Lot 21. A rare Imperial Ge-type vase, zun, Qianlong seal mark and of the period (1736-1795). Estimate HK$ 4.5 million - 6 million (€510,000 - 680,000). Photo: Bonhams.
HONG KONG.- Bonhams Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale in Hong Kong on 2 June 2016 will offer fine and rare porcelain and works of art which would once have graced the Imperial palaces. They include exquisite treasures from the reigns of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors - all with impeccable provenance.
Among the fine selection of imperial porcelains and works of art from the reign of the Yongzheng emperor (1723-1735) is a pair of exceptionally rare imperial doucai waterpots, Yongzheng six-character marks and of the period, estimated at HK$ 10,000,000 – 15,000,000. The waterpots were formerly in the Jingguantang and Gerald M. Greenwald collection, exhibited on many occasions by the Min Chiu Society and in the Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong. Besides the present pair, there are only four other known examples, two in the Palace Museum, Beijing and in the Nanjing Museum, with another pair previously in the collections of C.T.Loo, Paris, Paul and Helen Bernat, Boston, and the Shimentang collection.
Lot 12. A pair of exceptionally rare Imperial doucai waterpots, Yongzheng six-character marks and of the period (1723-1735). Each: 5.3cm (2 1/8in) high. Estimate: 10,000,000-15,000,000 HKD. Sold for HK$ 12,640,000 (€1,546,158). Photo: Bonhams.
Each gracefully potted with gently curving sides, the exterior delicately outlined in subtle underglaze-blue with vaporous swirling clouds encircling the base and rising towards the top, exquisitely enamelled in soft tones of yellow, aubergine, dark and light green, with some of the edges picked out in iron-red, the interior and base covered with a transparent glaze, the base with a six-character kaishu mark in underglaze-blue, wood stands.
Provenance: The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1991
The Jingguantang Collection
Christie's Hong Kong, 3 November 1998, lot 956
The Gerald M. Greenwald Collection, collection no.88
Christie's Hong Kong, For Imperial Appreciation: Fine Chinese Ceramics from the Greenwald Collection, 1 December 2010, lot 2816
An important Asian private collection
Published and Illustrated: Min Chiu Society, Catalogue of the 7th Annual Exhibition of Porcelain of Ch'ing Dynasty. K'ang-hsi, Yung-cheng and Ch'ien-lung Periods (From 1662 to 1795AD), Hong Kong, 1968, no.57
Min Chiu Society, An Anthology of Chinese Ceramics, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1980, no.144
The Tsui Museum of Art, The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1991, pl.112
Chinese Ceramics. Vol.IV, The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1995, pl.131
Note: The present pair of doucai waterpots is exceptionally rare and aesthetically pleasing. Only four other examples appear to have been published as follows: a single waterpot, from the Qing Court Collection, is illustrated in Small Refined Articles of the Study. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Shanghai, 2009, p.223, no.221; another single example, possibly the pair to the Palace Museum, Beijing example, is in the collection of the Nanjing Museum, illustrated in Treasures in the Royalty: The Official Kiln Porcelain of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, Shanghai, 2003, p.178 (it is interesting to note that these presumed pair of waterpots both have seemingly lighter shades of enamels and do not have red enamel highlights); and a pair of waterpots, previously in the collections of C.T.Loo, Paris, Paul and Helen Bernat, Boston, and the Shimentang collection, was sold by Eskenazi Ltd., illustrated in the catalogue Qing Porcelain from a Private Collection, London, 2012, no.3.
The Yongzheng emperor who practiced a balanced combination of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism, became in later life increasingly involved in Daoist matters related to the 'elixir of immortality', even bestowing upon a high official the pill of longevity. However, on 8 October 1735 he passed away, possibly as a result of consuming toxic materials contained in the 'elixir of immortality'. The Imperial pursuit of longevity and consumption of 'elixirs of immortality' is said to also have been practiced by Qinshi Huangdi (260-210 BC), China's first emperor, and by the Ming emperor Jiajing (1522-1566). In all three cases, this pursuit proved ineffective.
The power of granting the 'elixir of immortality' is attributed to the divine Daoist deity Xiwangmu, Queen Mother of the West, in whose garden, said to be hidden by high clouds in the Kunlun mountains, grow the peaches of immortality, ripening once every 3,000 years. One of the paintings in the Album of the Yongzheng Emperor in Costumes from the Palace Museum, Beijing, shows the emperor wearing a multi-coloured robe, reminiscent in colour scheme of the present pair of waterpots, offering a peach of immortality to a monkey; see E.S.Rawski and J.Rawson, eds., China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795, London, 2005, pp.167-168.
