space. The evident technical skill speaks to the high standards expected from the imperial kiln workers of the Xuande era. An accomplished artist himself, the Xuande emperor was an active patron of the arts.  His close interest in porcelain wares inspired numerous commissions during his brief ten year reign; a fact borne out by the variety, innovation, success and quantity of remaining imperial wares and the large number of shards from smashed inferior examples that have been excavated at Zhushan in Jingdezhen, the site of the Xuande imperial kilns. 

Blue and white dragon bowls of this thickly potted type and of Xuande mark and period are in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglazed Red (I), Shanghai, 2000, pl. 124; in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsuan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1998, cat.no. 37; in the Nanjing Museum, illustrated in Xu Huping, Treasures of the Nanjing Museum, Hong Kong, 2001, no. 45; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, illustrated in John Ayers, Far Eastern Ceramics in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1980, pl. 148; and from the Sir Percival David Collection at the British Museum, London, and in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., published in Oriental Ceramics. The World's Great Collections, vol. 7, Tokyo, 1976, monochrome pl. 97, and vol. 10, Tokyo, 1976, monochrome pl. 104, respectively. Additionally, a similar fragmentary bowl was excavated at the imperial kiln site of Zhushan in 1983 and in the exhibition Xuande Imperial Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation Taiwan, 1998, cat. no. 16.1, col. pl. 25 and p. 199. 

Blue and white bowl

Xuande Blue and white 'Dragon' bowl. Image © Palace Museum, Beijing

Blue and white bowl excavated in Zhushan, 1983

Xuande Blue and white 'Dragon' bowl excavated in Zhushan, 1983. Image © Jingdezhen Institute of Archaeology.

Remarkably few of these distinctive thick-walled ‘dragon’ bowls have come up for auction over the years. A similar example from the Wu Lai-Hsi Collection was sold in our London rooms 26th May 1937, lot 52 and again in our London rooms from the Collection of C.M. Woodbridge, 8th May 1951, lot 69 where it was acquired by Bluett & Sons, London. Another from the Collection of Major Lindsay F. Hay was sold in our London rooms, 16th June 1939, lot 84, then again from the Collection of Lionel Edwards, 8th February 1945, lot 84 and for a third time, listed as from the Estate of Major Lindsay F. Hay 25th June 1946, lot 60. Another example, possibly the latter, in the Collection of Roy Leventritt was lent to the Ming Blue and White Exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Museum, 1949, no. 58.  A bowl of this form included in the exhibition Ming Blue and White, M.F.E.A., Stockholm, 1964, cat.no. 31 and on loan at the M.F.E.A. between 1964 and 1974, was sold in our London rooms, 6th April 1976, lot 116 and a similar bowl was sold in these rooms 7th December 1983, lot 292. Three further examples were sold in our London rooms, one 11th May 1965, lot 27 and later again at Christie's New York, 9th November 1981; a second on 26th June 1973, lot 236 now in the Matsuoka Museum of Art, Tokyo and illustrated in Nakano, The Panoramic Views of Chinese Patterns, 1985, pl. 13; and the third on the 13th December 1977, lot 472 was sold again in our Hong Kong rooms 10th April 2006, lot 1659. Another example was sold Christie's Hong Kong, 20th March 1990, lot 519.  

Sotheby'sImportant Chinese Works of Art, New York, 17 mars 2015, 02:00 PM

 


The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish: a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420

The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420 1

The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420 2

The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420 3

The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420 4

The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420 5

The Mahin Banu ‘Grape’ dish: a magnificent and storied blue and white dish, Ming dynasty, Yongle period, circa 1420Estimate 2,500,000 — 3,500,000 USDPhoto Sotheby's.

superbly painted in the center in rich tones of cobalt-blue with three bunches of grapes borne from a gnarled vine issuing characteristically broad furled leaves, detailed with veining, and delicately coiling tendrils, the cavetto subtly lobed in twelve panels each enclosing a floral spray; rose, peony, lotus, camellia, chrysanthemum and mallow alternating with leafy lingzhi sprigs, the barbed rim encircled by a band of roiling white-capped waves, the underside with similar floral sprays within the bracket-lobed panels, the base unglazed and with several markings; an inscription on the side of the foot and another along the base of the foot read Shah Jahan ibn Jahangir Shah 16 (regnal year) AH 1053, corresponding with AD 1643-4; a circular inscription reads waqf-e...razavi 'abduhu mahin banu safavi; a weight measure in black '252 tulah', and several unidentified drilled collectors marks - Diameter 17 in., 43.2 cm

ProvenanceMahin Banu Khanum (1519-1562) daughter of the founder of the Safavid dynasty, Shah Ismail I. (r. 1501-1524.)
Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658), fifth emperor of the Mughal Dynasty of Northern India.
J.J. Klejman Works of Art, New York.
Guennol Collection, acquired 22nd September 1967.

ExhibitionArt Treasures of Turkey, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1968.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, on loan and display 1968-1991.
The Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, on loan and display from 1991-2006.
The Guennol Collection: Cabinet of Wonders, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, 2000, cat. no. 31.
Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Court, Los Angeles County Museum of Art,  2011; Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 2011-12, cat. no. 99, illustrated on p. 63, fig. 58, with a detail of the engraved medallion with inscription in the center of the base. The dish is discussed on p. 67.  

LiteratureThe Guennol Collection, vol. I, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1975, pp. 287-290.
Suzanne G. Valenstein, A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1975, p. 129, fig. 41.
Abolala Soudavar, "A Chinese Dish from the Lost Endowment of Princess Sutanum (925-69/1519-62)", in Kambiz Eslami, ed. Iran and Iranian Studies in Honor of Iraj Afshar, Princeton, 1998, pp. 125-134, figs. 1-3.
Frances Z. Yuan, "Chinese Art, the Wonder Cabinet and the Guennol Collection", Orientations, March 2000, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 84-89, figs. 8 and 8a.

NotesOne of the great classic patterns of the early Ming, these dishes, always featuring three clusters of grapes issuing from a single stem, vary in few but important ways; the sides are lobed or rounded and the rims are straight or barbed. It is important to note that of all remaining examples, only one other dish of this precise design is published: a blue and white 'Grapes' dish with a foliate-rimmed border of breaking waves from the Ardebil Shrine is illustrated in John Alexander Pope,Chinese Porcelains from the Ardebil Shrine, London, 1981, pl. 37 (figs 1 and 2).

