PHILADELPHIA, PA.- Freeman’s will present a rare Imperial “Emperor Emeritus” celadon-white jade seal of great cultural and historical importance at its October 14 Asian Arts auction. An outstanding example of Chinese jade carving, the seal’s upper face is gracefully sculpted with a qilong and two smaller qilong among scrolling waves or clouds, likely referring to the Chinese saying “Canlong jiaozi,” which may be translated as “the Eastern [blue] dragon teaching his son(s).” The “Taishang Huangdi Zhi Bao” seal arrives to Freeman’s from a private collection and is presented at a presale estimate of $300,000-500,000.
The Qianlong Emperor of China—“Emperor Emeritus”—made a vow to voluntarily abdicate the throne to his heir in 1795, if he was blessed with a reign of sixty years. Remarkably, he reached this significant milestone, fulfilled his vow, and designated his fifteenth son, Prince Jia, as his successor. Post-retirement, the “Emperor Emeritus” commissioned approximately twenty “Taishang Huangdi” seals, which were executed in a variety of sizes, forms, and materials. The present jade seal is from this select group, consigned by descendants of the original collector. Its carving and polish are exceedingly fine, as would be expected of a work commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor, a connoisseur of jades.
The October 14 sale of this rare jade seal confirms the strength of Freeman’s.
Asian Arts department in securing consignments of deep cultural significance, and in clients’ trust in our Asian Arts specialists’ expertise. Freeman’s impressive track record in presenting similar material at auction includes the 2011 sale of an important imperial white jade seal, also from the Qianlong period, that achieved a remarkable $3,725,000 (Lot 413A; estimate: $30,000-50,000). Earlier this year, a Chinese carved “Dragons and Waves” vase shattered estimates to sell for $2,316,000, nine times its presale high estimate (Lot 12; estimate: $150,000-250,000).
Lot 107. An important Imperial pale celadon-white jade "Taishang Huangdi zhi bao" seal. H: 2 1/2, W: 1 13/16, D: 1 13/16 in. Estimate $300,000 - $500,000. Sold for $378,000. © FREEMAN’S 2021
Of square section, the upper face finely carved with three sinuous qilong, the largest qilong above and facing the two smaller as if in conversation, all elegantly entwined among cloud scrolls, the seal face carved in high relief with six characters in seal script: "Tai Shang Huang Di Zhi Bao", the stone of a very luminous and even pale celadon-white tone, with a very fine polish.
Provenance: Private collection
Thence by descent.
Note: In 1772, the Qianlong Emperor of China announced he had made a vow to voluntarily abdicate the throne to his heir in 1795 if he was blessed with a reign of 60 years. Remarkably, he reached this milestone, fulfilled his vow and announced that he would designate his fifteenth son, prince Jia, as his successor, and the following year would be the first of the new Emperor’s reign.
After his retirement, the “Emperor Emeritus”, commissioned approximately 20 “Taishang Huangdi” seals. These seals were executed in a variety of sizes, forms, and materials. Freeman’s is honored to present a jade seal from this select group, consigned by descendants of the original collector.
A larger white jade seal from this group, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, November 26, 2007, lot 1861, was accompanied by a lengthy essay by Guo Fuxiang, Associate Researcher, Department of Palace History, Palace Museum, Beijing, discussing the seals commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor to reflect his new title of “Taishang Huangdi”, and this title's wider context in Chinese history. Guo discusses the origins of “Taishang Huang”, loosely translated as “…the noblest man in the world who is more virtuous than the Emperor”. Guo further notes this title was conferred posthumously by the first Emperor of unified China, Qin Shihuangdi, on his father as a mark of filial respect. The title was also conferred on the father of Liu Bang, first Emperor of the Han dynasty. The Qianlong emperor was the only ruler of the Qing dynasty to bear this title.
