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A Rare Imperial Album comprising the Impressions of Antique Seals from the Collection of the Emperior Qianlong,QL period
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AN IMPORTANT AND EXTREMELY RARE ALBUM COMPRISING THE IMPRESSIONS OF SEALS FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE EMPEROR QIANLONG, TOGETHER WITH PAINTINGS, CALLIGRAPHY, AND IMPERIAL INSCRIPTIONS BY GIUSEPPE CASTIGLIONE (LANG SHINING), DONG BANGDA, ZOU YIGUI, QIAN WEICHENG, DING GUANPENG\nQING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD, Ink and colour on yellow paper, comprising ten double-pages between burlwood covers of a warm brown tone displaying attractive mottled grain, the front cover incised with the title Jian Gu Xi Zhen (Ancient Treasures Reflecting the Past), the first, second and ninth double-pages each with an imperial sealmark to the centre, the third double-page with the two characters Lang and Zhao (Perfect Brilliance) on the top, and a portrait of the Emperor Qianlong to the bottom with three sealmarks, the remaining pages each superbly painted in meticulous detail with landscape or figure scenes, accompanied by eight corresponding sealmarks each with their transliterations in calligraphy, the eighth double-page with an inscription in Qianlong's calligraphy to the top, and a long postface neatly written in kaishu to the bottom\n18.5 by 9.5cm., 7 1/4 by 3 1/4 in.
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notes

Emperor Qianlong's Imperial Album and His Appreciation of Imperial seals

Guo Fuxiang

Department of Palace History

The Palace Museum, Beijing

The Qing Dynasty was one of the most prosperous eras in Chinese history. The Qianlong Emperor was especially fond of ancient art and was a great collector. During the sixty years of his rule, his art collection reached a level never seen before. His collection was recorded in detail in albums that provide essential information for the study of the emperor's collection. Qianlong himself was involved in the inventory work of his collection and spent considerable time putting in order his seal collection. The present album is therefore an important document of seals collected by the emperor.

The emperor's seal collection mainly comprised of ancient bronze and jade seals, and ivory and stone seals of the Ming Dynasty. The Jian gu xi zhen (Ancient Treasures Reflecting the Past) Album is the work of the emperor and his officials. The album contains thirty-two seal marks from Qianlong's seal collection. It is in an album format, and the front and back cover is made of ying wood. The front cover is incised with the four-characters Jian gu xi zhen in lishu. The album contains nine double-pages. The first and the second pages are made of a special paper that contains gold specs. The characters 'Wu Fu Wu Dai Tang gu xi Tianzi bao' (The Treasure of Tianzi of the Five Happiness and Five Generations Hall) are printed together with the characters 'Ba zheng laonian zhi bao' (The Treasure of the Eight Commemorable Battles of the Old Gentleman). The third double page is incised with the two characters 'Lang Zhao' (Perfect Brilliance) in the emperor's writing. Below it is a portrait of the Qianlong emperor. The following pages contain seal marks and the landscape painting of Dong Bangda, a flower painting by Zou Yigui, a landscape painting by Qian Weicheng, the painting of the story of Wang Xizhi, and the calligraphy of Ding Guanpeng. The eighth page of the album contains a poem by the Qianlong emperor and short essays by eight high ranking officials, such as Jiang Pu and Wang Youdun. The ninth page contains the six characters 'Taishang Huangdi zhi bao' (Treasure of the Emperor Emeritus). The album is a collection of poems, calligraphy, paintings and seal marks. In order to understand the value of this album, it is important to introduce its historical background.

The Qianlong emperor considered the recording of his seal collection an important part of his activities. His interest in seals started around the 10th year of his reign (equivalent to 1745 A.D.). It was due largely to his love for jade artifacts. In his opinion, ancient jade seals of the Qin and Han Dynasties were especially worthy of his appreciation. In the 14th year of his reign, he had boxes made to contain sixteen pieces of jade seals. In addition, he had the rubbings of the seal marks made and ordered his officials to write essays on these seals. The Emperor himself also wrote poems to enhance their value. This is the first album that was made to record the emperor's seal collection.

Qianlong's poems and writings give us information on his vast jade collection. From archival records we know that there were fifteen 'groups' of jade seals that were appreciated, valued and recorded in albums by the emperor and his officials.

The valuation of Qianlong's ancient jade seal collection involved the following process: firstly, the period of the making of the seal was determined by examining the material, the style of carving and the contents of the inscription found on the seal. The seals were presented to the emperor for review. After the emperor made his valuation of the seal, his officials usually confirmed his decision. Secondly, under the emperor's order, the seal marks were preserved in an album together with his poems or essays. The workmanship of these albums is superb and extremely fine. Finally, the albums were stored in boxes and kept in the Palace.

It is known that about twenty officials were involved in the making of these albums. Among the officials were Liang Shizheng, Dong Bangda, Yu Minzhong, Jin Deying, Wang Youdun, Jiang Pujiu Ri Xiu, Zhang Ruodeng, Qian Weicheng, Qian Rucheng, Wang Jihua and others. All these officials were also scholars of literature, history and the arts, and they all excelled in the field of calligraphy and painting. Their main task included the recording of the seals reviewed by the Emperor. They had to find evidence for strengthening the emperor's decision about the seals. For example, in one of the valuations it is recorded that, 'On imperial order, the 16 pieces of seals are of lustrous quality, with colorful and vivid design pattern and incised in zhuanshu by the carvers. From their quality it is evident that they are seals of the Qin and Han Dynasties. They are undoubtedly made by Yan Liu'.