John Alexander Pope, Chinese Porcelains in the Ardebil Shrine, London, 1981, pl

Fig 1. John Alexander Pope, Chinese Porcelains in the Ardebil Shrine, London, 1981, pl. 37. Photograph © Sotheby’s.

John Alexander Pope, Chinese Porcelains in the Ardebil Shrine, London, 1981, pl

Fig 2. John Alexander Pope, Chinese Porcelains in the Ardebil Shrine, London, 1981, pl. 37. Photograph © Sotheby’s.

Other similar examples which have a wave border similar to the present example terminate in flat rims such as one in the Topkapi Museum, Istanbul, illustrated by Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, vol. 2, London, 1986, no. 606 (TKS 15/1456); another in the Ardebil shrine illustrated in Pope (ibid pl. 38); and a dish from the Avery Brundage Collection in the Asian Arts Museum, San Francisco similarly inscribed with the name of the Mughal Shah Jahan ibn Jahangir Shah (AD 1593-1666) and a date equivalent to AD 1643-4 and previously sold in our London rooms 24th March 1964, lot 96 is illustrated in He Li, Chinese Ceramics, London, 1996, p. 220, no. 400; another from the T. Y. Chao and R. E. R. Luff collections exhibited at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Ming and Ching Porcelain in the Collection of the T. Y. Chao Family Foundation, illustrated in the Catalogue, 1978. A dish reputedly given by the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) to Sir Robert Hart, Inspector General of the Imperial Maritime Customs at the Chinese Treaty Ports, on his retirement in 1908, sold in our London rooms, 13th December 1966, lot 79. A dish of this pattern but of slightly smaller dimension from the Meiyintang Collection was sold in our Hong Kong rooms 4th April 2012, lot 21. 

Examples of 'grape' dishes with barbed rims vary from the present example being painted along the rim with a continuous floral scroll pattern most often described as 'blackberry-lily'. For an example preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing, see Geng Baochang, ed., Gugong Bowuyuan cang Ming chu qinghua ci [Early Ming blue-and-white porcelain in the Palace Museum], Beijing, 2002, vol. II, pl. 133. Another of this type in the China National Museum is illustrated in Zhongguo guojia boguan, ciqi juan, ming dai, guancang wenwu yanjiu chonghsu, Shanghai, 2006, pl. 38. For an example in the Ardebil shrine, which holds eleven 'grape' dishes, see Pope (op.cit., pl. 38.) Another, in the British Museum, London, is illustrated in Jessica Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, pl. 3:36, where the author mentions that this grape dish pattern became the most influential design model for Iznik potters making blue and white wares in the 1530s and 1540s. Another example of this type gifted by Mr. and Mrs. F. Gordon Morrill, is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and illustrated in Wu Tung, Earth Transform, Chinese Ceramics in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2001, p. 115. 

Fragments of 'grape' dishes have been recovered from the waste heaps of the Ming Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen examples of which are illustrated in Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1996, pl. 44; and Imperial Porcelain of the Yongle and Xuande Periods Excavated from the Site of the Ming Imperial Factory at Jingdezhen, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1989, cat. no. 90. 

Sotheby'sImportant Chinese Works of Art, New York, 17 mars 2015, 02:00 PM

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Porcelain Diplomacy. BY REGINA KRAHL

Under the Yongle Emperor (r. 1403-24) Chinese porcelain was transformed, and in more than one way. Not only did its material quality and stylistic sophistication jump to unprecedented heights; its value to the court also evolved from that of an exquisite, practical item of the imperial household to becoming a commodity with economic and diplomatic potential for the Emperor.

The Yongle Emperor was an outward looking monarch, but in quite a different way from the Mongol Emperors of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), who had facilitated international trade. He had great ambitions to propagate China’s supremacy internationally and at the same time to control and channel encounters with foreign countries. To that end he made use of all China had to offer and submitted China’s resources to a new regimentation. 

China had no monopoly on silk, but silk was probably its most important export product. Silks were lavishly bestowed on foreign rulers abroad and diplomatic missions that arrived in China. But being highly perishable, not lasting much longer than a generation, the gifts would not retain their value and thus fulfil their diplomatic purpose for very long. China had a monopoly on porcelain, and while porcelains were cumbersome to transport, they were durable, could be mended even when broken, and carried their message as tokens of China’s ingenuity, superiority and generosity from generation to generation and even from state to state, when they changed hands across borders. 

It was only a few generations earlier, shortly before the Chinese had reconquered the Chinese throne from the Mongols and founded the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), that blue-and-white porcelain had emerged at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province and had rapidly ‘conquered’ all of Asia. It had become the preferred tableware of potentates everywhere, an unobtainable luxury for most commoners, often known only from hearsay, which contributed to its almost mythical status. Yet in the Yuan dynasty it had been available on the market and with sufficient funds could be bought. The Hongwu Emperor (r. 1368-98) had reversed the free market policy of the Mongols and tightly controlled all international trade, totally excluding foreigners from the lucrative export of Chinese goods. The Yongle Emperor made active use of those goods, which the world desired and China was best equipped to supply. 

In order to make porcelains suitable ‘ambassadors’ of the Ming Empire, their production had to be carefully monitored. Commercial porcelain factories seem to have ceased operation. Porcelain was produced only for the imperial court and the output of the Jingdezhen kilns reached a peak of excellence. Quality control was maximized so as to make Chinese porcelains impeccable. Seconds and surplus were relentlessly destroyed and buried to avoid their entering into circulation. Seconds simply do not exist of Yongle porcelain. Designs were jealously guarded against outside eyes, so no copies could be made by lesser kilns that might be confused with the original and in this way harm repute and prestige of this magical product. The many Persian, Syrian, Turkish and other Western Asian copies that exist are indeed generally of much later date. 

Porcelain was produced for the court, its specifications defined and quality monitored by the court, its secrecy strictly guarded by the court, and its distribution organized by the court and assured through official channels. At excavation sites in the Near and Middle East, which have brought to light Chinese trade ceramics from the Tang (618-907) through to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Yongle wares are basically absent. They could not easily be obtained, even with money, and therefore were highly valued from the moment they left China – an appreciation that never waned. 

