A fine large yellow and green 'Eight Buddhist Emblems' dish, seal mark and period of Qianlong (1736-1795)

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Lot 3043. A fine large yellow and green 'Eight Buddhist Emblems' dish, seal mark and period of Qianlong (1736-1795); 41.4 cm., 16 1/4  in.  Estimate 3,500,000 — 4,500,000 HKD. Lot sold 4,840,000 HKD. Courtesy Sotheby's 2013.

well potted, the shallow rounded sides rising from a tapered foot to a broad everted rim, deftly incised and enamelled in green and aubergine reserved on a bright ochre-yellow ground, the recessed interior with a central shou medallion within a ruyi-border, wreathed by five alternating bats and lotus blossoms among foliate scrolls with attendant buds and enclosed within billows of clouds, further encircled around the cavetto by detached beribboned lotus sprays supporting the 'Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism' (Bajixiang), all below eight shou medallion flanked by stylised chilong confronted in pairs within a beaded rim, the underside with three alternating fruiting branches of peach and pairs of bats, the glazed base left white and inscribed in underglaze blue with a six-character seal mark.

ProvenanceSotheby's New York, 6th December 1989, lot 217.
Collection of the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo (by repute).
Christie's Hong Kong, 29th April 2001, lot 543.

Note: The present magnificent dish painted with powerfully contrasting palette of yellow, green and aubergine enamels is a rare example of a type most likely inspired by Kangxi dishes of this very large size and of similar colour scheme but decorated with dragons such as the piece included in the Illustrated Catalogue of Ch’ing Dynasty Porcelain in the National Palace Museum, vol. 1, Tokyo, 1980, pl. 34.

The three colours belong to the famille-verte palette of enamels and together with white formed the basic colours of Kangxi biscuit wares. Suzanne G. Valenstein in A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, New York, 1989, p. 236, notes that the above mentioned glazes were also ‘washed over engraved designs of flowers or dragons on grounds of contrasting colours. Again, they can be daubed in variegated patterns, including the motley of colours given fanciful names such as “tiger-skin”, “leopard-skin” and “egg-and-spinach”. After the Kangxi period, the famille-verte palette of enamels lost much of its populatiry, however, it did continue in minor use during subsequent reigns.’ This Qianlong dish, therefore, belongs to a very special small group of wares that reveal the emperor’s fondness for copying and reproducing past designs and glazes. 

Another similar Qianlong mark and period dish is illustrated in John Ayers, The Baur Collection, vol. 4, Geneva, 1974, pl. A545; a third example was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 25th October 1993, lot 824, and again, in these rooms, 23rd October 2005, lot 209; and a fourth dish of this type was sold in our New York rooms, 28th September 1979, lot 313. 

Dishes of this design were made for special occasions such as the emperor’s birthday celebration. The shou (long life) character, in the centre of the piece, was a frequently used motif expressing the desire for longevity. Bats were also used as symbols for ‘good fortune’ and five bats were especially auspicious, representing the five blessings of long life, riches, good health, love of virtue and natural death. Dishes of this type were also a symbol of respect for the elderly and the Qianlong Emperor’s lavish festivities organized in honour of his mother are well documented. The Kangxi Emperor began the tradition of the ‘Greybeard’s Banquet’ which was held within the imperial palace grounds where old men from across the nation were invited to attend. His grand-son, the Qianlong Emperor, continued this tradition and palace records show that in 1785 three thousand old men attended the celebrations held in the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing Gong). It is believed that dishes such as the present piece would have been presented as gifts to guests attending such imperial banquets.

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong, 08 april 2013