The wispy lingzhi-shaped five-coloured clouds, 'wuse yun' (五色雲) or 'qing yun' (慶雲), depicted on the present lot, represent the emperor's wish for longevity. The motif can be further interpreted as a pun on the word 'cloud', yun(雲), which is a homophone for fuyun (福運), 'good fortune'. In an agricultural society, the rain-bearing clouds would have been perceived as a benevolent omen, for the necessary irrigation of the crops.
It is interesting to note that the Yongzheng emperor seemed to have a particular fondness for the physical as well as symbolic appearance of qing yun between the 7th and the 10th year of his reign (1729 – 1732). Scenes of auspicious five-coloured clouds appearing above the sky were recorded several times in the Palace memorials presented to the emperor. The Imperial archives also recorded that paintings depicting such particular type of clouds were ordered by the Yongzheng emperor in 1730, see Lin Lina, 'Auspicious symbols and scenes of the Yongzheng period', in Feng Mingzhu, Harmony and Integrity: The Yongzheng Emperor and His Times, Taipei, 2009, pp.374 – 399.
The Yongzheng emperor's fondness for this decoration is evident in the number of extant Imperial works of art, similarly decorated with multi-coloured clouds, including the carved wooden plaque inlaid with painted enamel wispy clouds and the inscription reading 'Heed Rashness and Use Perseverance'; a painted enamel snuff bottle, Yongzheng mark and period; a painted enamel tiered box and cover, Yongzheng mark and period; and a stand with a hanging fish pendant, depicted in 'Yinzhen's [Yongzheng's] Amusements: Copying a Sutra in a Studio', illustrated in the National Palace Museum, Taipei exhibition catalogue by Feng Mingzhu, ibid., Taipei, 2009, pp.20, 116-117, 258 and 269. See also a doucai bottle vase, Yongzheng mark and period, similarly decorated with cloud scrolls, which was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 April 2010, lot 1862.
The above examples illustrate the emperor's use of this highly particular stylised motif with which he personally identified and for decorating objects for his personal use. It is therefore not surprising that the same auspicious motif was also employed on one of the essential literati paraphernalia, especially made for the Imperial 'scholar's desk'. The very small number of extant doucai waterpots of this particular design indicates their exclusive Imperial use.
The use of this motif on a waterpot, though in a more refined and colourful palette, also presented a continuation of related waterpots made during the reign of his father, the Kangxi emperor. Such vessels were of more conical form, with carved wispy cloud scrolls, covered in white or celadon glaze; for a white-glazed example, Kangxi mark and period, see Wang Qingzheng, Kangxi Porcelain Wares from the Shanghai Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1998, pl.227; and for a celadon-glazed example, Kangxi mark and period, from the Nanjing Museum, see Treasures in the Royalty: The Official Kiln Porcelain of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, Shanghai, 2003, p.107. However, the combined use of the doucai palette and lingzhi-shaped cloud scroll decoration was inspired by bowls from the Chenghua period; for Chenghua examples from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, see Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Ch'eng-hua Porcelain Ware, 1465-1487, Taipei, 2003, pp.153-155 and p.156 for a Wanli example, nos.143-150.
The Yongzheng emperor personally influenced the artistic direction of the Imperial kiln production, achieving together with the celebrated kiln supervisor Tang Ying an unsurpassed standard of quality, aesthetic subtlety and refinement by merging his admiration both of classic styles of the past and of contemporary innovation. His interest in antiques, scholarly objects and curios, and arguably his wish to be identified as a cultivated literatus, is demonstrated in the scroll painting titled Guwan tu (古玩圖) or 'Record of Ancient Playthings', dated 1729, illustrated by Rawski and Rawson, ibid., pp.252-255; as well as in a number of paintings depicting him beside a scholar's desk, see Feng Minzhu, ibid., pp.115 and 117. The present pair of waterpots therefore, represents an outstanding example of the highest level of Imperial porcelain production and innovation at its zenith, realised during the Yongzheng period.
Another item from the Imperial ‘scholar’s desk’ is an imperial banded-agate oval brushwasher, incised Yongzheng horizontal four-character seal mark and of the period, estimated at HK$ 2,500,000 – 3,000,000. The simplicity and natural beauty of the piece reflects the Yongzheng emperor’s personal taste; it is recorded in the imperial archives that he ordered agate brushwashers and bowls to be left undecorated in order to highlight the quality of the original stone surface.