The distribution of Yongle porcelain from the kilns was ensured through several routes, all of them official: via China’s vast maritime expeditions under the leadership of the Muslim court eunuch Zheng He (1371-1433), who sailed seven times with huge fleets to ports all over Asia and as far as East Africa; via China’s overland expeditions to the Timurid court under the court official Chen Cheng (1365-1457), who travelled three times to Iran, visiting Samarkand and Herat; and via official foreign embassies received by the Emperor in the Chinese capital. 

Iranian merchants had been the main traders in China during the Mongol reign, and Iran remained the major trading partner for China also in the early Ming period. After an interruption in the Hongwu reign, the Yongle Emperor re-established a good relationship to the Timurid ruler Shahrukh Mirza (r. 1405-47), which led to a frequent mutual exchange of embassies. 

China always had an acute shortage of fine horses, which had to be imported from lands further west and thus welcomed this form of trade. Not all foreign ‘tributes’ were, however, of this useful nature. A joint embassy sent by Shiraz and Isfahan in 1419, for example, presented besides fine horses also a lion and a leopard to the Yongle Emperor and was richly rewarded with presents of ‘fine silks, girdles and porcelain vessels’ for the respective rulers.1 A giraffe thus brought to China and presumably exchanged for porcelain was immortalized in a Chinese painting.2 The Chinese imperial house looked after the embassies during their stay in China, and followed a policy of gracious generosity, giving more than they received. The tribute exchange was so lucrative to the foreigners that the strict system was daringly circumvented and unofficial embassies of private Central Asian merchants purporting to come from the Timurid ruler arrived in China. China’s officialdom duly complained that the expenses for the growing number of missions were too costly, in particular since gifts such as the exotic animals were little appreciated and deemed useless. 

More Yongle porcelain thus seems to have reached Timurid Persia than any other state, and the present dish is most likely to have come to Iran directly from China, at the time it was made. We know nothing about its first owners, who may have been Timurid royals, but may also have been enterprising merchants, who undertook the dangerous overland voyage as self-appointed ‘official envoys’ and sold the goods on to rich customers. At least four3 drilled owners’ marks on the dish are testimony to a repeated change of hands as well as the great esteem the piece washeld in. Such permanent identification may signify pride of ownership as well as fear of theft. These drilled markings would have been applied soon after the dish had reached Iran. They are most frequently seen in a Persian context, typically on Yongle and earlier porcelains and rarely on pieces postdating the 15th century. 

Although many Yongle porcelains are found in the Topkapi Saray collection in Istanbul, some also with drilled owners’ marks, Iran was most likely the most important (secondary) source for these wares as well, as they predate the establishment of the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople in 1453. Although the Ottomans may have received some Yuan and early Ming porcelains already in their previous capital Edirne, the numbers are likely to have been small and the contacts again indirect. Drilled markings which some Topkapi Saray porcelains share with pieces donated to the Ardabil Shrine in Iran by Shah Abbas (r. 1588-1629) in 1611, support the assumption that they were not applied in Turkey, but earlier on in Iran. 

In India Chinese blue-and-white is documented already in the Yuan dynasty, but porcelain collecting was much less important there than in Iran. Due to a general bias against the material by Hindus, who indiscriminately deemed ceramics to be unclean, collecting in India was done mostly by Muslims, and little appears to have come directly to India in the early and mid-Ming period, before the beginning of Mughal rule in 1526. 

In the 16th century, Chinese porcelain frequently changed hands between the three major powers of South and West Asia, the Safavids of Iran, the Mughals of India, and the Ottomans of Turkey, both in the form of friendly diplomatic offerings and as highly coveted war booty. The Ottoman Sultan Selim I (r. 1512-20) seized porcelains in Persia, Syria and Egypt in the early 16th century and later received generous gifts of porcelain from Persia. Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524-76), presented Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-66) as well as his sons, Selim II (r. 1566-74) and Prince Bayezid (1525-61), with porcelains from the mid-16th century onwards, and such gifts continued through the 17th century and into the 18th. Lesser numbers of porcelains also appear to have arrived in Istanbul from India, with one large gift of two hundred Chinese porcelains reputedly sent to Suleiman the Magnificent. Exchanges between Safavids and Mughals are equally documented, and a white bowl of Hongzhi mark and period (1488-1505), engraved with the seal of Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-27) was, for example, included in the Ardabil Shrine donation. 

The present dish, however, appears to have remained in Iran for well over a century and in the 16th century was in the hands of Safavid royalty. The circular cartouche (vaqf) carved in the center of its base is testimony to ownership by Princess Mahin Banu Khanum (1519-62), also known as Shahzada Sultanum, youngest daughter of the Safavid Shah Ismail (r. 1501-24) and Tajlu Khanum, and full sister of Shah Tahmasp. Mahin Banu was a remarkable, highly accomplished and cultured woman, who became an influential advisor to her brother and thus played an important political and diplomatic role in the Empire herself. She remained unmarried, apparently largely due to her brother’s jealous watch over her. She exchanged diplomatic correspondence with another powerful woman of the time, Roxelana (c. 1500-1558), or Hürrem Sultan, wife of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and played a crucial intermediary role in Shah Tahmasp’s dealings with the Mughal Emperor Humayun (r. 1531-40). She employed her own considerable wealth, which derived from properties in Shirvan, Tabriz, Qazvin, Ray, and Isfahan, to support shrines, places of pilgrimage and religious foundations. She established an endowment for the welfare of women, in particular to help orphan girls into marriage. She patronized Persian art and literature and practised calligraphy. And she appears to have assembled a collection of porcelains, which at her death was made into a pious gift together with her jewels.4

 

Much of her charitable work was devoted to the Shrine of Ali al-Ridha (766-819), known as Imam Reza, the Eighth of the Twelve Imams venerated in Shia Islam. His shrine in Mashhad, which was constantly enlarged and enhanced, claims to be the largest mosque in the world. Mahin Banu’s porcelain collection otherwise seems to have been dispersed. No porcelain is recorded to remain at the Shrine and the present dish is currently the only example that can be traced to this distinguished royal collection and its donation, due to its inscription. 

