L0t 844. A rare and large mottled dark green jade alms bowl, Qianlong period (1736-1795); 9 ½ in. (24.1 cm.) diam. Estimate USD 200,000 - USD 300,000. Price realised USD 237,500© Christie's Image Ltd 2019.

The deep vessel with thick sides and rounded base is well-carved in high relief on the exterior with seven Buddhas seated in dhyanasana. The stone is of mottled dark green, black and pale-green color.The deep vessel with thick sides and rounded base is well-carved in high relief on the exterior with seven Buddhas seated in dhyanasana. The stone is of mottled dark green, black and pale-green color.

ProvenanceEskenazi Ltd., London, 1992.

NoteThe exterior of the bowl is masterfully carved in high relief with seven figures of Buddha, all seated in dyanasana with two hands folded above the lap. These seven Buddhas are the historical Buddhas of this world, namely Vipasya, Siki, Visvabhu, Krokutachan, Nakanakamuni, Kasyapa and Sakyamuni.

The 'Seven Historical Buddhas' is considered one of the Qianlong Emperor's favorite subjects. In 1770, the Emperor composed an essay on the Seven Buddhas to be inscribed on a tablet for the newly finished Seven Buddha Pagoda Pavilion outside the Forbidden City, see 'The Eulogy on The Seven-Buddha-Tower Pavilion', Qifuota bei ji, recorded in Second Compilation of Imperial Writings, juan 30. In the essay he mentioned that a Tibetan scroll sent as tribute by the Panchen Lama aroused his curiosity about these seven Buddhas, and he researched various sutras and consulted authorities, including his religious mentor, Changkya Rolpai Dorje, about these Buddhas. Finally he was able to trace their lineage, which was detailed in the essay. And it was to commemorate this that the pavilion was built, indicating the high regard he had for the subject.

In the Tang dynasty, the poet Pi Rixiu (c. AD 834-883) composed a poem on a green stone alms bowl in the Kaiyuan temple, supposedly once used by the Buddha himself, and somehow found its way to China. Having read the poem, the Qianlong Emperor made a special request to see this bowl when he visited the temple on his first Southern Tour. He was apparently very taken by the simple and archaic form of the bowl, and ordered the bowl to be copied in various materials.

In 1786, he composed a poem titled On a Seven-Buddha Bowl of Khotan Jade, with a very informative footnote:

"Although the alms bowl in the Kaiyuan Temple is not made of green stone, it is of archaic and elegant form. Upon returning I ordered a fine craftsman to make one using aloeswood, and inscribed on it with the names of the Buddhas and psalms furthermore, because aloeswood is not as durable as jade, I ordered to have this jade alms bowl made so one can pay tribute to it forever. (Fifth Compilation of Imperial Poems, juan 27)"

For a very similar white jade alms bowl in the Beijing Palace Museum, see The Complete Collection of the Treasures of the Palace Museum - Jadeware (III), Hong Kong, 1995, p. 146, no. 118. A celadon jade alms bowl with the name and psalm of each Buddha inscribed on the exterior in the Summer Palace (Yiheyuan) Collection, is illustrated in The Summer Palace Collection, Beijing, 2000, p. 53. A spinach-green jade example that bears inscriptions of psalms, in the Norton Gallery of Art, is illustrated by S. C. Nott in An Illustrated Record of the Stanley Charles Nott Collection of Chinese Jades, Florida, 1942, p. 348, no. 67. In addition, see a hongmu example with an incurved rim in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Palace Museum Collection of Elite Carvings, Beijing, 1999, no. 82. See, also, a bamboo alms bowl of the same form, also in the Beijing Palace Museum, illustrated in The Life of Emperor - Qian Long, Museu de Arte de Macau, 2002, no. 104. An aloeswood example with Qianlong's inscription was sold at Christie's London, 15 May 2007, lot 186.

Christie's. Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, New York, 13 September 2019