Lot 626. The 'Si De Shi Quan Zhi Bao' Seal. An extremely important imperial jade seal, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, circa 1790s; 5 1/8 in., 13 cm. Estimate 800,000 — 1,000,000 USD. Lot sold 1,608,000 USD. Photo: Sotheby's.
the base of square section surmounted by a pair of addorsed dragons, each powerfully carved with eyes bulging and nostrils flaring above long curling whiskers, the mouth clenched open to reveal its tongue flicked up between sharp fangs, with two long studded horns extending back over its head along a combed mane with finely incised details, the two scaly bodies intertwined and crouching with the hind feet of one resting on the haunches of the other, pierced through the center with an aperture threaded with its possibly original green silk cord terminating in knotted tassels, the seal face deeply and crisply carved with the characters si de shi quan zhi bao ('Treasure of the Four Virtues and Ten Victories') in zhuanshu or seal script, the stone of deep celadon tone cleverly carved to make use of the calcified white and russet inclusions on the face of one of the dragons.
Property from the distinguished Collection of Mrs. James W. Alsdorf.
Note: The importance of jubilee seals to the corpus of works associated with the personage and regnal authority of the Qianlong Emperor cannot be overstated. This seal appears most likely to have been commissioned around the occasion of the Emperor's eightieth birthday, in 1790, which was his third jubilee, according to the typical celebrations associated with one's attainment of the full calendrical cycle of sixty years, and then every subsequent ten years following.
As discussed by Gerald Holzwarth, 'The Qianlong Emperor as Art Patron and the Formation of the Collections of the Palace Museum, Beijing,' China. The Three Emperors.1662-1795, Royal Academy, London, 2005, pp.50-1, the Qianlong Emperor adopted standard sets of three, six or eight seals to inventory works in the Imperial collection. "It is no coincidence," Holzwarth writes, "that he modelled his large seals on those of the Imperial collectors of the Jin (1115-1234) and Yuan (1260-1368) dynasties, who were regarded as ancestors by the Manchus." See cat.no. 214, and p. 51, fig. 24 for impressions of the two main jubilee seals recording his seventieth and eightieth birthdays: Guxi Tianzi zhi bao 'Seal of the Son of Heaven, Rare since Antiquity,' and Bazheng Maonian zhi bao 'Seal of the Eighty-Year-Old who concerns Himself with the Eight Tasks of Government.' Of these jubilee seals, "they constituted a form of visual glorification of the Emperor, and bestowed on him grandiloquent honorary titles, a practice which he had previously rejected."
Most relevant to the present Alsdorf seal, in 1792, the Qianlong Emperor commissioned the seal Shiquan Laoren zhi bao, 'Seal of the Old Man of the Tenfold Perfection,' to mark a major military victory over the Gurkhas in Nepal; thereby completing a cycle of ten major military campaigns, which are the 'Ten Perfections' (or Victories) referred to in the latter years of his rule. Upon Qianlong's voluntary abdication undertaken on the Lunar New Year's day of 1796 (February 9th), and in accordance with his expressed wish to rule no longer than his esteemed grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor, who ruled for 61 years, he adopted the new title 'Taishang Huangdi', and commissioned the final commemorative large-format seal, Taishang Huangdi zhi bao, 'Seal of the All-HIghest Emperor' (or Emperor Emeritus). Although the largest of this latter seal remains in the former Imperial collections, now preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing, the second-largest of the Taishang Huangdi seals (from a series of twenty) was sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 26th October 2003, lot 26, together with three princely seals and one Imperial tianhuang seal, for a world record sum of HK$29.1million (US$3.7 million). Compare also a related seal of the Ji'en Tang, 'Hall of Grace Remembrance,' with long inscriptions at the sides dated to 1766, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 31st October 2004, lot 3.
Several related Imperial seals of the Qianlong Emperor were included in the exhibition Vivencias do Imperador Qianlong, (The Life of the Emperor Qianlong), The Macao Museum of Art, Macao, 2002, cat.nos. 1-8, in particular no. 7 with similar addorsed double-dragons, and a further pair of jubilee seals in spinach jade, now in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, were included in the Museum's exhibition, Emperor Ch'ien-lung's Grand Cultural Enterprise, Taipei, 2002, cat.nos I-20 and I-21.
Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, including Property from the Collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, 19-20 march 2007.