Abolala Soudavar states in his essay on the present piece that the dish could only have been removed from the Shrine during the conquest of Mashhad by the Uzbeks in 1590, quoting Eskandar Beyg-e Torkamãn, that the Uzbek troops “looted every gold and silver object, jewel studded lamps, carpets, valuable Qorãns and ‘Chinese vessels,’ and subsequently traded them ‘for the price of cheap ceramic shards’ among themselves”5. It is probably at that time that an attempt was made to efface the vaqf marking on the dish. He suggests that the looted items were then sent to Transoxiana, where the Mughal Emperors managed to acquire some.

Not long after, before the middle of the 17th century, the dish reappeared in the possession of the Mughal Shah Jahan, third son of Emperor Jahangir, who ruled the Mughal Empire from 1628 to 1658. Another inscription, this time elegantly engraved by a court engraver around the foot of the dish, attests to its acquisition in AD 1643/4 (AH 1053), while Shah Jahan resided in Agra and had the Taj Mahal constructed there. Soudavar argues that with its vaqf (religious endowment) inscription, it would only have been acceptable to Shah Jahan if its base at the time had been covered by some kind of mount to hide it, and believes this may also be the reason that Shah Jahan’s own inscription appears at the side of the foot. 

Shah Jahan’s porcelain collection is also dispersed today, but we know a little more about it than about that of Mahin Banu, as seven or eight further pieces bearing his engraved inscription and/or dates are recorded among others: 

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1) A Yongle blue-and-white dish with a lotus scroll with two large blooms, formerly in the Trevelyan collection and now with the National Trust at Wallington, Northumberland, that entered the collection of Shah Jahan in the first year of his reign, AD 1628 (AH 1037) (fig. 1)

2) A Yongle blue-and-white dish with a scroll of four different flowers and a date pertaining to AD 1632 (AH 1042), sold at Sotheby’s London, 19th June 1984, lot 249 (fig. 2). 

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3) A Yuan dynasty blue-and-white dish of unknown design, with a date equivalent to AD 1634/5 (AH 1044), a Mughal heirloom piece placed into the Bibi-Ka-Maqbara in Aurangabad, the mausoleum of Dilras Banu Begum built either by her husband, Emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707), son of Shah Jahan, or by her son, Prince Azam Shah, in the latter part of the 17th century, which also contained a sizeable porcelain collection; the dish was later moved to the Archaeological Museum, Hyderabad (fig. 3). 

fig

4) A Yongle blue-and-white grape dish with straight rim and a continuous flower scroll around the sides, with a date referring to AD 1645 (AH 1054), formerly in the collection of R. Harris, sold at Sotheby’s London, 24th March, 1964, lot 96, later in the Avery Brundage Collection and now in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (fig. 4). 

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5) A Yuan dynasty blue-and-white dish painted with a qilin in a garden setting, and inscribed with a date equivalent to AD 1653 (AH 1063), formerly probably in the collection of Mrs. William van Horne, Montreal, sold at Sotheby’s London, 6th June 1967, lot 39, later in the Rockefeller 3rd Collection and now in the collection of the Asia Society, New York (fig. 5). 

Other Mughal emperors and royals are also known to have owned Chinese porcelains, but Shah Jahan’s assemblage of early blue-and-white and gold-decorated porcelains must have surpassed all others and thus echoes the well-documented magnificence of this Emperor’s court. Little can be surmised about the subsequent history of this dish, although in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th century, several collections of Chinese porcelain were assembled in India, most notably that of William Cummins which consisted of some 600 pieces, some of them acquired from royal Indian collections. Yongle pieces, however, remained exceedingly scarce in such holdings. 

Yongle ‘grape dishes’ are also included in the remains of the royal Ottoman and Safavid collections, and are equally found in the Chinese imperial court collection, none, however, of the exact pattern of the present piece, which represents the rarest version of the grape design. Grapes are a motif not native the central China, but associated with Central and Western Asian lands. As a decoration on Chinese artefacts they always appeared when international trade via the Silk Route was flourishing, particularly in the 6th and the 14th centuries. In the Yongle reign the design became a popular motif for blue-and-white porcelain and several different versions are known. The two most frequently seen are examples with a delicate flower scroll instead of waves on the barbed rim, and dishes with plain circular rim with wave design and a continuous flower scroll around the well. Dishes with these variants of the design had entered both the Safavid royal collection at Ardabil, Iran, and the Ottoman royal collection at Topkapi Saray, Istanbul, Turkey, and were present in the Chinese imperial collection at least since the Qing dynasty, and are remaining in the Palace Museum, Beijing, today. 

Nevertheless, it is the present version of the design that was precisely copied in the 16th century by the Iznik pottery kilns in Turkey, as can be seen on a piece in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Even if the present dish may in its long wanderings never have reached Turkey, a companion piece, made at the same time, perhaps by the same hands, took another route and ended up further west. Yongle porcelains thus fulfilled a remarkable diplomatic role as ambassadors propagating China’s brilliant culture – a role they fulfil to this day. 

1 E. Bretschneider, Mediaeval Researches from Eastern Asiatic Sources, London, 1910, vol. II (reprinted from 1875), p. 293.

2 Jessica Harrison-Hall, Catalogue of Late Yuan and Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, p. 121, fig. 3.

3 The exact number is difficult to ascertain since marks with a smaller number of dots could easily be modified by new owners by adding more dots. The lozenge-shaped four-dot mark, for example, whose dots are somewhat irregular, could well have started as a two- or three-dot marking.

4 Kishwar Rizvi, “Gendered Patronage: Women and Benevolence during the Early Safavid Empire”, Women, Patronage, and Self-Representation in Islamic Societies, ed. D. Fairchild Ruggles, Albany, 2000, pp. 128f.

5 Abolala Soudavar, ‘A Chinese Dish from the Lost Endowment of Princess Sultanum (925-69/1519-62)’, in Kambiz Eslami, ed., Iran and Iranian Studies in Honor of Iraj Afshar, Princeton, 1998, pp. 125-34.

