Top 5 Lots : Sotheby’s Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art – New York | September 11 – 12, 2012

AN IMPERIAL JADE ‘BA ZHENG MAO NIAN ZHI BAO’ SEAL
QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD

Estimate: 800,000 – 1,200,000 USD

LOT SOLD. 3,498,500 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium)

Of square form, the seal surmounted by a pair of well-carved addorsed dragons, each with bulging eyes, flaring nostrils, gaping jaws and bared sharp teeth, the two scaled bodies crouching back on their haunches and pierced through the center with an aperture, the square seal deeply and crisply carved with the characters Ba zheng mao nian zhi bao (Treasure of concern over phenomenon at eighty) the stone of gray-celadon color with opaque mottling and striking dark-gray cloud swirls, with russet enhancing the horns and spines

Length 2 1/4 in., 6 cm, Width 2 1/4 in., 6 cm

The Qianlong emperor often had seals made to mark significant events in his life. The present lot was one of the seals made to commemorate his eightieth birthday in 1790. At that time, Qianlong had already been on the throne for fifty-five years.  As a mark of repect, Qianlong decided that he would not reign longer than his grandfather the Kangxi emperor, and planned to hand over the throne in five years. The words Ba zheng mao nian zhi bao (Treasure of concern over phenomenon at eighty) carved on the seal, give us an indication as to Qianlong’s state of mind at the time.

The phrase was inspired by an explanation of the Way of Heaven found in the Hongfan chapter of the Shangshu (Classic of History, sixth century BC), and describes ‘concerned use of the common meteorological phenomena’  as one of the principles to be used when governing a country. As meteorological phenomena affected the lives of the people, Qianlong extended the meaning of the phrase to include concern for the people. It shows that although Qianlong was turning eighty and only five years from retirement, he was still very much concerned about the people in his realm and very involved in the governing of the country.

This phrase resonated with Qianlong and he had a series of over sixty-three seals made with these characters or a slightly shortened version. The present lot is one from this series. Another seal from the series with the same phrase, in green jade and of larger size, with the seal face carved in a different script, was sold in our London rooms, 4th November 2009, lot 136.

The present lot matches an impression in the Qianlong bao sou (Qianlong Treasures: A Catalogue of Impressions of the Qianlong Emperor’s Seals).

AN IMPORTANT WUCAI ‘FISH’ JAR AND COVER JIAJING MARK AND PERIOD

Estimate: 500,000 – 700,000 USD

LOT SOLD. 1,986,500 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium)

The stoutly potted globular body decorated in vibrant transparent enamels with a continuous frieze of large golden carp swimming amidst lotus and waterweed, the fish in reddish-orange with fins and scales penciled in iron red, the lotus blossoms in bright yellow and iron red with leaves of pale green growing alongside feathery and spiky grasses in purplish underglaze blue, yellow and green with iron red and reddish-brown outlines, all beneath clusters of waterweed and scattered floating blossoms, the plain neck rising from a collar of brightly enameled petal lappets, the base encircled by an underglaze blue border of overlapping leaf tips, the domed cover surmounted by a bud finial of ribbon panels in blue, green, yellow and red rising from a radiating medallion of beaded jewels and the ‘Eight Buddhist Emblems’, the steep sides of the cover with a narrow band of golden yellow carp and waterweed, six-character mark in underglaze blue within a double circle (2)
Height 16 1/8 in., 40.8 cm

AN IMPORTANT ARCHAIC BRONZE WINE VESSEL (HU)EASTERN ZHOU DYNASTY, 8TH / 7TH CENTURY BC

Estimate: 300,000 – 500,000 USD

LOT SOLD. 1,538,500 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium)

Of pear-shape, crisply cast with five bands of interlocking dragons, their bodies defined with hooks, angular S- curves and raised beaded elements, the registers divided by plain bands, flanked on each side of the neck by bold large-horned taotie masks in relief issuing loop handles with large pendent rings, a partially obscured eighteen-character inscription on the interior of the neck, Japanese box (2)

Height 18 1/2 in., 47 cm

The inscription may be translated as:  Marquis of Chen made this hu-vessel to pray for longevity. His sons and grandsons will forever treasure it and worship it.

