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Flexible

Jean-Michel Basquiat acrylic and oilstick on wood Executed in 1984. Jean-Michel Basquiat and Flexible Fred Hoffman Fred Hoffman, PhD, worked closely with Jean-Michel Basquiat during the artist's residency in Venice, California in the early 1980s. He has written extensively on Basquiat’s practice, most recently authoring The Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, published in 2017.Special Catalogue: Jean-Michel Basquiat, FlexibleWhen Jean-Michel Basquiat was asked to define his art, he answered without hesitation “royalty, heroism, and the streets.” This is the vision of Flexible, 1984. In many ways, this artwork serves as a summation of these three central themes. The figure Basquiat depicts is a tribal king. His posture, with arms raised and interlocked above his head, conveys confidence and authority, attributes of his heroism. He seems to be crowning himself. The nature of the picture support, and the way in which this work came about, takes us back to the artist’s origins on the streets of Manhattan.Bringing the Street into the StudioAfter opening his exhibition at the Larry Gagosian Gallery in West Hollywood in early March 1983, Jean-Michel Basquiat returned to New York, where virtually overnight he completed some of his most important paintings including Notary, The Nile, In Italian and Mitchell Crew. Later that year he was drawn back to Los Angeles, which afforded him a buffer from an increasingly challenging New York art world. With his return to Los Angeles, Basquiat opened his own studio, again on Market Street in Venice where he had worked previously, in Larry Gagosian’s townhouse. Working in a location just one block off the beach, Jean-Michel mostly avoided the constant coming and goings from the Venice boardwalk. Commuting from the L’Hermitage Hotel in West Hollywood, he usually arrived at his studio in the afternoon, worked late into the evening, sometimes into the next day. The back door of the studio opened onto a small courtyard, which was enclosed by an eight-foot-high, deteriorating slat wood fence. One night, while taking a break from painting, Jean-Michel walked out into this space, and was startled by the presence of a homeless man who had somehow managed to slip into the courtyard between two sections of the fence. This experience had a strong impact upon the artist, and he decided to remove the wood fence, essentially returning the patio to the Venice ambience. While Basquiat would no longer have an enclosed patio, he would no longer need to fear someone sleeping in his backyard and invading his privacy. After making plans for the removal of the wood fencing material, Jean-Michel instructed his assistants to bring the now deconstructed fence into the studio. Within a day or two the wood slats started to take on a new life. Using longer sections of the wood fencing as vertical supports, the artist had the individual wood slats stacked horizontally, thereby turning the fence material into new, unique picture supports. Here in Venice, some three thousand miles from his earlier pictorial expression on the walls of the Manhattan streets, Basquiat had now found the means of bringing the street into the studio. A New FormalismPicture supports made from wood slat fencing material were used in more than 17 paintings made between 1984 and 1986. The earliest and most recognized of these works were Flexible, Gold Griot, 1984, and M, 1984, followed later in 1984 by Grillo, a work Basquiat executed upon his return to New York. Eli Broad quickly added Gold Griot to his extensive collection of works by the young artist. Jean-Michel Basquiat kept Flexible for his own personal collection. The works made from wood slat fencing gave Basquiat a new way to integrate his art with his penchant for life on the street. While the first wood slat picture supports were executed in Venice, California and came from previously existing fences, the artist made several wood slat picture supports from material purchased at a Soho lumber yard at a later time in New York, in 1984–1986.In contrast to the earlier, exposed stretcher bar supports, these slat supports introduced a new formalism into the work. The irregularity and refuse-like quality of the earlier works, such as One Million Yen, 1982, Rubell Family Collection, or Untitled (Ernok), 1982, questioned whether the picture support fulfilled the function for which it was conceived. Basquiat’s new picture support construction owes a debt to the work of Robert Rauschenberg. The senior artist’s almost alchemical ability to take materials, even detritus, from our daily lives, objects not loaded with significance as art, and transform them into forms laden with esthetic content and value, was of immense importance to Basquiat as he moved from the street into the studio. In Rauschenberg’s Winter Pool, 1961, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the two highly worked outer panels are separated by a ladder-like structure that extends down and touches the floor. With this common, clearly cast-off and retrieved object, Rauschenberg linked the act of painting with our world. Trophy IV (for John Cage), 1961, presents a series of found objects positioned on top of a low, wood-slat structure that functioned as a picture support. Here too, the modest materials used to create this “arena of art” allow the viewer to enter into a more neutral space unburdened with the cultural and historical associations of “high art.” It was an astute awareness of Robert Rauschenberg’s art historical contribution that enabled the accomplished young artist Basquiat to turn the fence of his courtyard into an important and essential component of his artwork.With the incorporation of the wood fence supports, Basquiat seemed to declare that his imagery must be regarded with the utmost respect and seriousness. With their weight, density and scale, these works demand to be noticed. It is instructive to recall the installation of Gold Griot and Flexible in the Basquiat retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The two works towered over the immense exhibition space. Like stop signs, these structures caused the viewer to slow down, and pay attention. An Imposing PresenceIt is not coincidental that with these new picture supports, Basquiat introduced more authoritative imagery in his representation of the standing black male. While the figure in Flexible shares some similarity with the central figure of Notary, 1983, and to a certain degree the figures depicted in The Philistines, 1982, it marks a change in the artist’s subject matter. In Notary, the key figural as well as iconographic precedent for Flexible, the central figure is part of an overall narrative content, intertwined in a cacophony of images and symbols. In contrast, the central figure of Flexible exists in solitude, looming over the viewer. Here Basquiat’s concern is for immediate, frontal engagement. In his portrayal of the ribs, Basquiat flattens out the figure, allowing the rib-chest portion to be represented as horizontal bands which become one and the same with the shape of the wooden slats. This integration of image and support adopts a formal pictorial solution more commonly associated with minimalist painting. In this regard, Flexible brings to representational image-making the same formal rigor Jasper Johns achieved in his American flag paintings and Frank Stella applied to his early geometric compositions. Flexible also pays homage to pop art esthetics. Basquiat’s use of wooden slats negates the viewer’s inclination to move into an illusionistic space traditionally associated with the picture surface. Like a pop art painting, such as Andy Warhol’s Elvis, 1962, Flexible provides no place “into” which the viewer can retreat. We are invited to engage this figure in “our” space. Basquiat’s figure is directly in front of us, without illusion. Flexible is nearly ten feet in height. In the photograph of Basquiat at work on the companion work Gold Griot in his Venice studio, the head of his figure dwarfs the artist’s beneath it. The concrete nature of Basquiat’s materials, and the tight, cohesive relationship between image and surface, give Flexible a unique and imposing presence. Manifestation of a Higher PowerBasquiat’s first narrative representation of a heroic black male is in Acque Pericolose, 1981, Schorr Family Collection, and Per Capita, 1981, Brant Foundation. Acque Pericolose presents a full-length black nude male whose hands are folded across his chest. The isolated male figure of Acque Pericolose, begun in mid-1981, underwent a significant transition over the next twelve months. This iconic subject was first represented as a raw, fully exposed and humbled youth, but quickly evolved in a series of paintings, each showing a fully mature and heroic male figure filling a significant portion of the pictorial field and surrounded with a collection of symbols. Per Capita, a depiction of Cassius Clay, was one of these works. These portray male boxers, red and black warriors, and other male figures that personify heroism, power, dignity, and pride. Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump, 1982, Profit I, 1982, Untitled (Self Portrait), 1982, and Untitled (Boxer), 1982, are others that convey these attributes. In 1982, Basquiat produced no fewer than 52 paintings and 30 drawings in which the main image is an iconic, black male figure. Some reference historical figures, others are self portraits. The artist presents them at a victorious moment, with upraised arms. The image of a black male relating to both Basquiat’s “crew” and the artist himself is primarily the subject of his formative years 1981–1982. 18 months later, Flexible ushers in Basquiat’s representation of the black male as king or divinity figure.The figure in Flexible cannot be viewed as a mere mortal. This figure exists beyond our world, a manifestation of a higher power. While many of Basquiat’s earlier images of a single black male portray specific people, including the artist himself and well-known personalities from sports and music, the personage of Flexible is not an identifiable character, but represents someone removed from our daily experience. Contrast the figures of Flexible and Profit I, which was painted almost two years earlier. In Profit I, the figure is represented with both arms raised, like a cactus plant, the gesture suggesting some kind of worldly heroism. The gold and red crown of thorns – or halo – over the figure’s head is a sacred or perhaps heavenly symbol; its submersion in a black field surrounded by cryptic scrawls and symbols counteracts these associations, aligning Basquiat’s figure with our world. Flexible presents a significantly different kind of figural presence. This figure is as much a divine apparition as a living human being. With its austere and assertive background surface, the figure of Flexible references sculptural representations of the divine in various sub-Saharan African cultures. In Flexible an oversized head, wide, slanted and partially closed eyes, a broad flat nose and mouth with prominent teeth, and cowry shells surrounding the eyes and along the hairline all indicate that Basquiat was influenced by sub-Saharan African source material. Instilling his figure with the same attributes of dignity, power and the sacred, the artist made an even stronger statement by devising a new picture support for his paintings of divinity figures. The arm gestures in most of Basquiat’s representations of the black male extend upwards, signifying heroic achievement. The arm gesture depicted in Flexible is unique in Basquiat’s oeuvre. From each shoulder, two long, tubular-shaped green appendages, one vertical, the other first extending downward and then vertically, join together as a continuous band above the figure’s head. Now the figure’s arms are linked together, signaling an act of coronation. In works such as Profit I or The Philistines, Basquiat positioned a halo or nimbus above his figure’s head. In other works, such as Charles the First, 1982, he added his now iconic crown. Both nimbus and crown imbue Basquiat’s personages with sanctity. Flexible diverges from the previous iconography, enabling the figure’s arm position to convey the same attributes assigned to the halo or nimbus. Neither Gold Griot or M, Basquiat’s two other images of royalty depicted on wood-slat fencing material, have a similar representation of their figure’s arms. Painted immediately following these two works, in Flexible the royal attributes of the figure are complemented by the additional symbolism of the sacred.Heroism and SanctityThe meaning of the word “flexible” is to bend without breaking, be easily modified, to respond well to altered circumstances. If one compares the way Basquiat schematically outlines the form of upraised arms in M with his rendering of the arms in Flexible, it is apparent that the later work conveys a freedom or playfulness not found in the more static gestural configuration of the work that preceded it. The highly expressive, freely flowing arm positioning captured in Flexible is a counterpoint to the regularity and order of the picture support. As previously noted, the arm gestures in Flexible are unusual for the artist. Faced with the “raw,” somewhat static imagery presented in M, Basquiat sought to enhance the characterization of his new, commanding royal figure. The unconventional yet expressive arm configuration of Flexible is elastic. In their extension these arms are strong and flexible, contorting but not breaking. The limbs of Flexible stretch beyond their natural capacity, extending upward, eventually joining each other, forming symbols of both heroism and sanctity. Flexible is the expression of a highly confident creator, an artist capable of taking chances, able to play with a given motif or subject matter, expanding his pictorial moves as he develops his themes.