Lot 13. An extremely rare Imperial banded-agate oval brushwasher, Incised Yongzheng horizontal four-character seal mark and of the period (1723-1735). Estimate HK$ 2.5 million - 3 million (€280,000 - 340,000). Unsold. Photo: Bonhams.
The exquisite translucent stone of golden-yellow and honey-brown tones highlighted with a matrix of natural milky and creamy yellow veins and banded ripples, superbly carved as a slender oval bowl with shallow rounded sides gracefully raised on a slightly recessed base, expertly polished to a lustrous sheen, the underside carefully carved with a horizontal four-character mark in seal script. 18.7cm (7 3/8in) wide
Provenance: A British private collection, acquired prior to the 1950s, and thence by descent
Bonhams London, 12 May 2011, lot 184
Notes: The agate brushwasher belongs to an exceptionally rare group of Imperial vessels carved from agate, made in the Imperial Jade Workshop, yuzuo, within the Imperial Palace Works, the Zaobanchu, during the Yongzheng reign and bearing the Imperial mark. It encapsulates the Yongzheng emperor's interest in antiquity as well as in objects made for the scholar's desk and demonstrates the superb craftsmanship achieved by the Imperial Workshops.
The Yongzheng emperor took personal interest in the artistic production during his period including both Imperial porcelain and works of art. Records in the archives of the Imperial Jade Workshops, yuzuo, dated between 1724 and 1729, note that the emperor ordered for agate brushwashers and bowls to be kept undecorated in order to show the original pattern of the agate stone; pieces with 'intricate' designs or of unsatisfactory quality were rejected and sent back to the Imperial Palace Workshops. The Imperial collections in Taipei and Beijing hold a number of extant agate vessels, bearing the Yongzheng mark and of the period, which similarly to the present lot and according to the Yongzheng emperor's instructions, were kept plain. These include from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, bowls of various forms, a water dropper, and a cup on a similarly shaped oval stand; see Feng Mingzhu, Harmony and Integrity: The Yongzheng Emperor and His Times, Taipei, 2009, pp.235-245; and from the Palace Museum, Beijing, an agate cup and dish; see Yang Boda, Zhongguo yuqi quanji, Hebei, 2005, pp.553 and 550, nos.10 and 62.
When comparing the number of agate vessels and jade carvings bearing the Yongzheng and Qianlong reign marks, it is evident that the Yongzheng emperor greatly admired the natural virtues of the agate stone. The Qianlong period saw greater output of jade carvings, although there was continuity of agate carvings in the Imperial Workshops as demonstrated in an agate bowl-stand, Qianlong mark and period, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, which according to the Wells bequest records came 'from the Summer Palace at Pekin', referring to the Yuanmingyuan; see M.Wilson, Chinese Jades, London, 2004, pp.96-97, pl.95 (museum no.1551A-1882).
The oval rounded shape of the present lot is particularly rare and possibly derives from the form of the archaic wine vessel known as a yushang, which first appeared during the Warring States period (475–221 BC). See also an agate vessel of similar form excavated from a tomb dated to the Tang dynasty in the Eastern suburb of Xi'an, now in the Shaanxi History Museum, illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua dacidian: jinyinyushi juan, Hong Kong, 1996, p.62, no.190.
The sale also features:
Lot 6. An rare iron-red and gilt-decorated ‘dragon’ candlestick, Yongzheng seal mark and of the period (1723-1735)); 42cm (16 1/2in) high. Estimate HK$ 900,000 - 1.2 million (€100,000 - 140,000). Sold for HK$ 3,040,000 (€371,860). Photo: Bonhams.
Intricately and elegantly structured standing on a chalice-formed base with three cabriole legs, surmounted by a tall and slender stem in the form of a baluster issuing from an inverted bell-shaped section borne on a collar of elaborate leaves curving outward, supporting a wide and waisted dish-shaped drip pan, each facet of the base vividly enamelled in rich iron-red tones with a front-facing five-clawed dragon soaring ferociously amidst flames and ruyi-shaped clouds above turbulent waves, the mid-section similarly decorated with three striding dragons, each section divided by narrow bands of finely-gilt flowers on a café-au-lait ground and slim gilt borders, wood stand. 42cm (16 1/2in) high (2).
