Hong Kong – On November 27, 2013, Christie’s Hong Kong will hold three sales of Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art as part of its Hong Kong 2013 Fall Auctions, which are estimated to realise in excess of HK$390 million/US$50 million. Two important single owner collections will be presented, The R.F.A Riesco Collection of Important Chinese Ceramics and Imperial Chinese Porcelain Treasures from a Distinguished American Collection, followed by the Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale.

THE R.F.A RIESCO COLLECTION OF IMPORTANT CHINESE CERAMICS

A group of 24 works from The R.F.A. Riesco Collection of Important Chinese Ceramics will be presented this season. Coming fresh to the market with strong provenance, these incredibly fine works are predominantly from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), but also include Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) examples and monochromes from the Early Period (11th-13th century). They were collected and personally catalogued over almost three decades by Mr Raymond F.A. Riesco (1877-1964), a businessman and passionate collector of Chinese ceramics. The collection came into the ownership of the London Borough of Croydon when the council purchased Mr Riesco’s home, Heathfield House, and surrounding land in Addington, South London, in 1964. Among the total 230 works in The Riesco Collection, 24 pieces are now being offered for sale with proceeds to be invested in Croydon’s cultural infrastructure. These works will go on a tour through Hong Kong, London and Taipei ahead of the Hong Kong sale, where they are expected to realise in excess of HK$113 million/US$14 million. Meanwhile, the majority of the collection, comprising 206 works spanning from the Neolithic period to the 19th century, will remain in the Riesco Gallery in the Croydon Clocktower, where they are already on free public view.

IMPERIAL CHINESE PORCELAIN TREASURES FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION

One of the single owner collections featured in the Autumn 2013 sales is Imperial Chinese Porcelain Treasures from a Distinguished American Collection. Comprising 14 pieces and estimated to realize in excess of HK$55 million/US$7 million, this group of porcelain spans from the early Ming to the mid-Qing periods and represents some of the best monochromes as well as doucaifamille rose and iron-red decorated polychrome wares produced during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Leading the sale is a very rare carved apple-green enamelled `dragon' lantern vase with a Qianlong impressed six-character seal mark and of the period (1736-1795) (Sale 3265, Lot 3207, Estimate: HK$18,000,000-25,000,000/US$2,400,000-3,200,000). The vase is magnificent not simply for its large size, but for its exceptional decoration and portrayal of the power of the imperial dragons which encircle its sides. The five-clawed dragon, the most potent symbol of imperial majesty, is depicted on the vessel in carved relief. Another notable piece in the collection is a very rare tianbai-glazed anhua-decorated ‘pomegranate’ bottle vase, yuhuchunping, from the Yongle period (1403-1425) (Sale 3265, Lot 3211, Estimate: HK$8,000,000-12,000,000/US$1,100,000-1,500,000). The production of white-glazed porcelain during the Yongle period achieved technical virtuosity, distinguished by the very fine white body clay and luminous white glaze, which earned the glaze the name tianbai or ‘sweet white’ glaze. The pear-shaped vases (yuhuchunping) from the Yongle reign represent the most elegant manifestation of this classic form and this vase in particular is exceptionally well potted with perfect symmetry and proportions. Other highlights include a fine and rare copper-red and underglaze-blue decorated ‘apple-form’ water pot, Kangxi mark and period (1662-1722) (Sale 3265, Lot 3206, Estimate:7,500,000-9,500,000/US$970,000-1,200,000), a very rare doucai and famille rose basin dating to the Qianlong period (1736-1795) (Sale 3265, Lot 3214, Estimate: HK$3,800,000-5,500,000/US$500,000-710,000), and a pair of rare iron-red decorated ‘dragon and phoenix’ jars and covers, with Daoguang iron-red six-character seal marks and of the period (1821-1850) (Sale 3265, Lot 3213, Estimate:HK$4,000,000-6,000,000/US$520,000-770,000).