  • USAUSA
  • 2018-05-17
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A highly important and extremely rare ru guanyao brush washer northern

Finely potted with shallow rounded sides rising from a slightly splayed foot, exquisitely veiled in a luminous and translucent bluish-green glaze suffused with a dense network of glistening ice crackles, the glaze thinning at the extremities to subtly reveal the body beneath and pooling particularly along the cavetto and foot to an unctuous caesious colour, the underside with three delicate 'sesame-seed' spur marks A RU ICE CRACKLE BRUSH WASHER Regina Krahl Ru guanyao, the official ware of the late Northern Song (960-1127) court from the kilns in Ruzhou, in modern Baofeng county, Henan province, has in the course of nearly a millennium gained quasi mythical status. Ru ware is a part of Chinas history, an emblem of Chinas philosophy, a metaphor for Chinas aesthetics in short, an icon of Chinas culture. The small and unobtrusive ceramic pieces are considered the epitome of the Chinese potters craft, but they are far more than just that, they have a significant story to tell. They can be considered the crowning glory of any collection of Chinese works of art, but they are and always were virtually unobtainable. With its glowing, intense blue-green glaze, its luminous, complex interlaced ice crackle pattern, its classic, excellently proportioned shape, and its three fine sesame seed spur marks, the present brush washer, formerly in the collection of the Chang Foundation in the Hongxi Museum, Taipei, is a picture-book example of Ru guanyao and incarnates to perfection the wares revered qualities. It would be difficult to find a better ambassador for Ru ware. Although Ru ware unlike guan ware of Hangzhou is very distinctive, it still shows great variation in the glaze, which can range from a pale milky-opaque green without any crackle, as seen on the brush washer sold in these rooms in 2012 (no. 29 in our list, below), to the intense, glassy blue-green with a light-catching crackle in superimposed, horizontal, flake-like layers, known as ice or broken ice crackle, found on the present piece. While some connoisseurs expressed a preference for the former, as, for example, the early Ming (1368-1644) writer Cao Zhao in his collectors handbook Ge gu yao lun [The essential criteria of antiquities], the latter seems to have been the ideal that the Hangzhou official (guan) kilns of the Southern Song (1127-1279) tried to recreate. Both types are extremely rare, and there are many variations in between, some rather matt and greyish, others with predominating, sometimes stained, crackle lines, that cut vertically through the glaze layer without reflecting light. Whatever ones taste in this matter, there can be no doubt that this ravishingly beautiful vessel represents one of the most desirable examples extant. Pieces closest to the present piece in glaze quality would seem to be one of the examples in the Sir Percival David Collection (53), one of the pair in the Röhsska Museum (57), and the piece in the Princessehof Museum (59). The list of preserved specimens suggests, that the best glazes were achieved on the smaller and simpler vessel shapes, while on the larger and more complex forms glazes often turned out less remarkable or even untypical, as on the famous pear-shaped vase in the Sir Percival David Collection, which Wang Qingzheng therefore went as far as doubting altogether (Wang et al., 1991, p. 116). The exquisite state of preservation of this washer would have required reverential handling over thousands of generations during its nine-hundred-year long history. The extreme rarity of Ru wares, which can hardly be overstated, is due to a combination of factors. When looking through the list of extant Ru pieces, it becomes clear that the Ru kilns did not practise large-scale series production. Of many shapes, only one or two examples are known, and vessels of the same basic form tend to differ in size and proportion and may be fired on three or on five spurs. Of the five extant bottles (nos 1-5), for example, only two are similar in form; the six narcissus basins (nos 6-11) come in at least two sizes; one of the three incense burners (nos 12-14) is much larger than the other two; and the thirty-three brush washers (nos 30-62) vary in profile and range in size from 12.3 cm to 16.7 cm, without any particular size predominating. Unlike in south China, where individual dragon kilns in the Longquan area for example, could extend to lengths of 100 m, Ru kilns were small bun-shaped (mantou) kilns less than 2 m long. Their capacity was further limited by the fact that Ru pieces were fired standing upright, each in its own saggar, rather than stacked upside down, like Ding wares, and the method of firing them, precariously balanced on rings or pads with three or five thin pointed stilts, undoubtedly led to many failures. In addition, pieces were generally fired more than once, first for the biscuit, and then at least once more for the glaze. Glaze crazing, originally an undesired effect of the different contraction of body and glaze during the cooling process, was first discovered as an asset on Ru ware; yet an attractive crackle pattern refracting the light, like in mineral formations occurring in nature, requires a happy coincidence of circumstances and cannot be produced at will. Ru ware evokes patriotic sentiments and nostalgic thoughts of glorious eras of Chinas past, such as the reign of the Northern Song Emperor Huizong (r. 1101-1125), one of Chinas greatest imperial art enthusiasts and connoisseurs; or that of the Southern Song (1127-1279) Emperor Gaozong (r. 1127-1162), who strove to recreate some of the dynastys lost splendour in the new southern capital Hangzhou, although this had just been intended as a temporary abode for the court, after it had been forced to flee from invading foreigners. Ru official ware was made for only a very short period of time, generally believed not to have exceeded twenty years, during the reigns of the Northern Song Emperors Zhezong (r. 1086-1100) and Huizong. The two decades from 1086 to 1106 put forward by Chen Wanli (Chen 1951) are still largely accepted as the most likely period of its production, even though some scholars have proposed slight variations. Although we have no indication of any direct imperial involvement in its creation, an imperial complaint about the unglazed rims of the white Ding wares from Hebei apparently led to an imperial order of green wares from Ruzhou in Henan instead, the first direct commission of ceramics by an imperial court, which until then had relied on tribute wares supplied by various manufactories. A taste for a ware so extremely modest and unspectacular could only evolve from a world view that propagated modesty and honesty over ostentation and pretence. This taste in ceramics manifested itself at a period, when the influential, idealist politician Wang Anshi (1021-1086) postulated, and practised himself, an austere and frugal lifestyle, and when amateur literati painters, whose concepts differed dramatically from those of the art academy professionals, pursued simplicity and artlessness in painting. Instead of displaying complex skills in elaborate compositions, they favoured natural and spontaneous depictions of humble motifs. As painters tried to render the atmosphere of a landscape at a specific moment, at a certain time of day or in certain weather conditions, potters were admired for achieving glazes of a specific shade (approaching the blue of the sky after rain), rather than for the shiny green surface in general that in the Tang dynasty (618-907) had evoked comparisons with jade. The non-precious ceramic material, the variation of hues achieved in the firing and the accidental crackle patterns appearing during cooling accorded perfectly with the new endorsement of simplicity, subtlety and spontaneity in art a form of understatement and connoisseurship that appealed to Chinas elite. With their discerning criteria for judging proportion, glaze structure, tonal range and tactility, Song connoisseurs in many ways anticipated modern design movements and Song ceramics still provide models of style and craftsmanship for potters today. Although this taste was originally borne by the class of Chinas educated scholar-officials, its sophistication at least as far as ceramics were concerned was fully embraced by the court. With the loss of the northern part of their empire to the Jurchen and the move of the capital to Hangzhou, the Song no longer had access to either the Ru or the Ding kilns a very visible reminder of lost territory. Since no southern manufactory was in a position to fill this lacuna, Emperor Gaozong, the first to rule out of Hangzhou, had new official (guan) kilns set up right inside the capital to make wares modelled on Ru ware for imperial use. It is exactly the glaze of the present washer, with its intense colour and broken ice crackle, that some of the most admired guan wares copied (compare, for example, some of the guan vessels in the National Palace Museum: Taipei 2016, pls II-2, II-7, II-11 and 12, II-42 and 43). When in 1151 a high