Secondly they eulogized the Emperor Qianlong as outstanding and peerless as follows: "Our Emperor respects the ancient things, evaluates carefully and researches widely, checks each piece, each article, and gathers all the materials, to confirm that the object is indeed a treasure from the past." In order to achieve a suitably high level of praise, they would sometimes write in a contrived manner. Comparing the emperor's poems with the essays by the officials, we can see that even whilst putting the seals into order and evaluating them, the main role was still played by the emperor himself.

The album printed and edited according to the instructions of the Emperor was an extremely important step in the process of putting into order and evaluating the ancient jade seals. The work of many people in this undertaking is evident. Generally speaking, to produce and edit such an album and print copies of the ancient seals, a transcription of the emperor's calligraphy, or his poems and the essays of his officials and attendants are indispensable. In addition to enhance the sense of appreciation of the albums, a transcription of the emperor's calligraphy and the imperial paintings, or the calligraphy of officials and attendants and their paintings should be added.  According to archival records of the Neiwufu, "on the fourth day of the seventh month of the 18th year of Qianlong's reign, Bai Shixiu sent in essays for the Emperor's portrait in 5 pages, attached with 10 pieces of Han jade and one sample of an album. The Emperor ordered that the album be sent for mounting to the Mi Hall. From this record, it is clear that the album was made for the 10 pieces of jade that the Qianlong Emperor collected the year before. Another record notes that 'on the 10th day of the fifth month of the 20th year of Qianlong's reign, Bai Shixiu reported that the official Hu Shijie sent in 40 pieces of jade seals of different sizes and styles. The Emperor ordered that a five-storied box be made to match the jade seals, with the bottom page be left blank. At first, samples were made for approval. The mounting was changed at Bo Gu Ge. On the 14th day of the fifth month, Bai Shixiu and Su Wen sent in 40 pieces of various sized and styled jade seals, with samples of 6 drawer boxes attached; a box was made for the album. The Emperor ordered that seals be placed in 4 boxes, 10 pieces in each box, the album in one box, all together 5 boxes be sent to Mao Qin Hall. On the 27th day of the fifth month of the same year, the Emperor ordered that a cover be made for the boxes, the album be placed on the top drawer, and that a pattern be drawn for approval. On the 2nd of the sixth month of the same year, Bai Shixiu again sent in 40 pieces of various styled and sized jade seals, and one album placed in a zitan wood box. The Emperor ordered that an approved dragon incised seals be made accordingly. This record confirms the content of the Qianlong's poem, "Song of the Han Jade Seals" written in the 20th year of his reign.  In order to make these 40 pieces of jade seals, Qianlong was very much concerned with every step in the course of making, which lasted for half a year, having put forward specific requirements, and revised samples many times.

Another record notes that on the 28th day of the ninth month of the 32nd year of Qianlong's reign, Tai Jian sent in 2 pieces of boxes, rectangular in form, made of engraved zitan wood with jade inlay. In each box, 8 pieces of jade seal were placed. Each box was two storied with drawers. The Emperor ordered that the jade seals be placed in the lower drawer with tunnels to match the seals and that in the upper drawers 2 albums be placed so that the sample could be presented for review. Qian Weicheng, Jiu Rixiu, Wang Jihua were ordered to write one character and draw one painting. Any calligraphy found on the seal was to be rubbed off. On the 1st day of the tenth month, Shi De and Wu De sent in 2 pieces of rectangular, zitan wood, tailor-made boxes, containing 8 pieces of jade seals. The Emperor approved the samples and gave an order to grind the jade seal thinner so as to get rid off any other characters on the seals.

Among all the albums made, it is rare to find an album that contains such a variety of information on the emperor's seal collection. From Qianlong's poem it is possible to date the album to the period between the Spring of the 22nd year of his reign (equivalent to 1755 A.D.) and the 23rd year of his reign. The present album is a historical treasure that reflects the Qianlong emperor's enjoyment in his collection.

dimensions

18.5 by 9.5cm., 7 1/4 by 3 1/4 in.

provenance

Possibly from the Shouhuangdian (Hall of Imperial Longevity), the ancestral hall where the imperial portraits were stored, and removed in 1900 and brought to France.

Collection of President Paul Doumer (1857-1932).  Doumer began his political career as a Radical-Socialist deputy from the Department of Yonne (Sens) in 1889, before being elected as the Minister of Finance under Leon Bourgeois in 1895.  He served as the Governor of Indo-China from 1897 to 1902, where he carried out many important public works.  Doumer then returned to France where he reenterd the Chamber of Deputies.  He moved on to the Senate in 1912, where he remained until his election as President in 1931, defeating Aristide Briand.  Doumer's presidency was cut short after being assassinated only a year later.

Christie's Paris, 22nd November 2005, lot 147.


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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