IMPORTANT CHINESE CERAMICS AND WORKS OF ART

The Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale hosts a wide spectrum of categories, from Song to Qing ceramics, textiles, scholar’s objects, lacquer, bronzes, glass, to jades and jadeites. It was put together with the increasingly sophisticated and discerning tastes of collectors worldwide in mind. There are over 350 lots on offer, estimated to achieve in excess of HK$224 million/US$29 million.

The Su Zhu An Collection of Chinese Paintings and Inkstones is an important single-owner collection within this sale series. While 25 pieces of Chinese Classical Paintings and Calligraphy from the collection will be auctioned as part of the Chinese Paintings sales on November 25, Christie’s will also present 18 Chinese inkstones in the Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale on November 27. Some inkstones from the collection have been exhibited in the Osaka Municipal Museum of Art and the Gotoh Museum in Japan, a country with a long history of Chinese inkstone collecting that dates back to before the 16th century. Among them are three rare Yaohe “Orchid Pavilion” inkstones, all decorated with the subject of Orchid Gathering, the literary event famously recorded by Wang Xizhi in the spring of AD 353. Another key piece is a very rare Duan inkstone with seven “eye columns” on the back (Sale 3263, Lot 3263, Estimate: HK$800,000-1,200,000/US$110,000-150,000; Illustrated below). Bearing the inscription by Xu Yu (circa 1700, son of Xu You) and the famous Qing scholar Ruan Yuan (1764-1849), the inkstone was formerly from the collection of Japanese painter Murata Kokoku (1831-1912).

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Lot 3263. An extremely rare inscribed Duan inkstone, Kangxi period, cyclical bingxu year, corresponding to 1706 and of the period; 7 in. (17.7 cm.) long. Estimate: HKD800,000-1,200,000 (USD 110,000-150,000). Price realised HKD 1,720,000© Christie's Image Ltd 2013

The rectangular inkstone is carved on one vertical side with a poem, signed Xu Yu, recounting his journey of acquiring this inkstone from Duan County, Guangdong province, while the opposite side is carved with a poem, signed Ruan Yuan, extolling the virtues of the stone. The hollow base is carved in high relief with seven cylinders of varying heights, each centred with an 'eye', wood stand, jichimu wood cover, Japanese double wood boxes - 

Provenance: Murata Kokoku (1831-1912)
Su Zhu An Collection, Kyoto 

Exhibited: The Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, SENCHA: Its Beauty and Spirit, Seeking after SEIFU, the purity of mind like a bracing breeze, Osaka, 23 September-3 November 1997, Catalogue, no. 235.

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Note: Xu Yu, whose exact dates are unknown, was a scholar-official during the Shunzhi/Kangxi period. He studied poetry after the renowned scholar and writer Wang Shizhen (1634-1711), and was known for composingchijue, seven-character, poems as attested by the example inscribed on the current inkstone.

Ruan Yuan (1764-1849) is widely recognised as the most celebrated and multi-talented scholar of the Qing dynasty. Born in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, Ruan Yuan passed his jinshi examination in 1789, and was subsequently appointed to the Hanlin Academy. Known as a highly accomplished calligrapher, painter and seal carver, Ruan Yuan is especially famous for his wide range of research and publications, such as Chouren zhuan (Biographies of Astronomers and Mathematicians), and for editing the Shisanjing zhushu(Commentaries and Notes on the Thirteen Classics) for the Qianlong emperor. 

A rare and important blue and white “Wanshou” vase (Sale 3263, Lot 3419, Estimate: HK$3,000,000-5,000,000/US$400,000-650,000; Illustrated below) leads the sale. Made during the Kangxi Period (1662-1722) and measuring at an imposing height of 76.7 cm, the vase is robustly potted. Its exterior is exquisitely decorated in brilliant underglaze cobalt blue with 9,999 shou (longevity) characters and one wan (ten thousand) character, conveying the blessing of wanshou wujiang—“countless years of long life without limit”. It is generally believed by scholars that the vase was commissioned as a birthday present for the Kangxi Emperor or for his grandmother Grand Dowager Empress Xiaozhuang. Three other known examples are in public collections, including one at the Palace Museum in Beijing, one at the Nanjing Museum and one at the Art Museum of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. 