civil official, Zhang Jun, who had moved south together with the Song court, made a gift of sixteen pieces of Ru ware to the Gaozong Emperor, it was a spectacular gesture that unmistakeably documented his power and wealth, as well as his allegiance to the Song court, and was duly recorded for posterity (in the Wulin jiushi, a book of memories of Hangzhou written by Zhou Mi, 1232-1308). How any official however powerful could have amassed such a large number of pieces that were notoriously difficult to come by, remains an open question, as only pieces rejected by the court were supposedly allowed to be sold, and it is unlikely that Zhang Jun would have offered the Emperor rejects of that kind. The high regard for Ru ware did not wane in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), when the term sesame seed markings to describe the wares characteristic minute spur marks, appears to have been coined. It appears for the first time in print in 1591 in Gao Lians Zun sheng ba jian [Eight discourses on the nurturing of life]. Unlike other Song wares, Ru was, however, virtually not copied then, presumably because too few pieces were in circulation to provide models. One notable exception is a monochrome blue-glazed porcelain version of an oval narcissus basin of Xuande mark and period (1426-1435), created by the Jingdezhen imperial kilns perhaps after a drawing (Mingdai Xuande guanyao jinghua tezhan tulu/Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1998, pl. 36). It was by sending originals from the palace in Beijing to the porcelain kilns in south China as models, among them a Ru narcissus basin, that the Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1723-1735) managed to revive Ru shapes and glazes. A list of different porcelains ordered to be made for the Emperor in 1732 lists Uncrackled Ru glaze with copper-coloured paste, copied from the colour of the glaze of two pieces of the Song dynasty, and Ru glaze with fish-roe crackle of copper-coloured paste, copied from the colours of the glaze of a piece of the Song dynasty sent from the imperial palace (Stephen W. Bushell, Oriental Ceramic Art: Illustrated by Examples from the Collection of W.T. Walters, New York, 1896; reprint London, 1981, pp. 194f.). According to an inventory of 1729, thirty-one Ru brush washers of various shapes and sizes, with and without inscriptions, were kept in special, probably Japanese, lacquer boxes (Taipei, 2006, p. 25), some of them identifiable through their inscriptions among pieces extant in Taipei today. Several Ru pieces are also included in the two handscrolls titled Guwan tu (Pictures of antiquities), painted in the Yongzheng reign in 1728 and 1729, respectively, which record art objects in the imperial collection, among them the narcissus basin with metal rim (no. 7 in the list below, see Regina Krahl, Art in the Yongzheng Period: Legacy of an Eccentric Art Lover, Orientations, November/December 2005, p. 65 top right), and the bowl from the Sir Percival David Collection (no. 17, see China. The Three Emperors 1662 1795, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005, cat. no. 168 bottom left). The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) appropriated Ru ware by having twenty-two of the eighty-seven extant pieces engraved with his poems, thus contributing further to the fame of the ware, even though he did not always correctly identify Ru ware, and at least in one instance had a poem inscribed also on a Yongzheng copy (ibid., cat. no. 197). In 1923, after the fall of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and before the opening of the Forbidden City as a public museum, a fire at one of the palace halls, supposedly deliberately planted by eunuchs in an attempt to hide that objects were missing, destroyed a storage area, where ancient works of art had been kept. From the burnt remains that were cleared by an outside company only some Ru wares, and some polychrome (doucai) porcelains of Chenghua mark and period (1465-1487) were apparently deemed worth keeping in spite of damage done to their glazes. Fifteen fire-damaged pieces are among the eighty-seven Ru pieces preserved world-wide. In the West, the identity of Ru ware came to be known through the International Exhibition of Chinese Art at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1935-1936, to which the Chinese Government lent ten examples identified as Ru, although by that time several Western collectors already owned some, without being sure about their identity. Ru pieces from the collections of Sir Percival David and George Eumorfopoulos were also included in the exhibition. The opportunity to inspect first-hand and to handle so many Ru pieces led David to study the historical sources and to publish his ground-breaking Commentary on Ju Ware in the Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society right after the exhibition (David 1936-1937). In China, many attempts had been made to locate the kiln site, but it was only in 1986 that a site considered to represent the official Ru manufactories was identified at Qingliangsi, Baofeng, Henan province, with the discovery of proper kiln remains following somewhat later. Besides a large number of sherds of typical Ru guanyao vessels that were recovered, the excavations have also shown that the potters were more ambitious than the heirloom pieces let one to believe. Whereas virtually all extant pieces of Ru official ware are small and plain, the kilns experimented with many complicated sculptural forms, openwork designs and detailed engraved decoration, of which no complete examples are preserved, or may ever have left the kilns. Other more recently excavated kiln sites are now sometimes mentioned in this context as possible official kilns of the Northern Song period, in particular the Zhanggongxiang kilns also in Ruzhou, Henan province (Beijing 2009), but almost no extant heirloom pieces can be matched to those manufactories. ________________________________________________________ THE WORLDWIDE PATRIMONY OF HEIRLOOM RU OFFICIAL WARES Regina Krahl For no other Song dynasty (960-1279) ceramic ware a complete list of extant examples could be compiled, like this is possible for Ru official wares. This is due not only to the fact that Ru represents by far the rarest category of Chinese ceramics; there are also two other important contributing factors: First, Ru wares always represented revered treasures, treated with diligent care and conspicuously handed down. Although the list of extant pieces got longer over the years, since pieces are still occasionally coming to light that have languished undiscovered in museum storerooms not surprising especially where no specialist curator is at hand, since Ru ware is at first glance unobtrusive it is becoming more and more unlikely that examples hidden, unrecognized, in private collections will be found. Second, Ru wares have never been so closely copied that later copies, or contemporary pieces from lesser kilns, could today easily be mixed up with the real wares, as would be the case, for example, when trying to establish a list of extant Song guan wares from Hangzhou. The only other Chinese ceramic ware, where the establishment of a catalogue raisonné has ever been attempted, by Julian Thompson, are the imperial porcelains of Chenghua mark and period (1465-1487); but whereas the number of extant Ru pieces amounts to less than one hundred, Chenghua wares probably run to at least six times that number. The exact figure of preserved Ru guan ware pieces has intrigued scholars for decades and recorded numbers have been rising. When in 1958 G. St. G. M. Gompertz compiled a list of extant Ru wares, he assembled thirty-one pieces outside of China, in addition to ten sent by the Chinese Government to the Royal Academy of Art exhibition in London 1935-1936 (Gompertz, 1958, p. 34). No other pieces from any Chinese collection were known at that time. Since then, many more specimens have been published, particularly pieces held in China, but also a few preserved in collections abroad, which had not been made public before. Although Gompertzs list of Ru wares included a few pieces which today would no longer qualify as such, his number was not far off the present mark of securely verified pieces abroad, which has increased only slightly to thirty-six recorded examples. In 1987, Wang Qingzheng published a list of sixty-five heirloom pieces of Ru official ware worldwide, enlarging it to sixty-nine in a revised edition in 1991, but including some pieces about which he himself expressed doubts (Wang et al., 1987, pp. 38-40; 1991, pp. 115-117). In the catalogue of an exhibition of Ru ware in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, in 2009, Degawa Tetsuro compiled a list of seventy reliable pieces (Osaka, 2009, pp. 279-87). In our last sale catalogue that presented a piece of Ru ware in Hong Kong in 2012, we were able to add nine further items to that list, arriving at a total of seventy-nine Ru pieces that can be considered heirloom, i.e. pieces that were never buried and excavated, but preserved and handed down above ground (Sothebys, 2012, pp. 40-43). These publications appear to have formed the basis for a yet more ambitious list included in a recent publication of the Palace Museum, Beijing (Beijing, 2015, pp. 260-305), where the museum made public for the first time several so far unpublished items from its collection, many of which had been damaged in the well-known palace fire in 1923 and thus had previously probably not be deemed worthy of publishing. This listing assembles a total of ninety pieces worldwide. Four pieces ought, however, be deducted from the list: a parrot-shaped fragment purchased by the Palace Museum, Beijing, in 2001 (Beijing, 2015, fig. 41); a brush washer donated to the Shanghai Museum, that was collected from and led to the discovery of the Ru kiln site (Beijing, 2015, fig. 42); a shallow bowl in the Guangdong Province Museum, which was reconstituted from a fragment (Beijing, 2015, fig. 54); and a bowl stand published and sold as Korean rather than as a piece of Ru ware (Guardian Hong Kong, 5.4. 