 

 

A fine soapstone 'YAN SHOU YI NIAN' seal, Qing dynasty

A fine soapstone 'YAN SHOU YI NIAN' seal, Qing dynasty1

A fine soapstone 'YAN SHOU YI NIAN' seal, Qing dynasty2

A fine soapstone 'YAN SHOU YI NIAN' seal, Qing dynasty3

A fine soapstone 'YAN SHOU YI NIAN' seal, Qing dynasty4

A fine soapstone 'YAN SHOU YI NIAN' seal, Qing dynasty5

A fine soapstone 'YAN SHOU YI NIAN' seal, Qing dynasty7

A fine soapstone 'YAN SHOU YI NIAN' seal, Qing dynasty8

A fine soapstone 'YAN SHOU YI NIAN' seal, Qing dynasty. Estimate 7,000 — 9,000 USD. Photo Sotheby's.

naturalistically carved with a dragon emerging from clouds, the stone of soft yellow tone, the inscription reading: YI SHOU YAN NIAN (good for longevity) - Height 2 1/8  in., 5.4 cm

Sotheby's. Inscriptions: History as Art New York, 17 mars 2015, 01:30 PM

A Tianhuang seal carved by Zhao Zhichen (1781-1852)

A Tianhuang seal carved by Zhao Zhichen (1781-1852)

A Tianhuang seal carved by Zhao Zhichen (1781-1852) 2

A Tianhuang seal carved by Zhao Zhichen (1781-1852) 3

A Tianhuang seal carved by Zhao Zhichen (1781-1852) 4

A Tianhuang seal carved by Zhao Zhichen (1781-1852) 5

A Tianhuang seal carved by Zhao Zhichen (1781-1852)Estimate 8,000 — 12,000 USD. Photo Sotheby's.

of rectangular form, the seal face reading ZHU FEN JIAO DU (Proofread by Zhu Fen), the side is signed CI XIAN FANG HAN (Cixian emulating the Han style). Height  7/8  in., 0.9 cm

NotesCixian is the studio name of the famous artist and seal carver Zhao Zhichen (1781-1852). Zhao was a native of Qiantang (today's Hangzhou), the leader of the Zhe School carving tradition.  The seal was made for another known scholar Zhu Fen, from Haining, who was a collector of books and a publisher.   

A different signature is found on the top side of the seal: Long Shi, which is the studio name of another contemporary seal carver Yang Xie (born 1781). It may suggest that the earlier inscription by Yang was erased and the stone was reused for the current inscription.

Sotheby's. Inscriptions: History as Art New York, 17 mars 2015, 01:30 PM

A white jade 'Dragon' plaque, Qing dynasty, 17th-18th century

A white jade 'Dragon' plaque, Qing dynasty, 17th-8th century 2

A white jade 'Dragon' plaque, Qing dynasty, 17th-8th century

A white jade 'Dragon' plaque, Qing dynasty, 17th-18th century. Estimate 50,000 — 70,000 USD. Photo Sotheby's.

of oval shape, carved with two dragons on the front and a two-character inscription Long De (Virtues of Dragon) on the back, surrounded by spiral cloud patterns - Height 2 in., 5 cm

Sotheby's. Inscriptions: History as Art New York, 17 mars 2015, 01:30 PM

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A pale celadon jade seal with inscription 'HUANG TANG SHOU MING ZHI BAO', probably Ming dynasty

A pale celadon jade seal with inscription 'HUANG TANG SHOU MING ZHI BAO', probably Ming dynasty1

A pale celadon jade seal with inscription 'HUANG TANG SHOU MING ZHI BAO', probably Ming dynasty2

A pale celadon jade seal with inscription 'HUANG TANG SHOU MING ZHI BAO', probably Ming dynasty3

A pale celadon jade seal with inscription 'HUANG TANG SHOU MING ZHI BAO', probably Ming dynasty4

A pale celadon jade seal with inscription 'HUANG TANG SHOU MING ZHI BAO', probably Ming dynasty5

A pale celadon jade seal with inscription 'HUANG TANG SHOU MING ZHI BAO', probably Ming dynasty6

A pale celadon jade seal with inscription 'HUANG TANG SHOU MING ZHI BAO', probably Ming dynasty7

A pale celadon jade seal with inscription 'HUANG TANG SHOU MING ZHI BAO', probably Ming dynasty. Estimate 20,000 — 30,000 USD. Photo Sotheby's.

of large square form, surmounted by two addorsed crouching dragons, with wide open eyes, snub noses and upright horns, the arching intertwined scaleless bodies pierced through the center with an aperture for a cord - Width:  5 1/2  in., 14 cm

ProvennceCollection of Robert von Hirsch, prior to 1977, thence by descent.

PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF LOLO SARNOFF

NotesThe inscription reads: HUANG TANG SHOU MING ZHI BAO, and is translated as "Treasure of the Great Tang who was granted with the Mandate of Heaven".

In Chinese historical literature it is recorded that many rulers of different dynasties, starting from the first emperor of Qin to the last of the Qing dynasty, were granted the 'seal of the mandate of heaven' (shoumingxi), but few examples have survived. This jade seal has been ascribed to the Tang dynasty, is obviously a fictitious attribution, probably due to some historical and political motivation. The carving of the dragon and the style of inscription, suggests a Ming dynasty date.

Sotheby's. Inscriptions: History as Art New York, 17 mars 2015, 01:30 PM

A rare Imperial yellow jade archer's ring inscribed with a poem by the QIanlong emperor, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period

A rare Imperial yellow jade archer's ring inscribed with a poem by the QIanlong emperor, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period 1

A rare Imperial yellow jade archer's ring inscribed with a poem by the QIanlong emperor, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period 2

A rare Imperial yellow jade archer's ring inscribed with a poem by the Qianlong emperor, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period. Estimate 50,000 — 70,000 USD. Photo Sotheby's.

of characteristic cylindrical shape, the exterior incised with a flower (identified as Hosta Plantaginea aschers), accompanied by a poem written by the Qianlong Emperor, well worn with areas of russet inclusions - Diameter 1 in., 2.5 cm

NotesEnglish translation of the inscription:

The ‘Jade Hairpin’ Poem*
Of the flower that are white and fragrant,
The ‘jade hairpin’ has the strongest scent;
My beauty rises in the morning to have her makeup,
And plucks one for her hair.