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Lot 3419. A monumental and extremely rare blue and white 'Wanshou' vase, Kangxi period (1662-1722); 30 1/8 in. (76.7 cm) high. Estimate HKD 3,000,000 - HKD 5,000,000 (USD 400,000-650,000). Price realised HKD 64,520,000. © Christie's Image Ltd 2013

The vase is robustly potted with high shoulders rising to a waisted neck below a galleried rim, the sides tapering gently towards a rounded foot rim. The exterior of the vase including the rims are inscribed overall with ten thousand characters in cobalt blue in ninety seven rows, comprising one Wan character and nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine Shou characters rendered in various forms of seal script, conveying the message Wanshou Wujiang, 'Countless years of long life without limit'. The base is unglazed. 

Provenance: An American private collection, acquired circa 1950s. 

TEN THOUSAND SHOU VASE - TEN THOUSAND YEARS OF LONG LIFE

This extremely rare vase is of monumental size, being 76.7 cm high, and is decorated in brilliant underglaze cobalt blue with nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine shou (longevity) characters and one wan (ten thousand) character. There are 77 characters in two concentric bands around the top of the mouth (154 characters), 48 characters on the vertical bands around the mouth and foot (96 characters), and 75 rows of 130 characters running vertically down the sides of the vase (9750 characters) - 10,000 characters in all. The shou characters are in a wide variety of styles - some recognisably archaic, some eccentric. In a paper presented at the Art Museum, Chinese University of Hong Kong on 2nd February 2013, Professor Peter Lam demonstrated that there are sets of 975 different characters and that this set is repeated 10 times on the sides of the vessel.

Shou longevity characters appear on underglaze blue decorated porcelain as early as the Yuan dynasty. A Yuan dynasty blue and white stem bowl with flying phoenix on the exterior and a shou character on the interior, excavated in 1972 in Hebei province, was included in the Beijing Capital Museum exhibition Blue and White of the Yuan, Beijing, 2009, p. 109-111. There are several other examples of Yuan dynasty blue and white porcelain with shou characters on the interior, but, in the published examples, only a single character appears, usually on the interior of the vessel.

Multiple shou characters were used to decorate blue and white porcelain in the middle Ming period. A blue and white Jiajing mark and period (1522-66) jar and cover with a design of shou characters in roundels each supported by a lingzhi fungus on a scrolling vine in the Palace Museum, Beijing illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 35 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (II), Hong Kong, 2000, p. 115, no. 105. Indeed, all manner of iconography related to longevity was applied to porcelain during the Jiajing period, as in the latter part of his reign the Jiajing Emperor became obsessed with the notion of immortality. Similar blue and white jars, albeit with shou characters which are larger and completely fill the roundels, were also made in the Wanli reign (1573-1619). A Wanli jar and cover of this type was excavated in 1971 from the Dongcheng district in Beijing (illustrated in Wenwu, 1972, no. 6, inside cover, fig. 3). However, in the Kangxi reign of the Qing dynasty the use of shou characters appears to have become even more popular on imperial wares and large wanshou vases like the current example were made. 

Wanshou wujiang, literally 'countless years of long life without limit' comes from the Shijing g (Book of Odesor Classic of Poetry), comprising poems and songs dating from the 11th to the 7th century BC, and traditionally believed to have been one of the 'Five Classics' compiled by Confucius (551-479 BC). The phrasewanshou wujiang was preserved for the imperial birthdays to the end of the dynastic period, since, from as early as the Song dynasty, the birthday of the emperor was known as the Wanshou jie (Festival of Ten Thousand Longevities), and in the Ming and Qing dynasties it was one of the major annual festivals of the Beijing court, occasioning grand celebrations. As Peter Lam has noted in his article 'Myriad Longevity without Boundaries - Some Qing Imperial Birthday Ceramics from Hong Kong Collections', Arts of Asia vol. 40, no. 5, September-October 2010, pp. 106-7, The festivities were on an even larger scale when either the reigning emperor or his mother, the Empress Dowager, celebrated their sixtieth, seventieth or eightieth birthdays. However, few survived to that age. 

