An exceptional and important imperial jade-hilted ceremonial sabre and scabbard. Mark and period of Qianlong. Photo Courtesy Sotheby's
the elongated 'S'-shaped sabre fitted with a white jade handle terminating in a rounded pommel, ornately carved in Moghul style along the spine with two long serrated-edged leaves with central stylised floret, issuing on each side a six-petalled flower on a leafy stem, the centre of the flower drilled and threaded with a beaded tassel (main stone now missing), the opposing end carved with stylised leaf lappets and embellished with an intricate gilt metal sword-guard seperating the slender blade cast in relief with floral scrolls and two free cast dragons, the steel blade decorated near the hilt with inlaid gold, silver and copper wire, one side with the poetic two-character name, Bao Teng (Soaring Treasure), and five-character inventory number Tian zi shiqi hao (Imperial number seventeen), the reverse with a cartouche of a dragon writhing among clouds, depicting the sabre's name, and the Qianlong four-character mark in silver, the blade indented on each side with a long groove, tapering to the gently upturned tip, the scabbard formed of wood with a trefoil-diaper lacquered jintaopi (peach-tree bark) veneer, bound with pierced gilt-metal bands for hanging, with original attachments, each with a moveable dragon to both sides, set between similarly cast mounts protecting the mouth rim and tip - the sword 87.7 cm., 34 1/2 in - Lot Sold: 58,900,000 HKD
PROVENANCE: Possibly removed from the Ziguangge, Zhongnanhai, Beijing, 1900 and brought to Germany.
Collection of Karl Flöck, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 10th April 2006, lot 1538.
The 'Bao Teng' Sabre
Xu Qide, Researcher
Palace Museum, Beijing
This sabre represents an extremely important work skillfully designed and made under the order and careful direction of Emperor Qianlong. It is fitted with a white jade handle, an intricate gilt metal sword-guard, and a steel blade. Both sides of the blade near the hilt are inlaid with gold, silver and red copper-wire with decorative patterns, as well as inscriptions in Clerical Script (lishu). One side is inscribed with the inventory number "Number Seventeen of the Heaven category" and with the sabre's poetic two-character title - Bao Teng ("The Soaring Precious"); the reverse with the Qianlong four-character mark, under which a cartouche depicts a dragon flying among clouds, echoing the sabre's title, and also an allusion to the prosperity of the country. The scabbard is tied with yellow silk ribbon, and bound with pierced gilt-metal ornaments named beng and bi respectively. The sabre was made in the Palace Workshops (Zaoban chu) of the Imperial Household Department (Neiwu fu) by the order of Qianlong, and is a work representative of the mid-Qing Dynasty.
The effort of the rulers Nurhachi, Huangtaichi, Shunzhi, Kangxi and Yongzheng greatly strengthed the nation, providing a strong foundation for the reign of Qianlong, which represents the pinnacle of the Qing dynasty. It was during his reign that the empire greatly prospered and expanded. As a cautionary measure warning his descendants to "ponder danger in times of peace" as well as to "publicize international prestige of the state, manifest law and order, and maintain long-lasting peace", Qianlong ordered a set of 90 sabres and 30 daggers in the thirteenth year of his reign. They were intended to serve as a tribute to his ancestors, and an appreciation of the military force. The majority of the 90 sabres are in the Palace Museum, Beijing, although some were presented as gifts or were lost in the hands of foreign power. According to the records of the Imperial Household Department, the 90 sabres with golden peach-tree bark scabbards were made by the Works Department, by the order of Emperor Qianlong. The Works Department, which came under the jurisdiction of The Imperial Household Department and directly headed by the Minister of the Office, specialized in the manufacture of household supplies and curios for the Imperial Family. There were numerous workshops (named zuo, chu, or guan) within the Department, including jade, drawing, stands, wood, painting, enamel, sculpture, weapon, clocks, and ruyi workshops. There are thought to have been more than thirty workshops under the Department. When a piece was ordered by Qianlong, it was designed and made by the corresponding specialist workshop. The manufacture of the sabre, a highly specialized skill, involved more than one workshop. After the Imperial Household Department proposed the initial design, each workshop composed a specific part ¨C the jade handle was made by the jade workshop, the blade by the arms workshop, the scabbard by the wood workshop and the delicate carvings and ornaments by the sculpture workshop. The various pieces were then assembled by the Arms Council.