Qianlong’s poem “Jade Pin Flower”, in Gaozong yuzhishi erji, juan 87

Qianlong’s poem “Jade Pin Flower”, in Gaozong yuzhishi erji, juan 87.

Sotheby's. Inscriptions: History as Art New York, 17 mars 2015, 01:30 PM

DA GUAN TANG BAO: An important Imperial jade seal, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period

DA GUAN TANG BAO An important Imperial jade seal, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period

DA GUAN TANG BAO An important Imperial jade seal, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period2

DA GUAN TANG BAO An important Imperial jade seal, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period3

DA GUAN TANG BAO An important Imperial jade seal, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period4

DA GUAN TANG BAO An important Imperial jade seal, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period5

DA GUAN TANG BAO An important Imperial jade seal, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period6

DA GUAN TANG BAO An important Imperial jade seal, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period7

DA GUAN TANG BAO: An important Imperial jade seal, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period. Estimate 1,000,000 — 1,500,000 USD. Photo Sotheby's.

of square form, surmounted by two intertwined dragons back to back, each dragon finely carved with bulging eyes and open-jawed baring sharp fangs, the body covered with small scales and flowing mane, an aperture drilled through the center for a yellow silk string, the seal face bears an inscription of four characters DA GUAN TANG BAO in zhuanshu, the sides incised and gilt with four Qianlong poems in kaishu - Height 3½ in., 8.9 cm; Width 4 in., 10.2 cm

PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF LOLO SARNOFF 

NotesThe inscription on the face reads: DA GUAN TANG BAO ("Seal of the Hall of Great Observation"). The inscriptions on the sides are four poems written by the Qianlong Emperor, all about the Da Guan Tang in Yangzhou where he stayed during his inspection tours to the south. They can be translated as:

(1)
In the palace, at the side of the Tianning Temple
Is a panel above the door, inscribed "Great Observation".
I have come to assist in righteousness and order,
To establish learning, but no roaming and lingering.
I make a display to show the meaning of the nine songs,
Not to seek personal satisfaction for myself,
But to enhance the palace, should be of shame not delight.
Although there is no cost to the common people,
Is it right to rely on the wealth of merchants?
I know I cannot match the inspection tours of Shun
And how difficult it is to maintain the virtue of Yi.

2)
My southern tour again stopped here, not for indulgence and entertainment.
The exhibition again is of essential teaching; although happy, I dare not take pleasure trips.
Where do these feelings come from? Shameful and ill at ease.
I take it as a warning, a deterrent from personal pleasure.
I may renounce idleness, for it tangles and tires the spirit.
I look up at the stars above, but the constellations are hard to see. 

(3)
The images in the Great Observation Hall illustrate the meaning of heaven.
Establishing teaching and its meaning is at the heart of everything.
It is essential to comfort the people, and carry out policies.
It is not for personal pleasure that I travel around.
When my heart meets the gods, we forget past and present.
The world becomes my home, from where I come and go.
Amidst all the official business, I find a rare moment of peace
And enjoy the relief as my inkbrush twists out a poem 

4)
Crossing the river to the north on this little boat,
To stay for two days in the palace, having meditation.
The flowers in the south are still in bloom,
The shadows of trees in the summer courtyard grow darker.
To see the people, to see myself, I must observe my heart
And say that the morning sun is bright and waters will flow
One after another, I write poems on my study wall
Privately acknowledging it is a habit I cannot give up.

Drawing of the Tianning Monastery Travel Palace in the Nanxun shengdian, juan

Drawing of the Tianning Monastery Travel Palace in the Nanxun shengdian, juan.

Portrait of the Qianlong Emperor

Portrait of the Qianlong Emperor. Courtesy of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Seal impression of the Da Guan Tang Bao, from Gugong bowuyuan eds

Seal impression of the Da Guan Tang Bao, from Gugong bowuyuan eds. Qingdai di hou xiyin pu, 2013, vol. 6, juan 2 .

Sotheby's. Inscriptions: History as Art New York, 17 mars 2015, 01:30 PM

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to include key loans for its upcoming landmark exhibition

Johannes_Vermeer_-_A_lady_writing_(c_1665-1666)

Johannes Vermeer, A Lady Writing, about 1665. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Harry Waldron Havemeyer and Horace Havemeyer, Jr., in memory of their father, Horace Havemeyer, 1962.10.1 Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

BOSTON, MASS.- The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has announced loans of important paintings by Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt van Rijn for its upcoming landmark exhibition Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer (October 11, 2015–January 18, 2016). Vermeer’s The Astronomer (1668) will be on loan from the Musée du Louvre in Paris, while the artist’s A Lady Writing (about 1665) will be on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Works by Rembrandt in the exhibition will include The Shipbuilder and his Wife (1633) on loan from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the full-length, life-size Portrait of Andries de Graeff (1639) from Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel in Germany. They will join the two seated full-length portraits by Rembrandt from the MFA’s collection, Reverend Johannes Elison and Maria Bockenolle (both 1634). 

A Lady Writing portrays a privileged woman engaged in the art of letter writing, associated in 17th-century Holland with a certain level of education and wealth. Belonging to the same elite world, The Astronomer represents a “gentleman amateur” engaged in scientific inquiry that had relevance to the maritime navigation crucial to the mercantile interests of the young country. The Shipbuilder and his Wife shows a particularly successful and wealthy professional charged with providing ships to this nation of seafarers, while the Portrait of Andries de Graeff depicts a confident member of the Amsterdam ruling class who amassed one of the largest fortunes in the city. This painting belongs to the section of the exhibition dedicated to Regents and Wealthy Merchants, which also includes three seminal portraits by the great Haarlem master, Frans Hals.

The exhibition will feature 75 carefully selected 17th-century Dutch paintings—all of the works with the exception of the MFA’s pair of Rembrandt portraits on loan from important European and American public and private collections. These masterpieces include portraits, genre scenes, landscapes and seascapes by Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch, Gerard ter Borch and Gerrit Dou, among others, displayed in categories broadly arranged according to the three primary social classes—upper, middle and lower. To further illustrate the distinctions among the classes, three tables will be set with decorative arts, similar objects that would have been used by each of the classes but that diverge in material and decoration, including salt cellars, candle sticks, mustard pots and linens. 