In his 2010 article Professor Peter Lam suggested that these wanshou vases were possibly made for the 60th birthday of the Kangxi Emperor in 1713, the 52nd year of his reign. Professor Lam noted that, unlike some other emperors, the Kangxi Emperor generally eschewed lavish celebrations for his birthday. However on the occasion of his 60th birthday his subjects initiated nationwide celebrations as a particular mark of respect. It is generally believed by scholars that the so-called 'birthday' plates decorated in fine overglaze famille verteenamels, which have the characters wanshou wujiang included in their characteristic iron-red brocade-style border decoration were also made for the emperor's 60th birthday, possibly to be given to especially favoured guests on the occasion of the 'grey beards' banquets. An example of one of these 'birthday' plates is illustrated by Rosemary Scott in Imperial Taste - Chinese Ceramics from the Percival David Foundation, Los Angeles, 1989, p. 79, no.48, where the four characters can be seen at the four cardinal points around the border. 

However, in his February 2013 lecture Professor Lam advanced another theory regarding the dating of the large wanshou vases in the light of new information. In 2011 he had secured for the Art Museum of the Chinese University of Hong Kong a porcelain brush pot which bore a long poem inscribed in underglaze blue entitled Poem on the Ten Thousand Shou Vase. The content of the poem provided the context for the production of the vases. While the brush pot is not dated, on the basis of the style in which the reign mark is written Professor Lam concluded that the brush pot was made in the early part of the Kangxi reign. In addition, the calligraphy on the brush pot is very similar to surviving examples of the calligraphy of Liu Yuan - a Customs Officer for Anhui, who later served in the inner court as chief designer for imperial porcelain during the 1680s. Professor Lam also noted that the majority of the Kangxi inscribed porcelain, which included dates, dated to a period around the 1680s, rather than the 18th century when the Emperor celebrated his 60th birthday. Added to this Professor Lam's research has led him to speculate that the calligraphy on both the brush pot and the vases was probably that of Gong Yuzi, whose name appears on a significant number of Kangxi inscribed pieces, some of which bear dates around the 1680s. This research led Professor Lam to propose a new theory that the wanshou vases may have been made in 1683 for the Kangxi Emperor's 30th birthday, after the imperial kiln complex was re-opened by Yu Chenglong, Governor of Jiangxi province and a close confident of the Emperor, following the end of the disruptive Rebellion of the Three Feudatories. Professor Peter Lam will publish his extensive research into these wanshou vases in a forthcoming issue of theJournal of the Palace Museum, while key points from a paper presented by Lam at an Institute of Chinese Studies Luncheon in Hong Kong in March 2013, 'Kangxi and the Taming of Black Tigers: Two Excursions in Chinese Art History Studies' dGNvsk,,are published in ICS Bulletin, 2013, no. 2. 