Provenance: Lieutenant-Colonel T.S.Cox and thence by descent
Note: Lieutenant-Colonel T.S.Cox time in China 1900 – 1902
Lieutenant-Colonel T.S.Cox graduated from Sandhurst Military Academy in 1892 and was commissioned in 1894 in the 16th Indian Cavalry, The Bengal Lancers. His noteworthy military service included in 1897, Tochi Field Force, N.W. Frontier; and in 1900, the China Expeditionary Force during the Boxer Rebellion, when he was awarded the US Military Order of the Dragon. In 1901 he was seconded as the Advisor to the Chinese Government and awarded an Imperial decoration by Shanqi, Prince Su (1866-1922). In 1903 he was elected to the Royal Geographical Society. In 1903 he served as Captain in the Indian Army; between 1904–1907, he was posted in the D.M.O. War Office, London, the Balkans, Asia Minor, Somaliland, Abyssinia, Russian central Asia, and Ottoman Middle East; in 1911 he was awarded the King George V Delhi Coronation Durbar medal. Between 1912-1913 he was posted in the Middle East and Central Asia. In 1915, he took part in the Gallipoli Campaign and in 1916 transferred to command the 37th Dogras. In 1917 he served in the Mesopotamian campaign and was wounded whilst serving in the Aden Field Force. In 1920 he served with the Waziristan Field Force, NW Frontier; in 1921 he transferred to command the 3rd Madras Regiment and in 1925 retired from the Indian Army as Lieutenant-Colonel.
July 1900: Cox was ordered to North China to join China Expeditionary Force to relieve the siege of the Beijing International Legation Area by Chinese 'Boxers'. Collected a troop of 16th Bengal Lancers in Hong Kong on August 15 1900 and disembarked at Sinho for Tianjin on September 11. Advanced on Beijing September/October 1900. Subsequently placed in charge of a 'Flying Column' sent to capture Boxer leaders at Baoding, a hundred miles south-west of Beijing. Campaign medal, and learned to speak Chinese. Passed 6-day Chinese language examination.
January - June 1901 worked for the British Military Commander, General Sir Alfred Gaselee, and awarded Military Order of the Dragon in April. July 1901 promoted Staff Captain and seconded to raise and train a Battalion of Chinese Railway Police, whose task was to guard the Beijing, Tongshan, and Tianjin districts for the British High Command, stationed at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.
January 1 – December 25 1902 Cox was the Officer Commanding Railway Police, Chinese Imperial Railways, most of this time under contract to the Chinese Imperial Government. In addition to this role, from June 1 to December 1902 he was 'Confidential Adviser' to His Imperial Highness Prince Su, Governor of Beijing (the Emperors uncle), and from August 15 to December 1902 also 'Confidential Adviser' to His Imperial Highness Prince Qing, Head of Chinese Octroi (Customs) Department. Cox received a Letter of Appreciation and was awarded a Chinese Imperial Decoration for his services. He left Beijing for India on December 25 1902.
Lot 18. An exceptionally rare Imperial underglaze-blue and iron-red enamelled vase, Qianlong seal mark and of the period (1736-1795); 13.1cm (5 1/8in) high. Estimate HK$ 4.5 million - 6 million (€510,000 - 680,000). Sold for HK$ 5,620,000 (€ 671,501). Photo: Bonhams.
The slightly compressed globular body on a splayed foot rising to a flaring trumpet neck, the main body vividly enamelled with two pairs of confronted winged dragons in iron-red amidst billowing clouds, the neck featuring smaller matching pairs of winged dragons, all beautifully set within lappets, trefoils, pomegranate motifs and ruyi-heads in underglaze-blue with iron-red decorated bats on the foot and repeated on the stepped shoulders, the base with a six-characterzhuanshu seal mark in underglaze-blue.
Provenance: T.Y.Chao, Hong Kong
Sotheby's Hong Kong, The T.Y.Chao Private and Family Trust Collections of Important Chinese Ceramics and Jade Carvings: Part II, 19 May 1987, lot 320
Eskenazi Ltd., London, Qing Porcelain from a Private Collection, London, 2012, no.18
Exhibited: Hong Kong, 1973-74, The Art Museum, Institute of Chinese Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Published: J.C.Y.Watt, Ch'ing Porcelain from the Wah Kwong Collection, Hong Kong, 1973, no.69
Note: The present vase is exceptionally rare - one of only three recorded - with the other two examples, a pair from the collection of Milo, 7th Baron Talbot of Malahide, Malahide Castle, Co. Dublin, Ireland, having been sold at Christie's Hong Kong on 1 June 2011, lot 3652.