2013, lot 414; Beijing, 2015, fig. 90). Although it is not always easy to establish beyond any doubt whether a piece has been excavated or was handed down, this author would also be inclined to suspend for the time being the inclusion in this list of four further pieces, whose heirloom status has not yet been verified: three brush washers included by the Palace Museum (Beijing, 2015, figs 34, 56, and 59) listed below as (88), (89) and (90); and one cup or small bowl that has recently come to light in Japan, listed below as (91). One further brush washer, which appeared in a publication in 1922 is presently unaccounted for, see (92) below. On the other hand, four vessels, whose status has been fully confirmed, seem to be missing from the Beijing list and can here be added: a third tripod incense burner in the Cincinnati Art Museum, here listed as 14; two brush washers in museums in The Netherlands and in Denmark, included below as 59 and 60, and a dish in the Shanghai Museum, 68 to bring the total number to eighty-seven. In 1986, when the kilns making Ru official ware for the Northern Song (960-1127) court were discovered and excavated in Qingliangsi, Baofeng county, Henan province, a large number of additional pieces, mostly damaged or fragmentary, was recovered from the kiln site. Since these pieces had obviously not been intended for delivery to the court, but were retained in the workshops due to perceived imperfection, or being unfinished (for example, in unglazed, biscuit-fired state), these are not included in our consideration here. Starting in 1940, no more than six Ru vessels have ever appeared at auction: The bottle from the Eumorfopoulos collection, now in the Sir Percival David Collection in the British Museum (no. 3), Sothebys London, 28th May 1940, lot 135. The narcissus basin with metal rim from the Ataka Collection, now in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, (no. 10), Sothebys London, 17th March 1959, lot 26, and 24th February 1970, lot 1. The brush washer from the K. S. Lo Collection, now in the Hong Kong Museum of Art (no. 51), Sothebys London, 15th April 1980, lot 140. The dish from the Stephen Junkunc III Collection, now in the collection of Au Bakling (no. 80), Christies New York, 3rd December 1992, lot 276 (fig. 3). The reduced dish from the Stephen Junkunc III Collection, now in a private collection (no. 69), Christies New York, 29th March 2006, lot 401 (fig. 5). The lobed brush washer from the Alfred Clark Collection, now in a private collection (no. 29), Sothebys Hong Kong, 4th April 2012, lot 101 (fig. 4). What is most remarkable when looking through this list of eighty-seven heirloom pieces of Ru official ware, is that virtually all examples are now preserved in museum collections and no more than three pieces are left in private hands (figs 3-5). CATALOGUE RAISONNE OF EXTANT HEIRLOOM RU OFFICIAL WARES S nos refer to fig. nos in the Appendix of the Palace Museums Selection of Ru Ware, see Beijing, 2015, pp. 260-305 [ ] denotes heirloom Ru official wares preserved in private collections Bottles, angular, no foot (2) 1  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 22.4 cm, metal rim, fenghua and Qianlong inscriptions (S 1) 2  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 20.5 cm, reduced, Qianlong inscription on ground part of base (S 2) Bottle, globular (1) 3  Sir Percival David Collection, London, ex Eumorfopoulos: 24.8 cm, metal rim (S 60) Bottle, ovoid (1) 4  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: reduced, 17.9 cm, metal rim and foot, Qianlong inscription around ground centre of base (S 3) Bottle, pear-shaped (1) 5  British Museum, London, ex Alfred Clark: 20.1 cm (S 72) Narcissus basins (6) 6  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 23 cm, Qianlong inscription (S4) 7  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 23 cm, metal rim, Qianlong inscription (S 5) 8  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 23.1 cm (S 7) 9  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 26.4 cm, feet cut down, Qianlong inscription (S 6) 10  Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, ex Ataka: 22 cm, metal rim (S 83) 11  Jilin Province Museum: 23.2 cm, cut down, metal rim (S 53) Tripod incense burners (3) 12  Sir Percival David Collection, London: 24.8 cm (S 61) 13  Palace Museum, Beijing, ex Qing court collection: 18 cm (S 22) 14  Cincinnati Art Museum: 17.8 cm (Ellen B. Avril, Chinese Art in the Cincinnati  Art Museum, Cincinnati, 1997, pl. 63) Warming bowl (1) 15  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 16.2 cm (S 8) Bowls (2) 16  Palace Museum, Beijing, ex Qing court collection: 17.1 cm Qianlong inscription (S 24) 17  Sir Percival David Collection, London: 17 cm, metal rim, Qianlong inscription (S 63) Bowl stands, lobed (2) 18  British Museum, London, ex Sir Harry Garner: 16.5 cm (S 73) 19  Sir Percival David Collection, London: 17 cm (S 62) Bowl stand, round (1) 20  Victoria & Albert Museum, London, ex Sir Harry Garner: 16.5 cm, metal rim, inscribed with palace name (S 77) Bowl stand, flat (1) 21  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ex John Gardner Coolidge: 18.7 cm (S 82) Tripod stand (1) 22  Palace Museum, Beijing, ex Qing court collection: 18.3 cm, Qianlong inscription (S 23) Basins (2) 23  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 15.9 cm, lost metal rim (S 16) 24  National Museum of China, Beijing, on loan from Palace Museum: 13.7 cm (S 35) Brush washers, oval, with twin fish (3) 25  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 14.2 cm (S 9) 26  Sir Percival David Collection, London: 14.2 cm (S 64) 27  Sir Percival David Collection, London: 14.5 cm (S 65) Brush washers, lobed (2) 28  British Museum, London, ex Alfred Clark: 13.6 cm (S 74) [29]  Sothebys Hong Kong, 4. 4. 2012, ex Alfred Clark: 13.5 cm (S 89, fig. 4) Brush washers, round (33) 30  Palace Museum, Beijing, ex Qing court collection: 13 cm, inscribed yi, (S 25, fig. 1) 31  Palace Museum, Beijing, ex Qing court collection: 12.9 cm, metal rim, inscribed yi, (S 26) 32  Palace Museum, Beijing: 13.6 cm (inscribed yi, fire damaged (S 27) 33  Palace Museum, Beijing: 13.4 cm, inscribed yi, fire damaged (S 28) 34  Palace Museum, Beijing: 13.5 cm, inscribed yi, fire damaged (S 29) 35  Palace Museum, Beijing: 13.9 cm, inscribed yi, fire damaged (S 30) 36  Palace Museum, Beijing: 12.8 cm, inscribed bing, fire damaged (S 31) 37  Palace Museum, Beijing: 12.8 cm, inscribed bing, Qianlong inscription, fire damaged (S32) 38  Palace Museum, Beijing: 12.8 cm, inscribed bing, Qianlong inscription, fire damaged (S33) 39  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 14.9 cm, inscribed jia, (S 10) 40  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 14.8 cm, inscribed jia, Qianlong inscription, (S 11) 41  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 13 cm, metal rim, inscribed bing, Qianlong inscription (S 12) 42  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 13.1 cm, Qianlong inscription (S 13, fig. 2) 43  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 12.9 cm, Qianlong inscription (S 14) 44  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 13.4 cm, metal rim (S 15) 45  National Museum of China, Beijing: 16.7 cm, metal rim, probably fire damaged (S 51) 46  Shanghai Museum: 13.5 cm, fire damaged (S 43) 47  Shanghai Museum: 12.6 cm (S 44) 48  Shanghai Museum: 12.6 cm (S 45) 49  Shanghai Museum: 12.3 cm (S 46) [50]  The present lot, ex Chang Foundation, Taipei: 13 cm (S 58) 51  Hong Kong Museum of Art, ex K.S. Lo: 13.5 cm, Qianlong inscription ground off (S 55) 52  Sir Percival David Collection, London: 13.7 cm, inscribed yi, fire damaged (S 66) 53  Sir Percival David Collection, London: 13 cm (S 67) 54  Sir Percival David Collection, London: 12.9 cm (S 68) 55  Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Sir Alan Barlow: 12.8 cm (S 78) 56  Röhsska Museum, Gothenburg, Sweden: 13 cm (S 85) 57  Röhsska Museum, Gothenburg, Sweden: 12.9 cm (S 86) 58  Rietberg Museum, Zurich, Meiyintang Collection: 12.8 cm, metal rim, inscribed bing (S87) 59  Princessehof Keramiek Museum, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, ex Nanne Ottema: 13 cm (http://friesmuseum.delving.org/thumbnail/friesmuseum/princessehof/GMP%201981-111%20[01]/500) 60  Kunstindustrimuseet, Copenhagen, Denmark, ex A. Oigaard: 13 cm (Osvald Sirén, Kinas Konst under Tre Årtusenden, Stockholm, 1943, vol. II, fig. 324) 61  Philadelphia Museum of Art, ex Major General William Crozier: 13 cm (S 80) 62  Cleveland Museum of Art: 12.9 cm (S 81) Dishes, deep, rounded (7) 63  Palace Museum, Beijing, ex Qing court collection: 18.4 cm (S 38) 64  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 15.8 cm, inscribed jia, Qianlong inscription (S 17) 65  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 21.4 cm, metal foot, Qianlong inscription (S 18) 66  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 18.4 cm, Qianlong inscription (S 19) 67  British Museum, London, ex George Eumorfopoulos: 19.6 cm, Qianlong inscription, fire damaged (S 75) 68  Shanghai Museum: 12.3 cm (Wang et al. 1987, pl. 32; 1991, pl. 32 and cover) [69]  Christies New York, 29. 