Emperor Qianlong devoted much of his attention to this project, and was involved in every aspect of its production. From the initial stage of the design of the sabre, to determining the number, name, engravings, decorative patterns, material, inscriptions and calligraphy, all was carried out following the orders and direction of the Emperor. Each completed part was submitted to the Emperor for approval, via the Treasurer, the Eunuch Leader and the Chief Steward. After careful inspection, Emperor Qianlong would then order any changes. From examining the production process of the first thirty sabres, we can see the large degree to which the Emperor was involved. On the 6th day of the 11th lunar month of the thirteenth year of Qianlong (1748), an Imperial Edict was read out by the grade-seven Leader Samuha and delivered by the Eunuch Hu Shijie, "A booklet of sabre titles and a booklet of dagger titles are hereby delivered. Order is given by the Emperor to make thirty sabres and daggers. Every ten pieces should form a suit, making a total of six encased suits of daggers and swords. Designs should be submitted to the Emperor for approval before their production proceeds." On the 18th day of the same month, the Emperor gave another order to make ten daggers with the pattern of "Lishi", and another ten the pattern of "Lianjing". Another order was given on the 25th day of the same month, "The painted pattern should be decorated with gold, silver and red copper inlaid wires, and fall in the Heaven, Earth and Human categories." On the 8th day of the 12th month, the Works Department presented the designs of the ten sabres of the Heaven category to the Emperor. The ten sabres were numbered from Number One of the Heaven category, and were named in chronological order: Lianjing, Kouming, Kongchun, Yueren, Fengbiao, Feique, Sudi, Chaoa, Peiwei and Feishe. The production of the thirty sabres lasted ten years.
The project began in the thirteenth year of Qianlong (1748) and was completed in his sixtieth year (1795). It was accomplished in four separate batches. The production of the first batch of thirty sabres began in the thirteenth year of Qianlong and was completed in the twenty-second year (1757); the second batch was completed in the forty-fourth year (1779), the third batch in the fifty-eighth year (1793), and the fourth batch was completed in the sixtieth year (1795). The first batch of sabres were made three-chi long, and weighed between twenty-three and thirty-one liang. Sabres of the other three batches were eighteen liang each, their length and pattern were similar to those of the first batch, with only slight differences in the sword-guard, handle and scabbard. The "Number Seventeen of the Heaven Category", Baoteng the sabre was made in the forty-ninth year of Qianlong (1784) and then stored in the Palace of Tranquil Longevity (Ningshougong). Initially a "Number Seventeen of the Earth Category" sabre, Baoteng was withdrawn from the Earth Category by order of the Emperor in the fifty-eighth year of Qianlong (1783), and joined the Heaven category.
The production of this set of ninety sabres lasted 47 years. They were made of precious materials, and are characterized by their superb craftsmanship. The sabres were carved with sharp blades, and were engraved with exquisite and auspicious designs. They are representative of the Imperial Court workshops, and their value is as much historical as it is aesthetically superior. The production of the scabbard was carried out with as much attention and detail as that of the sabres. The golden bark comes from a particular species of peach tree in Southern China. Its colour is a brilliant gold, almost as if the wood was covered in a layer of gold lacquer. Its use, however, was not only for decorative purposes. According to ancient traditions, golden peach-tree bark is thought to possess special powers in warding off evil spirits, and so its presence on the scabbard served as an amulet in protecting the country from foreign invaders. The case used for the storage of swords was made of nanmu. Its corners were engraved with copper plate, its sides flanked by a pair of handles and the bottom was fixed with a four-legged pedestal. The front of the case was inscribed with the title of the sabres, the year in the Heaven and Earth category format, as well as with the phrases "in the Heaven", "below the Heaven", "on the Earth" and "below the Earth." The sides were inscribed with the names of the sabres and their weight. The title of the first batch of thirty sabres was zhane taojing (sharp blade and refined sheath), the second batch was yunwen yunbao (contained treasure) and shuange hanqing (cold blade), the third batch baoye ningtao (suppressing the turbulences), the fourth batch deyao xiangjin (manifesting virtue) and gongquan liqi (victory accomplished by sophisticated weapons). Although the sabres were initially intended for mere appreciation, the Emperor also displayed them on special occasions such as military parades, inspection tours, sending off military officials for expedition, and receiving tributes, in order to "publicize the international prestige of the state" and to "maintain long-lasting peace."
Sotheby's. Legacies of Imperial Power: Treasures from the Imperial Collection. 08 Oct 08. Hong Kong - www.sotheby's.com