Organized by the MFA, this groundbreaking exhibition is accompanied by a publication that features essays by a team of distinguished Dutch scholars and exhibition curator Ronni Baer, the MFA’s William and Ann Elfers Senior Curator of Paintings.

Rembrandt Harmensz

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), "The Shipbuilder and his Wife": Jan Rijcksen (1560/2 ‑ 1637) and his Wife, Griet Jans, 1633. Oil on canvas. Lent by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Sotheby's Hong Kong to offer an outstanding Guan Vase from the Southern Song Dynasty

An Outstanding ‘Guan’ Octagonal Vase Southern Song Dynasty1

An Outstanding ‘Guan’ Octagonal Vase, Southern Song Dynasty; height 21.9 cm. Expected to fetch in excess of HK$60 million / US$7.7 million. Photo Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong Chinese Works of Art Spring Sales 2015 will take place on 7 April at Hall 5, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, led by an outstanding Southern Song ‘Guan’ Vase from a Japanese Collection (Expected to fetch in excess of HK$60 million / US$7.7 million) which has been unseen in the market for four decades, as well as two theme sales respectively dedicated to the Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors of the Qing dynasty, two of the greatest art patrons and collectors in Chinese history. Also noteworthy are a magnificent carved celadon, famille-rose and underglazed-blue ‘boys’ vase, the Robert H. Blumenfield collection of bamboo carvings in addition to imperial porcelains and works of art from a Hong Kong private collection. Altogether, the six sales will offer more than 250 lots with a total estimate of approximately HK$600 million / US$76 million*. 

Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s Asia Deputy Chairman and International Head of Chinese Works of Art, said, “We are privileged to offer this season some of the most outstanding Chinese works of art to come to the market in recent history. The Southern Song Guan vase, a masterpiece of ceramic art, and the jade seal that the Yongzheng Emperor used to impress on his own calligraphy are worthy of the finest public or private collections.” 

Auction Highlights:

GUAN – FROM A JAPANESE COLLECTION. 

An Outstanding ‘Guan’ Octagonal Vase Southern Song Dynasty1

An Outstanding ‘Guan’ Octagonal Vase Southern Song Dynasty2

An Outstanding ‘Guan’ Octagonal Vase Southern Song Dynasty3

An Outstanding ‘Guan’ Octagonal Vase Southern Song Dynasty4

An Outstanding ‘Guan’ Octagonal Vase Southern Song Dynasty5

An Outstanding ‘Guan’ Octagonal Vase, Southern Song Dynasty; height 21.9 cm. Expected to fetch in excess of HK$60 million / US$7.7 millionPhoto Sotheby's.

Guan yao, the fabled ‘official ware’ specially created for the imperial court of the Southern Song (1127-1279) in Hangzhou in south China, is perhaps the most desirable and certainly one of the rarest types of Chinese ceramics. It showcases Chinese potters at the height of their ingenuity, technical know-how and aesthetic vision. The works of art they conceived embodied the leitmotifs of China’s highly educated scholar-officials, the ruling elite of the Song. 

The shape reflects the Song dynasty fascination with archaic bronzes. The exquisite, unctuous glaze of the present vase with its smooth pleasing texture, milky-blue tint and subtle gloss was achieved through gradual application of multiple layers and presumably successive firings. The thick coating thus formed softly envelopes the angular shape, rounding off all sharp angles to create an object that invites being held. The distinct web of veins of the large-scale crackle, probably provoked by a well-controlled cooling process after the last firing and subsequent staining, acts like a design formed by nature, giving the whole piece an aspect as if carved out of one large boulder of a fine jade-like stone. 

Although widely admired and avidly imitated, actual examples are exceedingly rare even in the Palace Museums of Taipei and Beijing, since despite the expertise of the craftsmen, a satisfactory outcome was difficult even at the time. Only three other vessels representing Song guan ware at its best have ever appeared at auction. The present vase, originally purchased from Sotheby’s London in July 1975, from the collection of John Henry Levy, has been carefully preserved the last forty years in a Japanese collection, from where the record-breaking Ru washer emerged in 2012, selling for an unprecedented HK$207.86 million / US$27 million. Kept until last, the current vase was the one the collector cherished and valued the most highly.

YONGZHENG - TREASURES FROM THE AGE OF HARMONY AND INTEGRITY 

The Yongzheng Emperor is celebrated among historians and connoisseurs as a distinguished aesthete and art patron. Under his brief thirteen-year rule, the Imperial workshops within the Forbidden City came into full bloom by virtue of the Emperor’s meticulous involvement in the production and quality control. The most luxurious materials were painstakingly gathered, the most skilled craftsmen summoned from afar and techniques perfected to levels never to be surpassed. 

The present sale pays homage to the exacting eye and elegant taste of the Yongzheng Emperor . The nineteen objects selected here encompass some of the finest porcelain produced in Jingdezhen, and include as a group of exceedingly rare works of art – jade, soapstone, crystal, agate, glass, bronze, lacquer – manufactured in close proximity of the Emperor at the court and under his direct guidance. Every piece in the sale is inscribed with a reign mark, or of a type documented as being directly commissioned by the Emperor. It is unprecedented to have assembled a group of such quality and rarity. 

An Extremely Rare Imperial White Jade ‘Yongzheng Yubi Zhi Bao’ Seal with original Ivory-Inlaid Box and Cover

An Extremely Rare Imperial White Jade ‘Yongzheng Yubi Zhi Bao’ Seal with original Ivory-Inlaid Box and Cover. The seal: Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period. The seal face: Qing Dynasty, Yongzheng Period. Seal 7.5 x 6.1 x 6.1 cm; box and cover 9.1 x 9.1 x 8.6 cm. Est. HK$30 – 40 million / US$3.8 – 5.1 millionPhoto Sotheby's.

This jade seal with its original box, one of only five recorded jade examples from the Yongzheng reign, ranks among the most important works of art of the period to come to light in recent history. The seal face translates as ‘Treasure penned by his Majesty the Yongzheng Emperor’ and the seal is impressed on his own calligraphy and paintings. It is exceptional to find such a seal preserved with its original box, which, like the seal itself, is recorded in the archives of the Forbidden City. 