3. 2006, ex Stephen Junkunc III: 17.5 cm, reduced, fire damaged (S 88, fig. 5) Dishes, deep, flared (3) 70  Palace Museum, Beijing, ex Qing court collection: 19.3 cm, inscribed with palace name (S 36) 71  Palace Museum, Beijing, ex Qing court collection: 19.6 cm, inscribed cai (S 37) 72  Sir Percival David Collection, London: 19.5 cm, Qianlong inscription, fire damaged (S 70) Dishes, shallow, flared (12) 73  Palace Museum, Beijing, ex Qing court collection: 17.1 cm (S 39) 74  Palace Museum, Beijing, ex Qing court collection: 16.9 cm (S 40) 75  Shanghai Museum: 17.1 cm (S 47) 76  Shanghai Museum: 17 cm (S 48) 77  Shanghai Museum: 17 cm (S 49) 78  Shanghai Museum: 17 cm (S 50) 79  Tianjin Museum: 17.2 cm (S 52) [80]  Christies Hong Kong, 3. 12. 1982, Au Bakling, ex Stephen Junkunc III: 17.5 cm (S 57, fig. 3) 81  Sir Percival David Collection, London: 17 cm (S 71) 82  British Museum, London, ex George Eumorfopoulos: 18.4 cm, Qianlong inscription, fire damaged (S 76) 83  St. Louis Art Museum, ex Samuel C. Davis: 17.2 cm (S 79) 84  Tokyo National Museum, ex Kawabata Yasunari: 17.1 cm (S 84) Dishes, rounded, no foot (3) 85  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 12.8 cm, metal rim, inscribed fenghua (S 20) 86  National Palace Museum, Taipei, ex Qing court collection: 10.9 cm, inscribed bing and cai (S 21) 87  Sir Percival David Collection, London: 12.1 cm, fire damaged (S 69) Potential Additions to the List Heirloom status unverified (4) (88) Brush washer, Palace Museum, Beijing, donated 1965: 13 cm (S 34) (89) Brush washer, Muwentang Collection: 13.9 cm (S 56) (90) Brush washer, Guanfu Museum: size unknown (S 59) (91) Cup, Japanese Private Collection: 10.2 cm, repaired (S ji no bi/The Beauty of Song Ceramics, The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 2016, cat. no. 1) Present whereabouts unknown (1) (92) Brush washer, published as Korean, but probably Ru: 13 cm (Oscar Rücker-Embden, Chinesische Frühkeramik, Leipzig, 1922, pl. 43 a) ________________________________________________________ Selected Bibliography on Ru Official Ware David 1936-1937 Sir Percival David, A Commentary on Ju Ware, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 14, 1936-1937, pp. 18-63 Chen 1951 Chen Wanli, Ruyao zhi wo jian [My views on Ru ware], Wenwu cankao ciliao, 1951, no. 2 London 1952 Ju and Kuan Wares. Imperial Wares of the Sung Dynasty, Related Wares and Derivatives of Later Date, The Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 1952 Gompertz 1958 G.St.G.M. Gompertz, Chinese Celadon Wares, London, 1958 Wang et al. 1987/1991 Wang Qingzheng, Fan Dongqing & Zhou Lili, Ruyao de faxian/The Discovery of Ru Kiln, Shanghai, 1987; rev. ed. Hong Kong, 1991 Zhao et al. 1991 Zhao Qingyun et al., Ruyao de xin faxian/New Discoveries in Ru Kiln, Beijing, 1991. Ye & Ye 2001 Ye Zhemin & Ye Peilan, eds, Ruyao juzhen/Collection of Porcelain Treasures of the Ru Kiln, Beijing, 2001. Zhao 2003 Zhao Qingyun, ed., Songdai Ruyao [Ru ware of the Song dynasty], Zhengzhou, 2003. Taipei 2006 Lin Baiting, ed., Da guan. Bei Song Ruyao tezhan/Grand View: Special Exhibition of Ju Ware from the Northern Sung Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2006 Baofeng 2008 Baofeng Qingliangsi Ruyao/Ru Yao at Qingliangsi in Baofeng, Zhengzhou, 2008 Beijing 2009 Ruyao yu Zhanggongxiangyao chutu ciqi/Ceramic Art Unearthed from the Ru Kiln Site and Zhanggongxiang Kiln Site, Beijing, 2009 Osaka 2009 Hokus Joy seiji: Kko hakkutsu seika ten/Northern Song Ru Ware. Recent Archaeological Findings, Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 2009 Sothebys 2012 Regina Krahl, Ru. From a Japanese Collection, Sothebys, Hong Kong, 2012 Beijing 2015 Ru ci ya ji. Gugong Bowuyuan zhencang ji chutu Ruyao ciqi huicui/Selection of Ru Ware. The Palace Museums Collection and Archaeological Excavation, Palace Museum, Beijing, 2015 Taipei 2016 Yu Peichin, Gui si chenxing. Qing gong chuanshi 12 zhi 14 shiji qingci tezhan/Precious as the Morning Star. 12th-14th Century Celadons in the Qing Court Collection, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2016

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2017-10-02
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An exceptionally important and fine doucai 'chicken cup' mark and

Arguably the most celebrated porcelain throughout the centuries, delicately potted with flawless translucent sides flaring out from the countersunk base to a subtly everted rim, the exterior painted in faint outlines of cobalt blue under the glaze and picked out in overglaze enamels of yellow, green, light and dark olive green, and two tones of iron red with a lively continuous scene of a red rooster and his golden hen out in a garden with their chicks, one side of the cup depicting the rooster with his head turned back to see the hen pecking at a red-winged insect on the ground as one of the chicks looks on, while the other two chicks chase each other around a small patch of leaves, the reverse with the proud rooster arching his neck forward raising his head with his beak slightly opened as if to crow, while the hen tends to their brood of chicks, the hen hunched over pecking at a red-winged insect on the ground as one of the chicks stands on her back and the other two peep for attention in the foreground, the two scenes divided on one side by jagged underglaze blue rocks and yellow lily flowers with bright green leaves, the other side with a rose bush issuing brilliant red flowers and lush leaves next to a blue garden rock, the entire cup painted in an artless style further reflected in the six-character reign mark in underglaze blue framed within double squares inscribed on the countersunk base, the immaculate porcelain body covered with a characteristic silky glaze, pooling on the base slightly veiling the mark The Meiyintang 'Chicken Cup' by Regina Krahl The term ‘chicken cup’, which denotes a tiny porcelain wine cup painted with cocks, hens and chicks, has for centuries evoked one of the most desirable possessions for connoisseurs of Chinese works of art – imperial and otherwise. A ‘chicken cup’ is the crowning glory of any collection of Chinese porcelain. Created in the Chenghua reign (1465-87), when quality was at its peak, ‘chicken cups’ are outstanding in their tactile material, their range of colours, and their charming, unmannered painting style. Since quantities produced were at that time rather low, it is today almost impossible to acquire a genuine Chenghua example, only three other examples being preserved in private collections. Chenghua ‘chicken cups’ were only ever offered for sale at auction at Sotheby’s, once during the 1960s, twice during the ‘70s, three times during the ‘80s, once during the ‘90s (the present cup), and none has been available since. A ‘chicken cup’ is not only celebrated as one of the finest and rarest specimens of Chinese ceramics – its materials, potting, painting and firing being of the highest quality – but it also is testimony to Chinese ceramic connoisseurship over the centuries and as such is a historical document that illustrates an aspect of China’s culture. Praised and desired by Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) emperors and other discerning literati collectors, ‘chicken cups’ have acquired a legendary aura that goes well beyond their immediate art-historical importance. The Chenghua reign stands out among China’s imperial porcelain production for the unmatched level of craftsmanship and artfulness of its creations. For the longest part of the reign the style of the Xuande period (1426-35), the last reign before Chenghua to have produced fine imperial wares, remained influential. Only the final years of the reign saw a new departure of Jingdezhen’s imperial porcelain industry. This is when all the fine wares peculiar to this reign were created, including the ‘chicken cups’. Two major surveys of Chenghua porcelain have been published by Liu Xinyuan and Ts’ai Ho-pi, who agree on this point (Liu Xinyuan, ‘Jingdezhen chutu Ming Chenghua guanyao yiji yu yiwu zhi yanjiu/A Study of the Site of the Chenghua Imperial Kiln at Jingdezhen and Related Archaeological Finds’, in the exhibition catalogue A Legacy of Chenghua: Imperial Porcelain of the Chenghua