Nevertheless, if the vases can be ascribed to the 1680s, rather than 1713, one other possible theory might be considered. Grand Dowager Empress Xiaozhuang (1613-27 January 1688) was the grandmother of the Kangxi Emperor (1662-1722) and celebrated her 60th birthday in 1673, and her 70th birthday in 1683. The Emperor's closeness to her at that time was demonstrated by the fact that after the final suppression of the Rebellion of the Three Feudatories in 1681 the emperor began making tours of inspection and on his first western tour of 1683 he took the Grand Empress Dowager with him. Known for her wisdom and political acumen she played an important role in the reigns of her son - the Shunzhi Emperor (1644-1661) and more particularly that of her grandson, the Kangxi Emperor, whose own mother Empress Xiaokangzhang died in 1663, when he was still a minor. The Grand Dowager Empress assumed responsibility for the boy emperor's upbringing and remained a trusted adviser until her death in 1688. She played an important role, for example, in helping the Kangxi Emperor deal with the revolt of the Mongol leader Burni in 1675. The Emperor was devoted to his grandmother, and paid her the utmost respect. One of his grandmother's favourite places was the Five Dragon Pavilion on the north banks of the Taiyechi (Great Liquid Pool), so the Kangxi Emperor had some residences built to the north of the pavilion, in order that his grandmother could live there during the hot summer months, and when he was not involved with affairs of state the emperor would take a small boat over to see her in order to wait on her during mealtimes (see Wan Yi, Wang Shuqing & Lu Yanzhen, Daily Life in the Forbidden City, translated by Rosemary Scott & Erica Shipley, Harmondsworth New York, 1985, p. 266). When the Grand Empress Dowager died, the Kangxi Emperor cut off his queue, which was normally done only on the death of an emperor. He also contravened Ming regulations by installing his grandmother's spirit tablet in the Taimiao (see Evelyn S. Rawski, The Last Emperors - A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions, Berkeley/Los Angeles/London, 1998, p. 277). It is thus worth considering that the Emperor might have had the wanshou vases made in honour of his grandmother's 70th birthday in 1683, rather than his own 30th birthday. 

Three other similar vases are in public collections. A Kangxi wanshou vase is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 36 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), Hong Kong, 2000, pp. 8-9, no. 5). H: 76.5 cm. Another wanshou vase is in the collection of the Nanjing Museum (illustrated in Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Hong Kong, 1995, no. 12). H: 77 cm. A third Kangxi wanshou vase given in 1999 to the Art Museum of the Chinese University of Hong Kong by an anonymous donor (illustrated by Peter Lam in 'Myriad Longevity without Boundaries - Some Qing Imperial Birthday Ceramics from Hong Kong Collections',op. cit., p. 107, pl. 2). H: 76.1 cm. In addition to the vase in the current sale, two more similar vases are in private American collections. Thus, six vases are extant in total. In addition a sherd from one of these vases was found in 2009 in Beijing in the western part of the city during the construction of the subway, and another sherd was found in a waste heap near Lugou Bridge in Beijing. It is probable that a total of nine of these large wanshou vases were made, since by tradition birthday gifts to the Emperor should be presented in groups of nine or multiples of nine, and even if the vases were intended for the Grand Empress Dowager, the Kangxi Emperor appears to have been inclined to offer her the respect due to an Emperor. 

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Blue and white 'Wanshou' vase, Kangxi period (1662-1722), H: 76.5 cm, in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 36 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), Hong Kong, 2000, pp. 8-9, no. 5).

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Blue and white 'Wanshou' vase, Kangxi period (1662-1722), H: 77 cm, in the collection of the Nanjing Museum (illustrated in Qing Imperial Porcelain of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns, Hong Kong, 1995, no. 12).

Other notable Qing imperial porcelain pieces include a rare pair of yellow-ground famille rose pierced rim dishes (Sale 3263. Lot 3442, Estimate: HK$8,000,000-10,000,000/US$1,000,000-1,250,000; Illustrated below). The dishes, with intricate, colourful enamelling and with the very unusual design of pierced perforations around the rims, formerly belonged to the American collector Samuel C. Davis (1871-1940). They are the only Qianlong-marked yellow-ground examples of their type ever offered to the market. 