A Fine and Superbly Painted Blue and White ‘Dragon’ Vase, Mark and Period of Yongzheng

A Fine and Superbly Painted Blue and White ‘Dragon’ Vase, Mark and Period of Yongzheng; height 38.6 cm. Est. HK$40 – 60 million / US$5.1 – 7.7 millionPhoto Sotheby's.

This magnificent dragon vase epitomises the Yongzheng Emperor’s admiration for early Ming dynasty porcelain and his endeavour for aesthetic excellence. The dragon motif is emblematic of the Emperor and, by extension, imperial power. The brilliant deep blue cobalt, applied to replicate the ‘heaping and piling’ effect of early Ming underglaze blue designs, reflects the high level of technical achievement of the kilns in Jingdezhen during the period. No other example is known from the period. 

QIANLONG – POET AND COLLECTOR 

Prince Hongli (1711-1799), the Qianlong Emperor, is one of the most prolific poets and writers in China’s literary history, with more than 40,000 poems composed by him. He is also recorded in history as one of the most zealous collectors, with an art collection of enormous scope and size, which included antiques, archaistic works and contemporary art. His enthusiasm is reflected in the numerous inscriptions compiled in anthologies, and in his commemorative poems and compositions preserved on the surface of the finest paintings, calligraphy, porcelains and jades. The present sale offers four pieces formerly in the imperial collection of the Qianlong Emperor. 

An Exceptionally Large and Extremely Rare Dated Zitan Mounted Archaic Jade Bi Disc Jade

An Exceptionally Large and Extremely Rare Dated Zitan Mounted Archaic Jade Bi Disc Jade. Disc: Eastern Han Dynasty. Stand: Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period, dated in accordance with 1770; height 30 cm; disc 23.8 cm. Est. HK$30 – 40 million / US$3.8 – 5.1 millionPhoto Sotheby's.

The superb Eastern Han jade bi disc features painstakingly carved and reticulated dragon and phoenix motifs. The carved words Yan Nian (‘elongated lifespan’) stand for the longevity of the emperor as well as the eternal prosperity of Qianlong’s reign, a symbolic reflection of his quest for legitimacy as a ruler and his right to the Mandate of Heaven. The jade disc itself is of outstanding quality and superbly carved. Inscribed, dated and preserved with its original zitan stand, it is arguably the greatest inscribed work of art from the Qianlong Emperor's collection that remains in private hands. 

IMPERIAL PORCELAIN AND WORKS OF ART FROM A HONG KONG PRIVATE COLLECTION 

This sale presents a selection of 24 objects from an Asian private collection, ranging from imperial porcelain from the Xuande period, in the Ming dynasty, to Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong in the Qing dynasty. There is also a number of rare imperial works of art, kesi and albums.

An Imperial Kesi Album of Poems On ‘West Lake’, Mark and Period of Qianlong

An Imperial Kesi Album of Poems On ‘West Lake’, Mark and Period of Qianlong; 37.8 by 25.7 cm. Est. HK$4 – 6 million / U$510,000 – 770,000Photo Sotheby's.

The Qianlong Emperor was particularly drawn to the beauty and elegance of the landscapes in southern China. When revisiting, he would compose poems, and then upon returning to the Forbidden City, would order imperial albums of all the poems he had composed on them. 

A Fine and Rare Celadon-Glazed Vase, Seal Mark And Period Of Qianlong

A Fine and Rare Celadon-Glazed Vase, Seal Mark And Period Of Qianlong; height 37.9 cm. Est. HK$8 – 12 million / US$1 – 1.5 millionPhoto Sotheby's.

Of exceptional graceful form covered with a luminous celadon glaze, this vase is an impressive example of the remarkable technical developments made to meet the specific taste of the Qianlong Emperor, which was characterised by the imitation of antiques, innovation and flair. Its simplicity of form and absence of decoration was a new stylistic trend resulted from research into celebrated Song glazes. Published in the collection of Taji Shuichi in Tokyo in 1983, it has exceptional provenance.

IMPORTANT CHINESE WORKS OF ART

The sale will feature a diverse range of important Imperial porcelain and works of art from the Ming and Qing dynasties, highlighted by a magnificent carved-celadon, famille-rose and underglaze-blue ‘boys’ vase. 

A Magnificent Carved Celadon-Glazed, Famille-Rose and Underglaze-Blue ‘Boys’ Vase, Seal Mark and Period of Qianlong

A Magnificent Carved Celadon-Glazed, Famille-Rose and Underglaze-Blue ‘Boys’ Vase, Seal Mark and Period of Qianlong; height 44 cm. Est. HK$50 – 70 million / US$6.4 – 9 millionPhoto Sotheby's.

This exceptional vase is a tour-de-force, combining celadon glaze with relief design, famille-rose and underglaze-blue painting. Acquired by the currently owner in France twenty years ago, it is extremely rare with no other comparable published example, and is of the uttermost refinement. The subject of children at play was favoured for its auspiciousness inspired by paintings by court artists such as Jin Tingbiao. 

THE ROBERT H. BLUMENFIELD COLLECTION OF BAMBOO CARVINGS

Passionately collected over 30 years by the American collector Robert H. Blumenfield, this is an outstanding assemblage of bamboo carvings, reflecting the superb output of literati taste bamboo produced in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. Encompassing all the major categories, the collection includes figure carvings, brushpots, incense burners and exquisite miniatures produced for the scholar’s desk.

A Superb Carved Bamboo ‘Eight Daoist Immortals’ Brushpot

A Superb Carved Bamboo ‘Eight Daoist Immortals’ Brushpot. Attributed to Gu Jue, Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period; height 17 cm. Est. HK$2.5 – 3.5 million / US$320,000 – 450,000Photo Sotheby's.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium and prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyer’s premium.

sothk-1

A Chinese Guan Vase of the Southern Song Dynasty is shown to the media in Hong Kong on March 2, 2015. The rare vase is expected to fetch more than 60 million HKD (7.7 million USD) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Chinese Works of Art Spring Sales 2015 which will take place on April 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez.

sothk-2

A Sotheby's Hong Kong specialist Yongzheng Jade Seal. Photo: Sotheby's.



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