This bronze hu was first published in Bronzes Antiques de la Chine Apartenant à C. T. Loo et Cie, Paris in 1924.  The original catalogue was written by Tch’ou To-Yi (Zhu Deyi, 1871-1942), with the preface by the French sinologist Paul Pelliot (1878-1945).  Zhu was a private secretary of Duan Fang (1861-1911), one of the most important collectors of the late Qing dynasty, and was instrumental in compiling the catalogue of Duan’s collection of bronzes, Taozhai jijin lu (Records of the Auspicious Bronzes from the Tao Studio), published in 1908.  Duan Fang assembled probably the most significant private collection of antiquities of his time, which included important bronzes such as the Altar Set and Mao Gong ding, unearthed in Baoji in the 19th century, and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Palace Museum, Taipei.  Duan Fang was assassinated while on official duty in Sichuan in 1911. After his death, his family tried to sell the entire collection to the newly established Republican government, but this never materialized.  Later, the collection was dispersed among private collectors and dealers. C.T. Loo and Yamanaka were among those who bought a large number of objects from Duan Fang’s collection and sold them to Japanese and Western collectors and museums.

The first two lines of the inscription are heavily worn, but according to Jung Kêng’s (Rong Geng) reconstruction, the vessel was made by the Marquis of Chen (Chen Hou). The state of Chen was one of the influential states in the Zhou dynasty; their marquises married into the Zhou royal family in the early Western Zhou period, and their territory covered the eastern part of Henan and Anhui.  In the Spring and Autumn period, Chen was a close ally to the Qi state (modern Shandong), and later to the Jin state (modern Shanxi), and the Chu state (modern southern Henan and Hubei).  Bronzes of the Chen state thus show stylistic influences from both the South and the North. The state of Chen finally lost its independence to the Chu state in 478 BC.  There are a few surviving bronzes that bear the name of the Marquis of Chen, and one bronze hu-vessel unearthed in Feicheng, Shandong, in 1963, was part of his daughter’s dowry.

The present impressive hu is a fine example of the creative style of bronze vessels first developed in the Western Zhou period which continued to become increasingly elaborate in the Eastern Zhou and Spring and Autumn periods. The attractive three-dimensional design band decoration of crisply cast, coiled dragons with protruding eyes is unusual, although it matches that seen on a fou, in the Sackler collection, illustrated by Jenny So, Eastern Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, vol. III, Washington, D.C., 1995, p. 206, no. 31. The motif seen here represents a new approach to decoration by the early Eastern Zhou casters, whose creativity stimulated the development of continuous horizontal registers of ornamentation. The highly stylized dragons exude vitality and force, while being considerably more sculptural than their predecessors which had origins in Western Zhou period bronze designs in interlace and openwork. Closely related design band decoration can also be found on a ding, attributed to the early Spring and Autumn period, in the Yantai City Museum, Shandong province, illustrated in Zhongguo  qingtongqi quanji, vol. 9, Beijing, 1997, pl. 2, and on another lei, in the Hebei Provincial Museum, included ibid., pl. 128.

A RARE BLUE AND WHITE MOONFLASK MING DYNASTY, YONGLE PERIOD

Estimate: 600,000 – 900,000 USD

LOT SOLD. 1,314,500 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium)

The flattened circular body with gently convex panels to each side, well-painted in inky tones of cobalt blue with some heaping and piling, with an elaborate medallion of interlaced ruyi heads enclosing trefoils and linked by demi-florets, superimposed on radiating lappets centered on a ring of inward pointing petals, all within a band of scrolling leaves with thin undulating stems between double line borders, the upper bulb painted with a slender floral scroll of alternating asters and carnations between further double lines, the ribbed strap handles with shaped terminals enclosing stylized floral sprays, all raised on a low rectangular foot, wood stand (2)

Height 11 7/8 in., 30.2 cm

This flask seamlessly combines Chinese taste with Persian design and represents a style that flourished in the early Ming dynasty and gained favor with both the Chinese rulers and foreign royalty. Flasks of this model were popular during and peculiar to the Yongle and Xuande periods. The slightly angular bulb and short oval foot are characteristic of Yongle flasks which were produced in slightly varying sizes. Closely related examples include one excavated from the waste heaps of the Ming imperial kiln site at Zhushan, included in the exhibition Imperial Hongwu and Yongle Porcelain Excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1996, cat. no. 65; one in Umezawa Kinekan Museum, Tokyo, published in Sekai toji zenshu, vol. 14, Tokyo, 1976, pl. 144; another illustrated in Ming Qing ciqi jianding, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 21, pl. 30; and a fourth example from the Mount Trust collection, included in the exhibition The Mount Trust Collection of Chinese Ceramics, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1970, cat. no. 83, and sold at Christie’s London, 19th April 1983, lot 20. Further examples include a flask sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 24th November 1981, lot 80; another sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1st November 2004, lot 826; and two slightly taller examples also sold on our Hong Kong rooms, one, 15th May 1990, lot 25, and the other, from the Edward T. Chow collection, 19th May 1981, lot 408, with a the central medallion encircled by a classic scroll border more frequently found on Xuande marked flasks.