Whilst the underglaze-blue lingzhi-fungus shaped cloud scrolls and the iron-red enamelled bats, bestowing the wish for long life, are a mainstay of Qing dynasty auspicious decorative motifs, the archaistic iron-red enamelled mythical creatures are a rare feature. It has been proposed that they may be identified as kuifeng (kui phoenixes), based on the wings and bi-furcated tails. This is further supported by an underglaze-blue and iron-red enamel dish, Yongzheng mark and period, decorated with a pair of kui phoenix, from the Qing Court Collection, and an iron-red, blue and green-enamelled waterpot, Yongzheng, decorated with kui phoenixes, both displaying similar features such as the upturned culing snout and rings on the body, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Miscellaneous Enamelled Porcelains, Plain Tricoloured Porcelains, Shanghai, 2009, pls.22 and 151.
However, the feature of upwards curling snout evident on these mythical creatures is more readily identified in archaic bronzes as kui dragons; see for example the stylised dragons on an early Western Zhou dynasty bronze youvessel and cover, illustrated in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, exhibition catalogue The Cultural Grandeur of the Western Zhou Dynasty, Taipei, 2012, pl.100. This feature is rather different than the archaic depiction of phoenixes, which is shown with a distinct sharp beak and tail feathers, as demonstrated on a middle Western Zhou dynasty zunwine vessel, illustrated in ibid., pl.101. Furthermore, it would seem that the winged kui dragons on the present vase, also referred to as ying long or feiyu ('flying fish dragon'), are a continuation of winged dragons, depicted on early Ming Imperial porcelain dated to the Xuande and Chenghua periods, amongst other 'sea creatures' or haishou; see for example a blue and white 'sea creatures' stem cup, Xuande mark and period, excavated in 1993 from the Imperial kiln site in Jingdezhen, and another in underglaze-blue and iron-red enamel, from the Qing Court Collection, illustrated in Imperial Porcelains from the Reign Xuande in the Ming Dynasty, Beijing, 2015, pls.29 and 94; and a blue and white bowl, Chenghua mark and period, illustrated in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Ch'eng-hua Porcelain Ware, Taipei, 2003, pl.17.
The archaistic inspiration as depicted on this vase is a manifestation of the Qianlong emperor's wish to 'restore ancient ways', calling on craftsman to draw inspiration from archaic examples, enabling them to imbue their designs with simplicity and honesty, achieving refinement and elegance. The 'ancient ways' referred to the intrinsic values of sincerity, simplicity, and happy exuberance. As shown above, the decoration and palette are also in direct continuation from the preceding Yongzheng period, although displaying innovation in the unusual elongated form.
The vase is related in form and similar in palette to an underglaze-blue and iron-red enamel vase, Qianlong seal mark and period, from the Qing Court Collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of The Palace Museum: Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), Shanghai, 2010, pl.225.
Lot 21. A rare Imperial Ge-type vase, zun, Qianlong seal mark and of the period (1736-1795); 22.8cm (9in) high . Estimate HK$ 3.5 million - 5 million (€400,000 - 570,000). Sold for HK$ 4,240,000 (€ 506,613). Photo: Bonhams.
Well potted in baluster form with steep sides and high shoulder rising to a broad waisted neck surmounted by a thick lipped rim, the neck set with a pair of archaisticchi dragons forming 'C'-shaped handles, covered overall with a rich and thick greyish glaze suffused with a network of dark grey craquelure and finer golden crackles, the base with a six-character zhuanshu seal mark in underglaze-blue.
Provenance: Sotheby's London, 10 June 1986, lot 291
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 20 May 1987, lot 519
S.Marchant and Son Ltd., London
A European private collection
Note: The present vase may be the pair to a Ge-type vase, Qianlong seal mark and period, of identical height at 22.8cm high, from the Meiyintang collection, illustrated by R.Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol.II, London, 1994, pp.218-219, no.887.
The vase was inspired in form and in its glaze by antiquity, in accordance with the Qianlong emperor's wish to 'restore ancient ways', calling on craftsman to draw inspiration from archaic examples, enabling them to imbue their designs with simplicity and honesty, achieving refinement and elegance. The 'ancient ways' referred to the intrinsic values of sincerity, simplicity, and happy exuberance. The form is a contemporary innovation of the Han dynasty bronze hu shape, whilst the glaze is a direct reference to the celebrated Southern Song dynasty Ge glaze.
