Lot 524. The Guennol imperially-inscribed archaic jade axe-adze, Neolithic period, 'Shi Quan Lao Ren Wan Yu' seal mark and period of Qianlong (1736-1795). Length 4⅝ in., 11.7 cm. Lot Sold 60,960 USD (Estimate 50,000 - 70,000 USD). © 2023 Sotheby's
inscribed to one side of the handle with a six-character seal mark reading shi quan lao ren wan yu (jade for the enjoyment of The Elder with Ten Accomplishments).
Property from the Collection of Robin Bradley Martin
Provenance: Reputedly discovered in Yunnan province in the 19th century.
Reputedly in the Qing Court Collection.
Alice Boney, New York.
The Guennol Collection (collection of Alastair Bradley Martin and Edith Martin), and thence by descent.
Literature: Amy G. Poster, 'Scepter (Kuei),' The Guennol Collection, vol. II, New York, 1982, p. 85.
Note: Shiquan laoren 十全老人 (The Elder with Ten Accomplishments)—a mighty title proudly enjoyed by the Qianlong Emperor in the later phase of his long, accomplished reign—encapsulates the lifetime achievements and the ruling philosophy of one of the greatest Sons of Heaven in the history of China. On 7th October 1792, the Qianlong Emperor received a report from General-in-Chief Fu Kang'an that he had successfully subdued the Gurkhas and accepted the surrender of the Gurkha king. This news greatly pleased the eighty-two-year-old Emperor. The next day, the Emperor, still in high spirits, wrote Shiquan ji [Note on the Ten Accomplishments]. In this work, the Qianlong Emperor recounted the military campaigns in which he engaged to secure the empire's borders and strengthen his ruling; he called the ten most significant of these victories shiquan wugong (Ten Complete Military Accomplishments).
Though shiquan may at first have been the Qianlong Emperor's summary of his historical military achievements in opening up the borderlands, this was not intended to solely comment on his military victories. Rather, it indicated the high expectations he had for himself in the future. The Emperor sought to exert himself to fulfill all the duties as a ruler of his empire and realize his long-cherished desire to be a fulfilled person. The Qianlong Emperor was particularly fond of the shiquan laoren title. He even commanded artisans to make the Shiquan laoren zhi bao (Seal of the Elder with Ten Accomplishments) and wrote an accompanying essay, Shiquan laoren zhi bao shuo [An Explanation of the Seal of the Elder with Ten Accomplishments].
In addition to his political and military triumphs, the Qianlong Emperor was also arguably one of the greatest rulers in respect to his connoisseurship and appreciation of art. He was a fanatic collector of masterpieces and amassed an art collection of enormous scope and size that included antiques as well as contemporary pieces. Archaic jade formed an important part of his collection, and his search for outstanding archaic jade saw no limit, evidenced by the overwhelming amount of archaic jade masterpieces from his collection that have survived until now. The various imperial marks and poems found on some of these remarkable works are a true testament to the Emperor's infatuation with archaic jade.
See, for example, a late Longshan culture jade gui tablet inscribed with two dedicated poems by Qianlong written in the 13th and 33rd year of his reign respectively, accompanied by three seals, Taishang huangdi zhi bao (Treasure of the Emperor Supreme), Wufu wudai tang guxi tianzi bao (Seal of the Seventy-Year-Old Son of Heaven of The Hall of Five Happinesses and Five Generations), and Bazheng maonian (The Eighty-Year-Old with the Eight Signs), in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Museum's exhibition, Art in Quest of Heaven and Truth - Chinese Jades through the Ages, Taipei, 2012, cat. no. 4-3-4; and a late Neolithic period jade tablet, meticulously inscribed with two imperial poems in the Emperor's calligraphy, preserved also in the National Palace Museum, included in the Museum's exhibition, Emperor Ch'ien-lung's Grand Cultural Enterprise, Taipei, 2002, cat. no. II-17.
The present jade is one of the rare documents that witnesses the Qianlong Emperor's continued admiration for archaic jade even in his late years. In addition to the present lot, the Emperor's unabated passion can be further demonstrated through an early Longshan culture jade axe, inscribed with two imperial poems written by Qianlong as the Emperor Emeritus in the 1st year of Jiaqing. The jade axe is now in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, and included in the Museum's exhibition, Gugong yuqi jingxuan quanji. Yuzhiling / Select Jades in the National Palace Museum. The Spirit of Jade, Taipei, 2019, cat. no. I-186. While the six-character mark on the present jade appears to be exceedingly rare, its style closely resembles the four-character wheel-cut mark on a Qianlong imperial gilt-bronze-decorated white jade candlestick from the collection of Joseph Lau, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 9th October 2022, lot 3503.
Very few archaic jades of this form and stone have been recorded. See a closely related Neolithic jade axe-adze of a similar shape and stone in the British Museum, London (accession. no. OA+.3882), reportedly discovered in Yunnan province, donated to the museum by Col Sir Edward Bosc Sladen in 1871, published on the Museum's website; and another similar example of a slightly larger size, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Teng Shu-P'ing, Qinshiqi shidai yuqi tulu / Neolithic Jades in the Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1992, pl. 81.
Sotheby's. Important Chinese Art, New York, 22 March 2023