The same design is also found adorning a slightly smaller flask with a larger rounded bulb, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Special Exhibition of Early Ming Porcelains, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1982, cat. no. 9. Compare also Xuande mark and period flasks of this type decorated with this design on one side and the other with a related motif of interlaced petals radiating from a central yin yang symbol; such as one from the Sir Percival David collection and now in the British Museum, illustrated in R.L. Hobson, A Catalogue of Chinese Pottery and Porcelain in the Collection of Sir Percival David, London, 1936, pl. CXVII; and another from the Edward T. Chow collection, included in the Exhibition of Blue-Decorated Porcelain of the Ming Dynasty, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1949, cat. no. 69, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 25th November 1980, lot 7.

The design and shape of this flask appear to have derived from Near or Middle Eastern pottery or metal prototypes, although no exact counterpart has yet been found. Its possible origin is discussed  in Margaret Medley, ‘Islam and Chinese Porcelain in the 14th and Early 15th Centuries’, Bulletin of the Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong, no. 6, 1982-4; and in John Alexander Pope, ‘An Early Ming Porcelain in Muslim Style’, Aus der Welt der Islamischen Kunst. Festschrift fur Ernst Kuhnel, Berlin, 1959, where he illustrates a large inlaid brass canteen with similar strap handles and ‘garlic’ mouth, pls 2A and 2B, from the Eumorforpoulos collection, sold in our London rooms, 5th June 1940, lot 72, and now in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

The star-shaped rosette adorning this flask is composed in a highly stylized and geometric manner. Both its formality and abstraction are unusual in a Chinese context and, together with the leafy scroll enclosing the motif, are probably also the result of Middle Eastern inspiration. However the traditional Chinese design repertoire is represented through the flower-scroll band at the neck and the small floral sprigs at the handles, although the combination of asters and carnations is rare. The delicacy of the floral elements also serves to soften the rigidity of the overall design.

AN IMPERIAL SPINACH JADE ‘XIANFU GONG’ SEAL QING DYNASTY, JIAQING PERIOD

Estimate: 400,000 – 600,000 USD

LOT SOLD. 1,202,500 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium)

The plain high rectangular base surmounted by a deftly carved and pierced knop in the form of a ferocious five-clawed dragon in pursuit of a ‘flaming pearl’, its undulating body with finely incised scales meandering within dense cloud scrolls to display great vigor and power, its head carved with bulging eyes and flared nostrils above its open mouth revealing a curled tongue between sharp fangs, the seal face deeply and crisply carved vertically in seal script with three raised characters Xianfu Gong (Xianfu Palace), all enclosed within a single-line border, the stone of a dark green tone with natural inclusions and areas of darker speckling

Length 2 1/8 in., 5.5 cm, Width 1 3/8 in., 3.6 cm

The present lot is one seal from a set of three. The first seal in such sets, carved with the name of a building, would be impressed at the beginning of a work, and the other two, with phrases either elaborating on or giving the significance of that name, would be impressed at the end. Such sets are called Gong Dian Zu (Palace and Hall sets).  The present lot bears the name of the Xianfu Gong (Palace of Complete Happiness). The Xianfu Gong is one of six palaces in the northwestern corner of the Forbidden City.

When Qianlong passed away in 1799, his successor to the throne, the Jiaqing emperor, first moved to the Shang Shufang (Prince’s Study) to observe the mourning period. After twenty days, Jiaqing moved to the Xianfu Gong where he stayed for ten months. During that time, it was where he met court officials and conducted government business.

The present lot matches an impression in the Jiaqing bao sou (Jiaqing Treasures: A Catalogue of Impressions of the Jiaqing Emperor’s Seals). According to that catalogue, the two other seals in that set were inscribed Hui qi you ji (Maintain One’s Standards) and Xu yi shou ren (Encounter Others with an Open Mind). The seal reading Hui qi you ji was sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 5th October 2011, lot 1910