The first reference to Ge yao in surviving literature appears to be in the 1428 publication Manual of Xuande Ritual Vessels (Xuande ding yi pu). Such wares appear to have been produced continuously from the Southern Song dynasty to the 15th century, with the prized glaze reproduced once more from the early 18th century.
It is recorded that on the 13th year of the Yongzheng reign, corresponding to 1735, Tang Ying, on the eve of leaving Jingdezhen to take on his newly appointed role as the Superintendent of the Huai'an Custom Office, composed the famous document Taocheng jishi bei ji or 'Commemorative Stele on Ceramic Production', on the management and productions of the Imperial Factory in Jingdezhen. The document lists nearly forty types of monochrome glazes, including the Ge glaze. This glaze was described as '...with iron body, including millet colour and pale green, copied from ancient pieces sent from the Imperial Palace'; see Peter Y.K.Lam, Shimmering Colours. Monochromes of the Yuan to Qing Periods. The Zhuyuetang Collection, Hong Kong, 2005, pp.42-44.
The Qianlong emperor recorded his admiration of the famed Ge glaze by composing a number of poems, including one inscribed on two Ge-type glazed arrow vases, Yuan dynasty, from the Percival David Collection in the British Museum (collection nos.PDF.23 and PDF.94), as follows:
'Despite the pattern of hundreds of intermingling crackle lines, its texture is fine and smooth to the touch.
This is the work of the talented Elder brother.
One discovers that the value of these undecorated wares is the same as that of unpolished gems.
How could one compare this and the more elaborate products of Xuan(de) and Cheng(hua)?
Each has its own individual charm.
Composed by the Qianlong emperor in the cyclical year yisi '
The present vase embodies the Qianlong emperor's esteem of this particular glaze, as reinterpreted by Tang Ying and his master-potters.
The outline form of the vase is illustrated by Geng Baocang, Ming Qing Ciqi Jianding, Hong Kong, 1993, p.268, pl.457, no.17. A similar Ge-type vase, Qianlong seal mark and of the period, was sold at Christie's London, 4 December 1973, lot 357. See also a related flambé-glazed hu vase, Qianlong incised seal mark and of the period, of similar form but larger size, which was sold at Christie's London on 9 November 2010, lot 218.
Lot 16. Collection of H.R.H the Duke of Gloucester K.G. A very rare Imperial red jasper archaistic vase, Mid-Qing Dynasty. Estimate HK$ 500,000 - 800,000 (€57,000 - 91,000). Unsold. Photo: Bonhams.
The lustrous stone of a bright red tone vividly veined and mottled with shades of aubergine, the baluster form rising from a short straight foot to a waisted neck, set with a pair of openwork dragon-head handles in high relief, the centre of the body crisply carved in shallow relief with a taotie mask on both sides, all above a band of cicada blades, wood stand. 16.6cm (6 1/2in) high (2).
Provenance: Prince Henry, HRH the Duke of Gloucester KG (1900-1974)
Christie's London, Fine Chinese Porcelain, Carvings in Hardstones and Objects of Art, The Property of His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester, KG, 20 May 1954, lot 41
Acquired from Spink & Son Ltd., London, on 26 July 1956
A distinguished European private collection and thence by descent
Notes: Prince Henry, HRH Duke of Gloucester, KG, KT, KP, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, was the third son of King George V and Queen Mary. He served as a soldier for most of his life, achieving the rank of Field Marshall in 1955 and Marshall of the Royal Air Force in 1958. He was also the 11th Governor-General of Australia from 1944 to 1947.
The present lot is an exceptionally rare artefact of the Qianlong period, combining the Imperial taste for archaism with the opulence of the red jasper stone, further emphasised by the generous use of the material.
Red jasper is a fine grained opaque form of chalcedony of a rich red colour that occasionally contains dark grey or black stripes of quartz. The material of the present lot is certainly among the best of its kind with its lustrous red tone and attractive aubergine veins. For a full discussion of this material used in the Qing Imperial palace, see Chen Xiasheng, Su gu hua jin tan gugong zhubao, Taipei, 2013, pp.111-112.