Lot 3442. A fine and exceptionally rare pair of yellow-ground famille rose pierced rim dishes, Qianlong six-character iron-red seal marks and of the period (1736-1795); 15 1/2 in. (39.3 cm.) diam. Estimate: HKD 8,000,000-10,000,000 (USD1,000,000-1,250,000).  Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2013

Each dish is intricately enamelled in shades of blue, red, pink, yellow and green with a facetted geometric 'jewel' in the centre, surrounded by alternating lotus blooms and bats borne on scrolling tendrils, below a band of pendent leaves and florettes at the rim, all against a bright yellow ground. The wide everted rim of each dish is pierced with a band of perforations joined by gilt cords, between borders of trefoils and florettes. The turquoise-enamelled bases are inscribed with the reign marks in iron red. , stand, box (2)

Provenance: Samuel C. Davis (1871-1940), then to his granddaughter Alita Davis (with label on the dish), and thence by descent within the family 

Note: Samuel C. Davis is the son of a prominent family in St. Louis and gained his interest in Chinese ceramics while embarking on a world tour after graduating from Harvard University in 1893 and also from attending the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition where there were displays of Asian art. He purchased many of his pieces from C.T. Loo. On his death in 1940, he bequeathed two hundred and two pieces of porcelain, as well as stone, bronze and lacquer to the St. Louis Museum of Art. He also gave some pieces to Harvard University. His brother was Dwight F. Davis, after whom the international tennis tournament Davis Cup is named.

Pierced rim dishes of this type bearing Qianlong reign marks are extremely rare. One other Qianlong-marked example is known, which is a slightly smaller dish of the same form, decorated with a similar 'jewel' in the centre but surrounded by further jewels on the well instead of lotus and bats as on the current dish, all on a white ground, currently on display at the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Dishes of this rare design were produced in larger quantities during the Jiaqing period, as there are a number of surviving examples bearing Jiaqing reign marks. This suggests the possibility that the current pair of dishes and the National Palace Museum example were made towards the end of the Qianlong reign, or even during the years when the Qianlong Emperor abdicated and styled himself as Emperor Emiratus. The purpose of the apertures on the rims is still unknown, though generally it has been accepted that this group of wares served as offering dishes in the court. However no other example, whether with Qianlong or Jiaqing mark, decorated on a yellow ground appears to be known.

Several Jiaqing-marked pierced rim dishes on various coloured grounds have been published. It is interesting to note that these Jiaqing examples are all decorated on the well with alternating lotus blooms and geometric 'jewels', differing from the lotus and bat decorations on the current pair and the band of jewels flanked by Western-style foliage on the National Palace Museum example. The published Jiaqing dishes include a ruby-ground example in the Weishaupt Collection, illustrated by Gunhild Avitabile in From the Dragon's Treasure, London, 1987, no. 21; a tuquoise-ground example donated by T.T. Tsui to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum (accession no. 1997.97.172); another turquoise-ground one formerly in the E.T. Chow Collection and sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 30 October 2002, lot 258; and a ruby-ground example sold at Christie's New York, 2 June 1989, lot 218.

Another highlight is a rare blue and white vase, meiping, of Qianlong mark and period (1736-1795) (Sale 3263, Lot 3421, Estimate: HK$7,000,000-9,000,000/US$875,000-1,125,000; Illustrated Right). Of well-balanced proportions, it is sturdily potted with a broad shoulder and waisted neck, delicately painted in attractive bright blue tones of cobalt depicting six fruit and flower-sprays. 

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Lot 3421. A blue and white vase, meiping, Qianlong six-character seal mark and of the period (1736-1795); 2 5/8 in. (32 cm.) high. Estimate HKD 7,000,000 - HKD 9,000,000. Price realised HKD 10,840,000© Christie's Image Ltd 2013

The vase is sturdily potted with a broad shoulder and waisted neck. It is painted around the exterior in deep shades of blue with simulated 'heaping and piling' to depict six fruit and flower-sprays arranged in two registers, comprising lychee, peach, pomegranate, peony, prunus and lotus, above a band of upright plantain leaves at the foot and ten petal panels below the neck, painted with four floral-sprays. 

Property of The Si De Tang Collection

Note: The inspiration for this shape and pattern originates from examples produced during the early Ming period, such as the 15th century example in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Blue and White Ware of the Ming Dynasty, Book II (part 1), Hong Kong, 1963, pl. 1; and two other meiping vases illustrated by T. Misugi, The Ardebil Shrine Collection, Hong Kong University Press, 1981, nos. A69 and A70.