Reign Excavated from Zhushan, Jingdezhen, The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1993, pp. 18-87; and Cai Hebi [Ts’ai Ho-pi], Chuanshi pin Chenghua ci/Everlasting Chenghua Porcelain, Taipei, 2003). Cai and Liu disagree, however, on the exact years of and precise reasons for this innovation, although the involvement of the Emperor’s notorious favourite concubine Wan Guifei seems without doubt, and the production period seems in any case to be confined to the decade prior to 1485, when the imperial kilns halted production. The characteristic porcelains of the Chenghua period, those of this late period, tend to be small and unpretentious, and seem at first glance unassuming and modest. They were intended for individual appreciation and handling rather than for display, and need a connoisseur’s glance and touch to be taken in in all their magnificence. Given the strict supervision and precise stipulations by the court in this period, it is hardly surprising that the material quality was improved compared to previous reigns, but it is most remarkable that the painted decoration on these cups could become so free and uncontrived. The painting tends to be much less formal and predictable than in previous reigns, with an unprecedented softness and elegance. Liu Xinyuan considers the distinctive, somewhat naïve calligraphy of the Chenghua reign mark to be that of the young Emperor himself, and marks enclosed in a double square, which are characteristic of doucai wares, were an innovation of the late Chenghua phase. Exactingly shaped and carefully finished, a ‘chicken cup’ with its recessed base and lack of a foot sits particularly well in the hand. The sensuous pleasure of the touch of a piece of Chenghua porcelain is well known, and Chenghua ‘chicken cups’ are no exception in this respect. The extremely fine, tactile white paste of late Chenghua wares that has no match among Jingdezhen porcelains of any period, is due to refined body and glaze recipes, with increased levels of aluminium oxide and reduced iron oxide compared to those of the Xuande reign, enabling higher firing temperatures and resulting in a whiter, denser biscuit, as well as a lower content of iron and calcium oxide in the glaze, making it clearer and finer and giving it a distinctive, soft sheen. The doucai colour scheme was not developed but refined in the Chenghua period. Doucai, has been translated as contrasting, contending, interlocking, joined or dovetailed colours, referring either to the contrast of the mostly primary colours or the fact that overglaze enamels are fitted into underglaze outlines. When imperial kilns made their first polychrome porcelains in the Xuande reign, it was ritual vessels with lançainvocations for use in Tibet, in a context where bright primary colours were revered. The delayed appearance of multi-coloured wares for use at court was obviously by choice. For the best wares of the Chenghua reign, such as ‘grape’ and ‘chicken cups’, attempts were made to increase the palette. ‘Chicken cups’ show different tones of red, a light and a dark olive green (green and yellow superimposed), yellow as well as a shaded pale underglaze blue used as a wash. For the chickens’ plumage several enamels were superimposed to create a rich variegated effect. The repeat firings necessary for this process naturally would have reduced the number of successfully completed examples. The design of a cock and a hen with chicks in a garden is not encountered on porcelain before the Chenghua reign. The subject matter, however, was a well-known topic of Song dynasty (960-1279) painting and the Chenghua Emperor inscribed a poetic colophon about the subject on a Song hanging scroll of a hen and chicks (see Ts’ai Ho-pi in The Emperor’s broken china. Reconstructing Chenghua porcelain, Sotheby’s, London, 1995, p. 22, fig. 1) (Fig. 1). The Wanli Emperor (r. 1572-1620) is known to have admired Chenghua ‘chicken cups’ in particular, which made them expensive already at that time. During the Kangxi period (1662-1722) their value rose even further and is said to have surpassed that of the celebrated Song wares. The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-95) wrote an ode in praise of ‘chicken cups’. To own a Chenghua doucai cup at that time had become synonymous with enjoying a small fortune. In the novel Hong lou meng (Dream of the Red Chamber) by Cao Xueqin (died 1763) Granny Liu accidentally drank from such a cup, making it thus unusuable for other members of the family. The cup was therefore kindly offered to the poor woman so that she would be able to live out her days on the proceeds. The National Palace Museum, Taipei, holds eight authentic Chenghua ‘chicken cups’ together with many later copies, all of them listed in Gugong ciqi lu [Record of porcelains from the Old Palace], Taipei, 1961-6, part II, vol.1, pp. 253-5, of which six genuine examples were selected for the exhibition Chenghua ciqi tezhan/Special Exhibition of Ch’eng-hua Porcelain Ware, 1465-1487, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2003, cat. nos. 132-7; and two others for the exhibition Ming Chenghua ciqi tezhan [Special exhibition of Ming Chenghua porcelain], Taipei, 1977, col. pl. 1 and pl. 29, the latter illustrated again in colour in Porcelain of the National Palace Museum. Enamelled Ware of the Ming Dynasty, vol. I, Hong Kong, 1966, pl. 13. Five other museum collections can boast a Chenghua example: the British Museum, London, from the Sir Percival David Collection, included in the exhibition Flawless Porcelains. Imperial Ceramics from the Reign of the Chenghua Emperor, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, 1995, cat. no. 22; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, illustrated in John Ayers, Far Eastern Ceramics in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1980, col. pl. 50; the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, from the Evill collection, published in the Museum’s Annual Report of 1965; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from the collection of W.W. Winkworth, sold in our London rooms, 27th November 1973, lot 308A, and again in our New York rooms, 4th December 1984, lot 332, and illustrated in Suzanne G.Valenstein, A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, New York, 1989, col. pl. 24; and the Collections Baur, Geneva, from the George Eumorfopoulos and Mrs. Walter Sedgwick collections, sold in our London rooms, 2nd July 1968, lot 135, and illustrated in John Ayers, The Baur Collection Geneva: Chinese Ceramics, Geneva, 1968-74, vol. II, pl. A 141. The authenticity of two cups in the Palace Museum, Beijing, published as genuine in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 177, has been challenged by the late Julian Thompson, the world’s leading authority on Chenghua porcelain, who believed that there are no Chenghua ‘chicken cups’ remaining in mainland China. Only three other Chenghua ‘chicken cups’ appear to remain in private hands: two examples formerly in the collection of Edward T. Chow, one sold in these rooms 25th November 1980, lot 31, and illustrated in Jessica Harrison-Hall, Catalogue of Late Yuan and Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London: The British Museum Press, 2001, p. 159 figs 2 and 3 centre; the other sold in these rooms 19th May 1981, lot 429 and now in the Au Bak Ling collection and included in the exhibition 100 Masterpieces of Imperial Chinese Ceramics from the Au Bak Ling Collection, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1998; the third, formerly the pair to the present cup in the Dreyfus collection, exhibited together with it in the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition 1957, and illustrated in the Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 30, 1955-57, pl. 46, no. 175 right, was sold in our London rooms, 2nd March 1971, lot 166. Even fragmentary ‘chicken cups’ appear to be rare among the excavations at the Ming imperial kiln site in Jingdezhen, where sherds of an unfinished cup, painted in underglaze blue only and still lacking the enamels, were recovered from the third and last Chenghua stratum, datable to the final years of the reign, and included in the exhibition The Emperor’s broken china. Reconstructing Chenghua porcelain, Sotheby’s, London, 1995, cat. no. 23. This clearly shows that the complete design was drawn onto the unglazed porcelain in pale underglaze blue before firing, even if some outlines were later hidden under the enamels. More recently sherds of enamelled ‘chicken cups’ have also come to light and one is illustrated in ‘Jiangxi Jingdezhen Ming Qing yuyao yizhi fajue jianbao/Brief Excavation Report on Imperial Kiln of the Ming and Qing Dynasties Located in Jingdezhen City of Jiangxi Province’, Wenwu 2007, no. 5, p. 25, pl. 78. A cup recomposed from sherds has been sold at Christie’s London, 16th November 1999, lot 195. The present cup comes now from the Meiyintang collection, one of the finest private collections of Chinese ceramics to have been assembled in the second half of the 20th century, and has a long history in the West, going back to the 1950s. It was then in the collection of Mrs. Leopold