Asian and Islamic Works of Art | Day 2: Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art
Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on 23 May features 346 lots including furniture, maps, ceramics and porcelain, bronzes, jades, silk panels, as well as fans, textiles and paintings.
LOT 272 | A Chinese bronze bombe censer and stand, Qing Dynasty, 17-18th Century, the heavily cast censer with a pair of prominent loop handles below the flat rim, the base cast with a Xuande four-character mark within a rectangle; the circular bronze stand raised on five ‘ruyi’ head supports, with brown patina with traces of red lacquer or patination, the censer 29.3cm wide, overall weight 8,263g, the censer 5,267g and the stand 2,996g (2).
A bronze censer of this shape is also known as ‘you dragon censer’ [youlong er lu] as its handles are shaped to imitate a simplified dragon. According to Xuande Yiqi Pu, a 15th-century volume by Lv Zheng, this design was the favourite of Xuande Emperor (1399-1435) as ‘its elegance excelled all other Xuande censers’ and was hence displayed in the imperial study room. Although very few 15th-century censers of Xuande reign period actually survived, you dragon censers were specially favoured by the royal families and the craftsmanship reached its peak between the early to mid Qing Dynasty when the empire was on the way to its most splendid and prosperous era.
In extraordinary size and weight, this censer would have been a display of a Qing imperial family member in his study room. It is very rare to see such a fine example from the period, with decent provenance, coming with original base and well-preserved patina. European collectors often prefer to polish a Chinese bronze censer in order to reveal its shining colour. Yet it would destroy the patina that is essential in the appreciation of Xuande censers. ‘窄边蚰耳藏经色，黄云隐跃穷雕磨’, a 17th-century Chinese scholar Mao Xiang (1611-1693) praised that under its slim rim and dragon-shaped handles of a you dragon censer hides ‘golden clouds’. After over 12 times of refinement a high-quality bronze censer would reveal golden splashes against the dark brown patina. These splashes are not gilt as in some cases, but rather a result of the combination of premium copper, tin, zinc and other metals.Provenance: By family descent to the current owner from H.G. Lowder, who worked for the Chinese Customs Service in the 1920’s.
Compare with a similar bombe censer sold Christies, New York, 15 September 2011, Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, lot 1158.
LOT 354 | A small Chinese cinnabar lacquer circular box and cover, Ming Dynasty, 16-17th century, the small circular cover carved with seated figure, the sides with a band of key fret, 3.7cm diameter.
The development of Chinese lacquer, stretching over a period of more than three thousand years, reached its peak since the Yuan Dynasty. Designs grew steadily more complex and intricate, with as many as 200 layers of lacquer being applied, allowing the carver to achieve trompe l’oeil perspectives of increased depth and relief.
The trend continued in the Ming period when the most important pieces were made for the imperial court. In the early half of the dynasty, decorative themes typically featured flowers surrounded by foliage. Yet, the rapid development of literati painting since the early 16th century soon expanded its influence to lacquer art, as figurative scenes set against classical landscapes became a popular theme.
A lacquer craftsman, unlike a painter who could choose a paper medium of whatever size he favoured, had his hands tied by the size of lacquer vessels. It is hence impressive and very rare to see such a complete expression of the vastness of nature, a microcosm, is presented on a miniature scale of only 3.7cm diameter. A similar example of late Ming Dynasty can be found at the Palace Museum, Taipei, and a similar small cinnabar circular box can be seen at the Palace Museum, Taipei.
LOT 450 | A rare set of six ‘Red Chamber’ painted silk panels, Qing Dynasty, first half of 19th century, each panel is embroidered with a figural scene from the Chinese masterpiece novel Dream of the Red Chamber, depicting Lin Daiyu discussing music theories in the courtyard; Jia Baoyu playing Go with Miao Yu in an open pavilion; Qing Wen, Jia Baoyu’s maid, sitting in front of a painted panel and tearing paper fans; two ladies playing the flute in the Hall of Tubi; Jia Xichu making a painting of the Grand View Garden; Shi Xiangyun reading in the garden and planning to set up a poem club with Xue Baochai, the raised padded relief with painted details in watercolour, the textile panels approximately 106cm x 39.5cm, each mounted and in hardwood frames, later gilt, with original panels backs (6).