An exceptional Yongzheng-period work is a Ming-style yellow-ground blue and white “morning glory” facetted vase (Sale 3263, Lot 3390, Estimate: HK$4,000,000-6,000,000/US$500,000-750,000). The vase is finely painted in inky blue tones on a bright lemon-yellow ground with a continuous leafy meander of morning glories, an extremely rare motif on imperial porcelain. Its unusual shape with facetted corners was exceptionally difficult to be fired successfully. This design is inspired by Ming Dynasty Xuande-period prototypes, reflecting the Yongzheng Emperor’s penchant for archaism.

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Lot 3390. A very rare Ming-style yellow-ground blue and white facetted vase, Yongzheng six-character mark within double circles and of the period (1723-1735); 6 5/8 in. (16.2 cm.) high. Estimate HKD 4,000,000 - HKD 6,000,000Price Realized HKD 6,640,000. © Christie's Images Ltd 2013

The vase is finely painted in washed tones of cobalt blue and simulated 'heaping and piling' with a continuous leafy meander of morning glories in various stages of bloom around the square body with facetted angles. The splayed foot is decorated with a cloud collar border with alternativing large and small ruyi-heads, and a keyfret border in green under the lipped mouth rim. The cylindrical neck of the vase is flanked with a pair of two-horned lion-mask handles in relief, each with an arch extending from its mouth. 

Provenance: An American Collection, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, The Imperial Sale, 27 April 1997, lot 67

Literature: Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Highlights, Hong Kong, 2006, p. 138

A number of outstanding imperial cloisonné enamels in the sale include an important imperial cloisonné enamel inkstone warmer and cover (Sale 3263, Lot 3468, Estimate: HK$4,000,000-6,000,000/US$500,000-750,000; Illustrated below) exquisitely decorated with ferocious dragons. Palace records show that the Qianlong Emperor took a personal interest in this warmer and actively participated in its design, including the elaborately cast reign mark, which is embraced by two coiling dragons in high relief. Identical examples can be found in the Palace Museum in Beijing and the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

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An important imperial cloisonné enamel inkstone warmer and cover; Qianlong cast six-character mark and of the period (1736-1795). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2013

The rectangular cover is elaborately decorated with a writhing front-facing five-clawed dragon picked out in vivid yellow, pursuing a 'flaming pearl' amidst multi-coloured ruyi clouds against a bright sapphire-blue ground, above rolling waves and a terrestrial diagram from which issues various beribboned auspicious symbols, all within a gilt border. This pattern is similarly repeated on the four sides of the rectangular box, with the two dragons on the longer sides picked out in tones of an attractive sea-green. It is connected to a beaded pedestal supported on a gilt stand with bracket-shaped aprons, delicately decorated with floral scrolls. The base is gilt and cast with a Qianlong six-character mark within a rectangular panel, encircled by two coiling five-clawed dragons contesting a flaming pearl in high relief. 6 3/16 in. (15.9 cm.) high, 8 1/4 in. (21.1 cm.) long, 6 3/8 in. (17.1 cm.) wide, Japanese wood box. Estimate: HK$4,000,000-6,000,000/US$500,000-750,000

Provenance: A prominent Japanese collection, acquired in the late 19th century

Notes: The current box would have originally contained a shallow tray to hold ink stones. Hot water or ashes of hot coal would have been placed within the box below the tray in order to keep the ink stones warm, preventing the ink from freezing during the cold winters.