An impression of the present seal is recorded in Gugong Bowuyuan cang, “Qing dai di hou xi yinpu” (“The Seals of the Qing Dynasty Emperors and Empresses”), vol. 6, Qianlong II, p. 178. In addition, the fine, luminous pale celadon-white jade accords perfectly with the material known to have been utilized for that seal: “qingbai yu” or pale greenish-white jade. The carving and polish are exceedingly fine, as would be expected of a work commissioned by the Qianlong emperor, a connoisseur of jades. It is an exemplary example of Chinese jade carving from this period.
The upper face is gracefully sculpted with a sinuous qilong and two smaller qilong among scrolling waves or clouds, likely referring to the Chinese saying "Canlong jiaozi", which may be translated as "The Eastern [blue] dragon teaching his son[s]", implying not only the importance of instructing the young, but also bringing up one's descendants to succeed in court or higher office. This expression would certainly hold relevance for a powerful retired Emperor benevolently extending influence over his son, a reigning Emperor. For similar Imperial seals portraying sinuous qilong among scrolled waves or clouds, compare the three examples sold at Sotheby’s, Hong Kong: a seal with the face carved for the Yongzheng Emperor, sold April 7, 2015, lot 102; a seal for the Qianlong Emperor, also sold April, 2015, lot 3647; and another seal for the Qianlong Emperor, sold October 9, 2012, lot 3006.
Alongside this important celadon-white jade seal, Freeman’s 256-lot Asian Arts auction will include such highlights as a very rare Chinese carved celadon-glazed porcelain “萬”-mouthed vase (Lot 22; estimate: $300,000-500,000); a fine and rare large Chinese blue and white porcelain Ming-style Meiping vase from a Bucks County private collection (Lot 242; estimate: $40,000-60,000); and an elegant Chinese white-glazed chrysanthemum dish (Lot 21; estimate: $15,000-20,000).
Lot 22. A very rare Chinese carved celadon-glazed porcelain “萬”-mouthed vase, Qianlong six-character seal mark in low relief and of the period (1736-1795). H: 16 1/4 in. Estimate $300,000 - $500,000. © FREEMAN’S 2021
Of square section, with swelling body over slightly flared foot, slightly indented sloped shoulder, transitioning into the shaped, slightly waisted neck with slightly everted lip, the lip of swastika or “萬” (wan form), the body with a main band carved in low relief with archaistic scrolls incorporating kui-dragon heads and lotus scrolls, above a stylized lapet band at the foot, the shoulder with similar shorter lappet-band border below a kui-dragon scroll border, each side of the neck with a panel of mirrored kui-dragon scrolls, covered overall with a soft, pale blue-green glaze pooling to a darker tone, the lip gilt, underside with six-character seal mark in low relief within an indented square.
Provenance: Acquired in Europe in the 1970s by the grandfather of the present owner, said to have come from the collection of Robert de Stryker
Thence by descent.
Note: The present vase appears to relate to a select group of Imperial celadon-glazed wares, often associated with production in the Imperial kilns under the supervision of Tang Ying (1682-1756). These wares are notable for their high quality and variety of creative form and decoration. This particular subgroup of celadon-glazed wares, with decoration carved or molded in low relief, exhibit this variety of form and decoration. These often appear to be inspired by archaic wares, particularly ancient bronzes, but also the wares of the early Ming dynasty. This is evident not only in terms of form, but also in the use of decoration such as archaistic kui-dragon scrolls (angular or more organically foliate in nature), or dense lotus scrolls and lappets, in addition to the incorporation of later auspicious motifs such as Buddhist or Daoist symbols or homophonic symbols such as bats or ruyi scepters.
To date, another example of this technically difficult form has not been located. Other Qianlong mark and period celadon-glazed vases decorated with carved or molded archaistic kui-dragon scrolls are known, but none with this highly unusual “萬” (wan)-shaped or swastika-form mouth. “萬” translates as "10,000", signifying unlimited abundance or longevity, an auspicious motif, particularly suitable for a birthday celebration or similar important event. For an elaborate celadon-glazed vase with swastika-ornamented ribbons at the shoulders, with Qianlong seal mark in relief, see "Qing Imperial Monochromes the Zande Lou Collection", Shenzhen, 2005, pp. 120-121, no 43.