The idea of archaism, displayed on the present lot in the crisp carving of the taotie masks and dragon-head handles, was particularly favoured by the Qing court during the 18th century, and much promoted by the Qianlong emperor. The emperor proposed to 'restore ancient ways', referring to the view of ancient culture as having intrinsic qualities of sincerity, simplicity and happy exuberance. See Chang Li-tuan, The Refined Taste of the Emperor: Special Exhibition of Archaic and Pictorial Jades of the Ch'ing Court, Taipei, 1997, pp.49-50. The present jasper vase shares the related form and similar carving style with some of the archaistic jade vessels of the Qianlong period, which originally drew their inspiration from ancient bronze vessels; see a white jade vase decorated with taotie masks and cicada blades, Qianlong, illustrated in Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum: Jade 10, Qing Dynasty, Beijing, 2011, pl.9, and another malachite vase also with archaistic taotie masks from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated inibid, p.169. Compare also a red jasper flower holder in the shape of a peach tree, dated to the 18th/19th century, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (accession no. 24.80.143).
Further vestiges of the Imperial Qing Court can be seen in a rare Imperial gilt-bronze archaistic ritual bell, bianzhong, Kangxi cast mark, dated to the 54th year corresponding to 1715 and of the period, estimated at HK$ 2,200,000 – 2,800,000. Part of a graduated set of sixteen ritual bells, this bell is heavily and thickly cast to produce the musical tone of nanlu, corresponding to the musical scale of major sixth or note ‘A’.
Lot 24. A rare Imperial gilt-bronze archaistic ritual bell, bianzhong, Kangxi cast mark, dated to the 54th year corresponding to 1715 and of the period;31cm (12 1/4in) high. Estimate HK$ 2.2 million - 2.8 million (€250,000 - 320,000). Sold for HK$ 2,440,000 (€ 291,541). Photo: Bonhams.
Heavily cast in barrel form, surmounted by a robust double-headed dragon handle, each dragon powerfully modelled with bulging eyes, flaring nostrils and opened jaws revealing tongue and fangs, the details of their manes and scales beautifully rendered in realism, the bulging sides cast with four vertical panels at the cardinal directions, the front panel enclosing Kangxi wushisi nianzhi seven-character reign mark betweentaiji and yin emblems, the reverse with a two-character inscription nanlü, further flanked on each side panel with raised archaistic dragons set between ruyi and keyfret motifs, all perpendicular to five alternating horizontal bands of raised bosses and pairs of trigrams, all above eight circular disks, box.
Provenance: Sotheby's New York, 19 March 1997, lot 25
A distinguished Asian private collection, and thence by descent
Note: The Qing Court followed Confucian ideals as set out in ancient Chinese classics such as the Book of Rites, Zhou Li, which advocated that rituals should commence with music. Court protocol required that certain musical instruments, including a set of sixteen gilt-bronze bells, bianzhong, be used during state rituals (particularly in the Temple of Heaven and Temple of Agriculture), Court assemblies, formal banquets and processions of the Imperial Guard. The gilt-bronze ritual bells, bianzhong, were therefore an essential part of the Qing Court ceremonies. For an example of the use of the bells, see a painting by the Court painter Giuseppe Casiglione, circa 1755, titled 'Imperial Banquet in Wanshu [Ten Thousand Trees] Garden', illustrated by C.Ho and B.Bronson, Splendors of China's Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong, Chicago, 2004, pp.92-93, no.101.
The present lot would have been part of a graduated set of sixteen ritual bells, suspended on sturdy wooden frames in two tiers of eight, each cast in varied thickness to provide a range of twelve musical tones, shierlu (十二律), with four additional repeated notes in lower octaves. These varying tones are cast on the reverse panels of each bell in the following sequence: huangzhong (黃鐘), dalü (大呂), taicu (太簇), jiazhong (夾鐘), guxi (姑洗), zhonglü (仲呂),ruibin (蕤賓), linzhong (林鐘), yize (夷則), nanlü (南呂) (as on the present lot), wuyi (無射), and yingzhong (應鐘). Thenanlü tone corresponds to the musical scale of major sixth or the note 'A'.
The heavily-cast bell, comprising the Eight Trigams around the exterior, is inspired in form by archaic bells of the Western Zhou dynasty (1100-771 BC ), evoking antiquity and continuity. For an example of archaic prototypes excavated from the tomb of the Marquis Zeng, in the Hubei Provincial Museum, see L.von Falkenhausen, Suspended Music: Chime Bells in the Culture of Bronze Age China, California, 1993, p.6, fig.1.
The double-headed dragon handle surmounting the bell is known as pulao (蒲牢), which according to Chinese legend is one of the nine sons of the dragon. Pulao first appeared in Chinese literature during the Tang dynasty. The Tang dynasty scholar Li Shan (630-689) wrote 'there is a whale in the sea and a creature called pulao at the shores. Pulaois always afraid of the whale, so whenever the whale attacks, pulao will roar loudly.' The form of the bell therefore incorporates the legend as an additional mythical layer, whereby the impact of the striker – the whale – with the bell -pulao - would result in the dragon producing it loud ringing roar.