Dreyfus, a London-based collector, who owned an important but little known collection of Chinese ceramics, and lent to several exhibitions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, of which she was a member until the late 1980s. It comes in a box commissioned by the collector-dealer Edward T. Chow, and was probably once part of his vast holdings of outstanding ceramics, which are said to have included more than the two ‘chicken cups’ sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 1980 and 1981. Many copies of doucai ‘chicken cups’ were made in the early Qing dynasty, with genuine Kangxi, Yongzheng ((1723-35) and Qianlong reign marks as well as with spurious Chenghua marks, with hall marks or without any mark. They vary considerably in the details of the decoration, but usually follow the early Ming prototype both in form and in the painting of the cocks with three long tail feathers. Compare two examples with Kangxi and Yongzheng reign marks illustrated together with one of the Ming originals from the Edward T. Chow collection, which they closely follow, in Cécile et Michel Beurdeley, La céramique chinoise, Fribourg, 1974, col. pls. 71 and 72. It was only in the Yongzheng period that the pattern underwent an updating and was redesigned, resulting in a free interpretation of the fifteenth-century model, see the cup also in the Meiyintang collection, illustrated in Krahl, op. cit., no. 1745, and pp. 218-19, figs. 19b and 20b, and sold in these rooms, 14th November 1989, lot 230.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2014-04-08
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Peach Blossom Spring

Signed YUAN, dated 1982, inscribed, with four seals of the artist, and one collector's sealINSCRIPTIONPlanting plum trees upon the twin streams,I grew old and weary of the noisy city;Who can believe when A Chao arrived,That earthly Peach Blossom Spring was just a dream.The plum blossoms grow exuberantly at Moye Jingshe. Friends who have seen them were full of praise and admiration, and described it as Paradise. They said that ever since I moved here, neighbours have settled in and grew flowers. One could hear their chickens cackle and dogs bark, and see the lights from their residence. How would I be able to escape the hustle and bustle of city life? We all erupted in laughter. As I paint this work, I compose a little poem to commemorate the happiness of the occasion, and inscribed it on this painting. The seventy first year of the Republic of China, the seventh day of the last lunar month. Yuan, at 84 years of age. Zhang Daqian Peach Blossom Spring: Property from the Mactaggart Art Collection The Mactaggart Art Collection was formed by Mr. and Mrs. Sandy and Cécile Mactaggart. The Mactaggarts began collecting Asian art in the early 1960s, with a particular interest in Chinese textiles and paintings. Over a period of forty years, the Mactaggart Art Collection grew to be one of the finest privately held collections of East Asian art in the western world. In 2005 they donated the bulk of their collection, a total of more than 1000 works of Chinese art, to the University of Alberta Museums in Alberta, Canada, their former residence. It was the largest single donation the University had ever received from an individual. Zhang Daqian's Peach Blossom Spring, however, was one of their favourite works and remained in their possession.

  • USAUSA
  • 2016-04-05
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An outstanding and highly important massive gilt-bronze figure of

Well-cast and portrayed seated in vajraparyankasana, the right hand held in bhumisparshamudra and the left in dhyanamudra, wearing a pleated robe draped over the left shoulder with the undergarment gathered at the chest, the serene face with downcast eyes and a meditative expression, flanked by a pair of long pendulous ears cut with vertical slots, the head and domed ushnisha covered with tight curls and surmounted by an ovoid jewel, all supported on a double lotus pedestal with beaded edges and inscribed Da Ming Yongle nian shi, the base sealed and engraved with a visvavajra The Shakya Sage An Exceptional Yongle Gilt-Bronze Buddha David Weldon The artists working in the imperial workshops during the Yongle period remain anonymous, but their gilt bronze sculptures have now become recognised as among the most important works of art from the Buddhist world, characterised by faultless casting and rich golden hue. Some fifty-four examples bearing the inscription da Ming Yongle nian shi (‘bestowed in the Yongle era of the great Ming’) have been documented in Tibetan monastery collections; see Ulrich von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Hong Kong, 2001, vol. II, pp. 1237-91. These works have survived in Tibet due to imperial patronage lavished on Tibetan hierarchs and monasteries during the reign of the Yongle emperor. Zhu Di (1360-1424) pursued a bountiful relationship with Tibetan religious leaders during his reign as Yongle (Perpetual Happiness) emperor, but not all bronzes from his workshops were cast as gifts to Tibetans, nor were they all made following the strict Tibetan iconographic canons. A relatively large group depict Chinese Buddhist iconography that was not popular in Tibet, such as the Speelman Udayana Buddha, sold in these rooms, 7th October 2006, lot 803, and the Markbreiter Marichi and Chintamanichakra Avalokitesvara, also sold in these rooms, 7th October 2010, lot 2141 and 2143. With the emperor’s espousal of Buddhism it may be assumed that works were also cast to be worshipped locally, especially those iconographic subjects that depict deities from familiar Chinese Buddhist traditions. The present gilt bronze Buddha shows no signs of having been ritually painted as is normal in Tibetan Buddhist practise, and it could be that the sculpture was made in the imperial workshops for local worship rather than as a gift to a Tibetan hierarch. The stylistic origin of the Yongle Buddha can be traced to the Yuan dynasty when Tibetan Buddhism became the court religion. Early fourteenth century woodblocks made for the monastery of Yangshen Yuan, Hangzhou, are evidence of a new style appearing in Chinese Buddhist art, see Heather Stoddard Karmay, Early Sino-Tibetan Art, Warminster, 1975, pp. 47-50, pls. 26, 29, 30. The gently smiling faces, full rounded figures and tiered thrones in these woodblock prints reflect the current Newar styles favoured in Tibet, and introduced into China by Nepalese artists such as Aniko (1244-1306). Yongle sculptors could almost have used these illustrations as a blueprint for works such as the Shakyamuni Buddha shrine in the British Museum, W. Zwalf ed., Buddhism: Art and Faith, London, 1985, frontispiece, and the Speelman shrine, sold in these rooms, 7th October 2006, lot 808 (fig. 1). The present Buddha follows much the same style but has no additional throne, and differs in subtle stylistic detail from the British Museum and the Speelman examples: the drape of the Buddha’s robe over the lotus seat gathers linearly in front of the legs, in the manner of the Speelman Vajradhara, sold ibid., lot 811, rather than spreading in undulating folds. And an incised line decorates the hem of the Buddha’s robe throughout, a detail not encountered elsewhere in the oeuvre. Apart from these minor differences the classic Yongle style is evident in the loosely folded cloth over the legs and torso, the ubiquitous drape of the robe falling from the right shoulder, and the bulbous lotus petals of the pedestal, evenly spaced around the base between rows of rounded pearls. Other than the monumental gilt-bronze Padmapani in the Qinghai Museum, see The Palace Museum, Splendors from the Yongle (1403-1424) and Xuande (1426-1435) Reigns of China’s Ming Dynasty, Beijing, 2010, p. 253, pl. 126, and the Cernuschi Museum example, Ulrich von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, Hong Kong, 1981, p. 531. Pl. 151E, this Buddha is one of largest extant Yongle marked bronze sculptures, comparable in size to the important Xuande Amitayus, Christie’s Hong Kong, May 31, 2010, lot 1961. The iconographic form, in which the historical Buddha is presented, unadorned but for a simple robe and seated in the earth-touching gesture (bhumishparsha mudra), is relatively uncommon in the corpus of Yongle bronzes, with only one small example recorded in von Schroeder’s survey of Tibetan monastery collections, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet,  op. cit., p. 1280, pl. 358A. Other small examples include the rare Nepalese style Yongle Buddha in the Markbreiter Collection, sold in these rooms, 7th October 2010, lot 2142 and a classic version in the Palace Museum, Splendors from the Yongle (1403-1424) and Xuande (1426-1435) Reigns of China’s Ming Dynasty, op. cit., p. 244, pl. 118, but the present example is by far the largest yet recorded. The Buddha’s earth-touching gesture recalls an episode from his spiritual biography in which he triumphs over Mara (maravijaya) just prior to his enlightenment. Having vowed to remain in meditation until he penetrated the mysteries of existence, Shakyamuni was visited by Mara, a demon associated with the veils and distractions of mundane existence. The Buddha remained unmoved by all the pleasant and unpleasant distractions with which Mara sought to deflect him from his goal. According to some traditional accounts, Mara’s final assault consisted of an attempt to undermine the bodhisattva’s sense of worthiness by questioning Shakyamuni’s entitlement to seek the lofty goal of spiritual enlightenment and freedom from rebirth. Aided by spirits who reminded him of the countless compassionate efforts he had made on behalf of sentient beings throughout his many animal and human incarnations, Shakyamuni recognised that it was his destiny to be poised on the threshold of enlightenment. In response to Mara’s query, Shakyamuni moved his right hand from his lap to the ground before him, stating, ‘the earth is my witness’. This act of unwavering resolve caused Mara and his army of demons and temptresses to disperse, leaving Shakyamuni to experience his great enlightenment. The episode embodied in this rare Yongle gilt bronze took place upon the adamantine site (vajrasana) at Bodh Gaya, which by tradition was especially empowered to expedite his enlightenment.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2013-10-08