For a pair of Qianlong mark and period celadon-glazed vases with lip in the form of an "Endless Knot" in the Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, see "Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of K'ang-hsi, Yung-Cheng and Ch'ien-lung Porcelain ware from the Ch'ing Dynasty in the National Palace Museum", Taipei, 1993, p. 128, no 101 (one illustrated).
The decoration of these graceful lobed vases, incorporating bats and ruyi-heads is of the more curvilinear stylized manner, is similar to that found on the Qianlong mark and period vase sold at Sotheby's, Hong Kong, April 8, 2007, lot 708. For other examples incorporating angular kui-dragon scrolls, see the archaistic flask-form vase sold at Christie's, New York, March 28, 2006, lot 116, decorated with elaborate mirrored bands of kui-dragon scrolls to the neck, body and foot. For other examples of celadon-glazed vases with angular kui-dragon scrollwork in low relief, see the vases sold at Christie's, New York, March 20, 2014, lot 2181; Sotheby's, Hong Kong, April 8, 2009, lot 1652, and two similar bottle vases, sold Christie's, Hong Kong, April 8, 2011, lot 3018 and Christie's, New York, March 22, 2018, lot 771.
Lot 242. A fine and rare large Chinese blue and white porcelain Ming-style meiping vase, 18th century. H: 13 in. Estimate $40,000 - $60,000. Sold for $50,400. © FREEMAN’S 2021
Finely potted, the tapering body with swelling shoulder and slight waisted neck, boldly painted with three fruiting and floral sprays arranged in two registers, with peach, pomegranate and lychees on the upper register, chrysanthemum, prunus, and peony floral sprays on the lower register; the foot is encircled by overlapping stiff leaves and the shoulder with a band of stylized lotus petal lappets enclosing flamelike scrolls, the lip and neck with fine blue lines, all under a transparent glossy glaze pooling to a pale blue tint.
Provenance: Property from a private collection, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, acquired in Philadelphia.
Note: Finely potted, the tapering body with swelling shoulder and slight waisted neck, boldly painted with three fruiting and floral sprays arranged in two registers, with peach, pomegranate and lychees on the upper register, chrysanthemum, prunus, and peony floral sprays on the lower register; the foot is encircled by overlapping stiff leaves and the shoulder with a band of stylized lotus petal lappets enclosing flamelike scrolls, the lip and neck with fine blue lines, all under a transparent glossy glaze pooling to a pale blue tint
Property from a private collection, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, acquired in Philadelphia.
Lot 21. A Chinese white-glazed chrysanthemum dish, Yongzheng six-character mark and of the period (1723-1735). Dia: 6 3/8 in. Estimate: $15,000-20,000. © FREEMAN’S 2021
The shallow rounded sides molded as 24 chrysanthemum petals rising from the circular footring, the underside inscribed with the six-character mark within a double circle.
Provenance: Acquired in Europe in the 1970s-1980s by the grandfather of the present owner
Thence by descent.
Note: The present dish relates in scale and form to dishes believed to have been made for the court, to be enameled in the Imperial workshops in Beijing with elegant floral sprays in famille rose enamels, such as the two dishes from the Qing Court collection, preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in "The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Porcelains with Cloisonne Enamel Decoration and Famille Rose Decoration", Hong Kong, 2008, nos. 58, 59, pp. 68, 69. For other enameled 24-petal Chrysanthemum dishes, see the pair sold at Christie's Hong Kong, May 27, 2008, lot 1546, where the sending of undecorated blanks from Jingdezhen to the court for approval and enameling is discussed. For an undecorated white-glazed example similar to the present lot, compare the dish sold at Sotheby's, Hong Kong, October 9, 2007, lot 1533. Compare also the yellow-glazed example in the Collection of the Baur Foundation, illustrated in Laure Schwartz-Arenales, editor, "A Millenium of Monochromes from the Great Tang to the High Qing,", Milan, 2018, p. 342, no. 174.
Exhibition is open by appointment at our 1600 West Girard Avenue location October 8-13.