Four sets of bells of this heavily-cast form appear to have been produced during the Kangxi period for the Temple of Agriculture in Beijing: two sets cast in the 52nd year (1713) and two sets in the 54th year (1715). Compare a pair of similar bianzhong, dated to 1715 bearing the tones of ruibin (蕤賓) and yingzhong (應鐘) which was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 1 December 2009, lot 1942 ; see also a similar bianzhong, dated to 1715, cast with a guxi (姑洗) tone, which was sold at Sotheby's New York on 20 March 2012, lot 2012; another also dated to the same year but with the tone of wuyi (無射), was sold at Christie's Hong Kong on 28 November 2012, lot 2253.
Also impressively cast is an imperial gilt-lacquered bronze figure of Amitayus from the Kangxi period, estimated at HK$ 4,000,000 – 6,000,000. The figure is engraved on the underside with the character shi denoting the number ‘ten’, and is believed to be a limited series of imperial gilt-lacquered bronze Amitayus specially commissioned by the Kangxi emperor.
Lot 9. A rare Imperial gilt-lacquered bronze figure of Amitayus, Kangxi period (1662-1722); 41.8cm (16 1/2in) high. Estimate HK$ 4 million - 6 million (€460,000 - 680,000). Sold for HK$ 7,240,000 (€ 858,980) . Photo: Bonhams.
Heavily cast seated with legs crossed in dhyanasana and hands held in dhyana mudra atop an exquisite double-lotus base decorated with beaded rim and details in relief, wearing a dhoti overflowing onto the pedestal and incised at the hem with floral decoration, with billowing scarf across both shoulders leaving the chest bare, wearing beaded necklaces, armlets, bracelets and earrings inset with semi-precious hardstones, the serene facial expression with downcast eyes framed by pendulous ears and elaborate headdress holding the hair in high chignon, overall richly gilt and the body lacquered red, engraved to the underside hem with the character shi, denoting the number ten.
The inscription states that the gilt-bronze figure was commissioned and presented in dedication to the Kangxi emperor's grandmother, empress dowager Xiaozhuangwen (1613-1688). The year 1686 was neither the empress dowager's seventieth jubilee, nor the Kangxi emperor's thirtieth jubilee; however, the Amitayus's strong association with longevity, known as the Buddha of Infinite Life, could conceivably present the explanation for this highly costly production of the prized sacred figures. The Buddha Amitayus, associated with the rites that ensure long life, is especially worshipped by Tibetans, who believe that life can be extended through long lineages, faith and compassion. It is also believed that one can achieve self-enlightenment and cater to the welfare of others with the help of Amitayus.
The dowager empress was largely responsible for the Kangxi emperor's upbringing and education under the rule of the Four Regents, following the death of the emperor's mother, empress Xiaokangzhang (1640-1663). The Kangxi emperor's devotion to the dowager empress is clearly demonstrated in him personally looking after her, when she fell ill in the autumn of 1687. It is therefore possible that this group of exceptional figures of Amitayus was made for prayer and hope for the prolonging of the dowager empress's life, or in her honour after her passing.
The remarkable size and weight of the Amitayus, intricately cast and richly gilt, finely inlaid with semi-precious stones elevating the figure to a higher art form, enriched with gold-lacquer, softly worn in places touched and worshipped for centuries, all combine to create a magnificent portrayal of the Buddha Amitayus, worthy of Imperial worship. Such a magnificent production would have been costly and therefore only a limited number of such figures would have been made in comparison to the thousands of much smaller gilt-bronze figures of Amitayus ordered by the Qianlong emperor in honour of his mother, empress Xiaoshengxian's (1693-1777) sixtieth, seventieth and eightieth birthdays.
There are very few recorded examples of Kangxi gilt-bronze figures of Amitayus engraved with a numerical inscription at the underside of the foot; compare a gilt-lacquered bronze figure of Amitayus, Kangxi, bearing the engraved number 'seventy six', which was sold at Christie's London, 14 May 2013, lot 154.
Compare a similar Imperial gilt-bronze figure of Amitayus, Kangxi, which was sold at Sotheby's London on 5 November 2014, lot 18, and another from the same rooms sold on 10 November 2010, lot 233. See also another similar example which was sold at Christie's London on 13 May 2008, lot 147.