Palace records show that this box was made for the Qianlong Emperor by the enamel workshop at Zaobanchuin the Hall of Mental Cultivation. One entry in the records in particular recounts the entire manufacturing process of this box from initial design to final approval by the Emperor. It records that in the 39th year and 12th month of the Qianlong reign (corresponding to 1774), the enamel workshop first presented a sample of an inkstone warmer to the Qianlong Emperor. Throughout the next two months the Emperor issued several orders for the adjustment of size of the box and that the box should be made in cloisonné enamel. He also made specific instructions for the four sides of the box to be decorated with front-facing dragons instead of leaping dragons, and the four sides of the cover to be decorated with Indian lotus scrolls, as in the case of the current box. From this detailed record the current box was undoubtedly made in accordance to the wish of the Qianlong Emperor. 

There are identical examples in the Palace Museum, Beijing and the National Palace Museum, Taipei, although both of these have their original shallow trays holding the ink stones. The warmer belongs to an original set of cloisonné enamel stationery comprising the brush rack, water receptacle and ink stand. The Beijing example is illustrated in Gold, Silver, Glass, Enamels, Zhongguo meishu quanji, vol. 10, Beijing, 1987, pl.333; and Enamels 3: Cloisonne in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum, Beijing, 2011, pl. 48. The Taipei example, together with the complete set of stationery, are illustrated in Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties, Taipei, 1999, pl. 53. 

Another exceptional piece in this category is a rare pair of cloisonné enamel tripod censers and covers from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) (Sale 3263, Lot 3471, Estimate: HK$1,800,000-2,500,000/US$225,000-313,000).

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A rare pair of cloisonné enamel tripod censers and covers from the Qianlong period (1736-1795). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2013

Each censer has a hemispherical body raised on three columnar legs attached to the body with gilt monster masks. The main band on the body is enamelled with dissolved animal masks against a turquoise ground between a wide frieze of blades around the base and keyfrets border below the everted mouth decorated with stylised kui dragons. The lower parts of the legs are decorated with inverted leaves, the pair of upright bracket handles with scrolling lotus. The stepped domed cover is enamelled with ruyi-panels containing foliate designs between pierced gilt lotus scrolls and bands of lotus petals and lappets. It is surmounted by a gilt lingzhi finial. The censer is fitted with a removable copper lining. 11 in. (28 cm.) high (2). Estimate: HK$1,800,000-2,500,000/US$225,000-313,000

One of the most superb jade works offered in this sale is an imperial white jade bajixiang bowl and cover from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) (Sale 3263, Lot 3398, Estimate: HK$3,500,000-5,000,000/US$430,000-625,000). Delicately carved with the Bajixiang (Eight Buddhist Emblems), a favoured motif on many imperial jade vessels, the bowl is excellently polished with a glossy satiny finish and is particularly precious since it retainins its original cover. Its exceptional workmanship undoubtedly represents the pinnacle of jade artistry in China in the 18th century.

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A fine imperial white jade bajixiang bowl and cover from the Qianlong period (1736-1795). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2013

The rounded sides of the bowl is raised on a shallow spreading pedestal foot and well carved in low relief with four of the Eight Buddhist Emblems, Bajixiang, tied with fluttering ribbons set within strap borders conjoined by squared rings enclosing the character Xiang, 'Auspicious'. The domed cover is carved with the remaining four Buddhist Emblems separated by the character Ji, 'Propitious', within similar borders below the reticulated cushion-form knop carved with a coiled dragon clutching a flaming pearl. The well polished stone is of an even white translucent tone with sporadic russet streaks and inclusions. 8 1/2 in. (21.5 cm.) diam., stand - Estimate: HK$3,500,000-5,000,000/US$430,000-625,000

Provenance: Sold at Sotheby's New York, 9 October 1987, lot 150
Sold at Christie's New York, 2 December 1993, lot 74
Sold at Christie's New York, 20 September 2002, lot 204 

The Property of a Southeast Asian Collector 

Notes: The current vessel represents the pinnacle of jade artistry in the 18th century when large boulders of very fine white jade became readily available after the Qianlong Emperor's conquest of the Khotan area in 1759 and were worked to perfection befitting the taste of the imperial family. This vessel is particularly well polished with a glossy satiny finish, and is particularly precious for retaining its original cover.