Lot 42. An exceptional very pale green jade vase and cover, Qianlong period (1736-1795); 26.8cm (10 1/2in) highEstimate HK$ 1,200,000-1,500,000. Sold for HK$ 1,120,000 (€ 133,801). Photo: Bonhams.

Of rectangular section rising from a splayed foot to high shoulders and a waisted neck, flanked by a pair of mythical beast handles, the body finely carved in raised relief featuring archaic and geometric designs of ruyi-heads forming taotie masks, leaf lappets, cloud scrolls and key-fret scroll borders, the stone of a very pale green tone with minor russet veins.

Property from the Franco Marinotti Collection.

ProvenanceFranco Marinotti (1891-1966) and thence by descent.

NoteFranco Marinotti
Coming from a small city in Italy, the extraordinary journey of Franco Marinotti (1891-1966) began in a textile company near Milan (the Filatura Cascami Seta) at the beginning of the 20th century, where he made his way up to the prominent position of managing the Warsaw and Moscow branches. This enriching experience and strong commercial relationships developed in Russia allowed him to launch his own company in 1921, the CICE - Compagnia Industriale Commercio Estero. It also enabled him to have continuous business links with Russia and South East Asia even following the October Revolution in 1917. The enterprise, which was intended to facilitate and regulate the economic relationships between Italian companies and Russia, resulted in Marinotti becoming a highly influential commercial and political figure.

In 1930, Senatore Borletti, one of the most important Milanese entrepreneurs and financiers, asked Marinotti to become managing director of the SNIA Viscosa. He subsequently became CEO in 1934 and President and shareholder of SNIA until his death in 1966. In these politically and economically troubled times, Franco Marinotti proved to be an exceptional leader bringing the company to an unprecedented international level, revealing himself as a man of great intuition and many talents, with a clear disposition for innovation. His merits were also recognised by King Umberto II, the last King of Italy, who rewarded him with the noble title of Count of Torviscosa, a town founded by Marinotti.

As a philanthropist, he was very much involved in collecting and preserving art, including Antiquities, Old Master Paintings, Oriental and Modern and Contemporary Art. His collection demonstrates his wide range of interests and passion for collecting. In 1949, he bought the Palazzo Grassi through SNIA Viscosa, and founded the 'Centro Internazionale delle Arti e del Costume'. Exceptionally, through both wars, Marinotti continued to support artists, such as the members of the Futurists Movement, as well as ceramics artists and even funded archaeological sites, demonstrating his extraordinary strong, complex character and unique vision through his career and pursuit of arts and culture. It is possible that this magnificent jade vase was acquired during his travels to China in the early 20th century.

The present vase in its low relief design incorporating taotie masks and the mythical beast handles, is inspired by archaic bronzes of the Shang dynasty. This is consistent with the Qianlong emperor's fascination with archaic and ancient objects. Chang Li-tuan notes in The Refined Taste of the Emperor: Special Exhibition of Archaic and Pictorial Jades of the Ch'ing Court, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1997, p.49 that the Qianlong emperor proposed to 'restore ancient ways', suggesting that jade carvers turn to antiquity for models, which would enable them to imbue their designs with simplicity and honesty, and so achieve refinement and elegance. The 'ancient ways' referred to the intrinsic values of sincerity, simplicity, and happy exuberance.

The present vase is particularly noteworthy for its fine quality of jade stone and impressive size. The process of its carving on the exterior and the hollowing of the deep interior would have entailed a significant amount of wastage of the prized stone, making this vase an exceptionally prized object. As such, it would have probably adorned the interior of one of the imperial palaces or the home of a high-ranking official.

For a related white jade vase and cover, Qianlong, with taotie design and a similarly shaped finial, from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, see M.Wilson, Chinese Jades, London, 2004, pl.109; see also a related white jade vase and cover, Qianlong, with a similar finial, illustrated in Age of Glories: An Exhibition of Important Chinese Arts from Collections on Both Sides of the Taiwan Strait, Beijing, 2009, pl.38; for a further white jade vase and cover, Qianlong, with the surface kept plain and with elephant ring handles, see T.Fok, The Splendour of Jade: The Songzhutang Collection of Jade, Hong Kong, 2011, pl.135.