No other civilisation in the world has produced a longer continuous tradition of garden design than China. A Chinese garden is not meant to embrace nature but rather to provide a natural setting in which life, private or public, would take place. Chinese landscape art actually extends itself from outdoor to indoor space, which gave birth to the wide use of decorative panels in imperial China.
This set of six painted silk panels perfectly exemplifies that a hanging panel can be a trinity of a piece of furniture, a painting medium and a pictorial representation. Elaborately embroidered and painted with stories from the Chinese masterpiece novel Dream of the Red Chamber, the panels guide us to follow the figure’s gaze towards an idealised ‘natural’ setting for family gatherings. A careful observer can even find similar panels hanging on the wall of a pavilion, and we can reasonably assume this set of panels was also displayed in similar half-open space.
Originating in the 9th century, the technique of duiling is such a sophisticated embroidery skill that only noble families could afford in imperial China. Silk pieces in various colours would be first trimmed into appropriate shapes according to the design and then stitched on a silk ground layer by layer to create a raised padded relief. An experienced painter would be then employed to depict all the details. Such a set of painted silk panels would take months to finish. A Peking opera album at the Palace Museum, Beijing was made using the similar duiling technique.
LOT 452 | A rare Imperial Chinese eight dragon roundel robe, long pao, Daoguang, with eight five clawed dragons, this robe is likely to have been worn by an Imperial Consort or a Princess, wife to a first or second rank Prince. Comparable to a similarly constructed robe at the Palace Museum, Beijing, it depicts three main patterns worn by the female Royal Courtiers during the Qing dynasty 1644-1911.
The Imperial Empress, Consort, Princess and wives of Manchu noble men were allowed to wear the third style long pao, an eight-roundel coat. Different colours distinguished the wearers from each other. Yellow was held for the Empress and Imperial first rank consorts, with second-degree Imperial consorts wearing a shade of brown, incense or golden yellow.
These colours are included in the five Imperial ‘yellows’ worn at court. The Castiglioni painting 1688- 1766, in the Cleveland Museum (John L Severance Fund 1969-31) depicts the Emperor
Qianlong with his wife and consorts, one wearing a ‘brown-incense’ eight roundel robe painted in 1736. Wives of the first and second rank Princes also wore a shade of brown. The Huangchao liqi tushi, 1759 regulations illustrate all the ranks; an illustrated plate of the Imperial yellow long pao example is housed in the British library archives.
The elegant design shows these eight roundel robes are highlighted by the symmetry and balance of eight perfectly formed celestial worlds. In this example, eight five-clawed dragons (four full faced and four side facing) are embroidered with gold thread surrounded by five coloured clouds and bats holding auspicious symbols, bestowing ‘ten thousand fold’ of good fortune upon the wearer. The side facing dragons clasp the pearl of wisdom indicating Imperial power. A band of running dragons is inset half way along the sleeve and the horseshoe shaped cuff and neck edgings are embroidered with writhing dragon’s, lively bats and clouds on a deep blue silk ground. The borders are edged with rich brocade often seen on Imperial garments. The robe is lined with blue silk damask woven with peonies, a symbol of feminine beauty.
Most Imperial women courtiers lived their life in the northern section or inner court of the Forbidden city, once raised to the rank of consort they never left the court, it was a life-long position. They had servants and riches and access to the Imperial embroidery workshops where they would commission their wardrobe. Garments were made of the highest quality and most exquisite silk cloth.
The transition of colours between the 18th and 19th century changed with the introduction of new dyes available. The colour of ‘brown-incense’ became more a shade of aubergine. Occasionally green dyes were used. The tailoring and dye colours clearly place this robe into the first half of 19th century, before 1840. It is originally tailored still showing the classical shape used during the 18th century. The clasping of the pearl by the side facing dragons would place this robe in the order of high royalty an Imperial consort. See the full Castiglioni painting for colour guidance. We are grateful to Linda Wrigglesworth for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.
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