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Two sets of highly important, exceedingly rare and sumptuously brocaded

Comprising two sets of five leporello albums (vols 61-65 and 226-230) from the Prajnaparamita Sutra, the Sutra of Perfection of (Transcendent) Wisdom, sumptuously bound in yellow silk with a woven pattern of Buddhist motifs, each album executed in gold ink on indigo-coloured goat-brain paper with a glossy black surface, the first album further decorated with illustrations through filling the engraved grooves with gold, opening with a stele with six five-clawed dragons soaring sinuously and chasing flaming pearls, framing a cartouche enclosing the characters yuzhi ('made to imperial order') above a prayer for the nations well-being, the following five pages meticulously and elaborately gilt-etched with a scene depicting a Buddhist pantheon of forty celestial beings, centred with the figure of Shakyamuni Buddha seated on a double-lotus pedestal atop a throne against an openwork torana and preaching to a celestial host kneeling before him, the revealed flesh tones of the Buddha further skilfully rendered with a carved gold-infilled surface, flanked by two pages on each side impeccably and densely filled with disciples, deities, demons, guardians and attendants, followed by the fascicles, each inscribed with its title and the name of the translator monk Xuanzang of the Tang dynasty before a neat structure of six columns of seventeen characters per page, all in taige ti (eminent court official style) between two double-borders, the end of the last album further gilt-etched with the guardian Weituo, each set fitted in its folding hard-board brocade box, leather boxes Provenance A Kyoto aristocratic collection, 1917. Collection of Fujio Fujii, Tokyo, 1944-1955. Collection of Colonel Thomas Phillips III, USA, since 1955. An American family trust, acquired from the widow of the previous owner in early 1980s. A Swiss private collection, c. 2005. Exhibited Ming: Fifty Years That Changed China, The British Museum, London, 2014, p. 218, fig. 188. For the Merit of the Xuande Emperor Regina Krahl In Buddhist belief, the copying and propagation of Buddhist Sutras like the commissioning of Buddhist images is considered a meritorious deed, a way for believers to accumulate blessings for their ancestors as well as for themselves and to cultivate virtues. When such deeds are performed by an Emperor, the resulting works are inevitably of the highest standard in terms of the materials used and the artists and craftsmen employed. These two sets of albums from the Prajnaparamita Sutra, the Sutra of Perfection of (Transcendent) Wisdom, executed to imperial order, can be ranked among the finest book projects ever undertaken in China. Their illuminations represent imperial works of art on a par with the best imperial lacquerwares and porcelains of the early Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Commissioned by the Xuande Emperor (r. 1426-1435), apparently in the 5th year of his reign, in 1430, they reflect the breathtaking level of imperially sponsored artefacts in the first decades of the fifteenth century. Buddhist Sutras are canonical scriptures that render the teachings of the Buddha, which had been taken over from India and translated. Their copying and propagation was considered a meritorious practice. The Xuande Emperor continued many of the pious deeds and sponsorship projects for Tibetan Buddhist orders, which his grandfather, the Yongle Emperor (r. 1403-1424), had energetically engaged in. Imperial workshops produced some of the finest thangkas, gilt-bronze sculptures and porcelains for ritual use in the two periods, to direct imperial order. According to Bu xu gaoseng zhuan [Supplement to further biographies of eminent monks], compiled in the late Ming dynasty by the Chinese monk Tairu Minghe (1588-1640/41), the eminent monk Huijin (1355-1436), Patriarch of the Huayan School, who had been made Grand National Preceptor by the Xuande Emperor, was invited to the capital to lecture to the public and was entrusted with the task of copying four sets of Buddhist Sutras in golden script: the Ratnakuta (or Maharatnakuta) Sutra, the Parinirvana (or Arya-Mahaparinirvana) Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra and the Prajnaparamita Sutra (see the exposé by Liu Guowei below). Of this original group of four imperially commissioned Buddhist Sutras, two are remaining in the National Palace Museum, Taipei: the Ratnakuta, or Jewel Assembly Sutra, consisting of 120 albums, and the Parinirvana, or Nirvana Sutra, comprising 40 albums plus 2 volumes of appendices; see the exhibition catalogue Yuan cang Zang chuan fojiao wenwu/Om-mani-padme-hum: Tibetan Buddhist Art in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2015, cat. nos III-1 and III-8 (figs 1 and 2). Both these Sutras in Taipei have prefaces dated to the 5th year of Xuande, 1430. In the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) the two Sutras were incorporated into the Kangxi Kangyur, a collection of translations of Buddhas teachings, assembled in the 8th year of the Kangxi reign, 1669. In 1793, they were included in a court catalogue of the Qianlong Emperors goat-brain paper Sutras and bear seals of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795). The present albums are identically executed as the albums in the two Sutras preserved in Taipei, written and illustrated in the same style, with the same gold ink on the same paper. These ten albums appear to be the only surviving volumes of the erstwhile 600 albums of the Prajnaparamita Sutra, which the Xuande Emperor had commissioned the monk Huijin to prepare, together with the other three Sutras mentioned above. The Avatamsaka Sutra appears to be lost. The Kangxi Kangyur contains Kangxi versions of both the Prajnaparamita Sutra (ibid., cat. no. II-2) and the Avatamsaka Sutra (ibid., cat. no. II-4) rather than the Xuande companions of the other two Sutras in Taipei; and the Qianlong inventory of 1793 lists nine goat-brain paper Sutras of various dates in the collection of the Qianlong Emperor, which also do not include Xuande versions of the Prajnaparamita and Avatamsaka Sutras. It is therefore likely that both had already left the palace collection by the early Qing dynasty. Unlike the Taipei Sutras, the present volumes do not bear Qianlong seals. The fourth Sutra of the original commission, the Avatamsaka Sutra, which appears to be completely lost, may have been given to the Dachongjiaosi in Gansu province, which was built in 1429 under imperial sponsorship by Palden Tashi (dPal ldan bkra shis, 1377 after 1452), Abbot of the Huayan school and friend of Huijin. Since this Sutra was important for the doctrine of the Huayan school, it may have been donated to the monastery, where the existence of such a Sutra in the Medicine Buddha Hall is recorded. The hall, however, burnt down twice and with it probably the Xuande Avatamsaka Sutra. Our ten books are produced as leporello albums and are handwritten and illustrated in gold ink on indigo-coloured paper that has been treated on the upper side to obtain a shiny black, lacquer-like surface. This so-called goat-brain paper is a mineral-blue paper coated on one side with a mixture of goat brain and ink to make it smooth and glossy, and thus particularly suitable for inscriptions or decorations in gold. Since it was not only visually striking but also particularly long-lasting, it was the courts preferred material for the copying of Buddhist scriptures. The text is written in gold ink in impeccable calligraphy, in the style known as eminent court official style (taige ti), which is associated with court calligraphers such as Shen Du (1357-1434) and was also practised by the Emperor himself. A Sutra manuscript transcribed by Shen Du in 1428 is illustrated in Yuan cang Zang chuan fojiao wenwu, op.cit., cat. no. IV-9, and an imperial edict written by the Emperor in this calligraphic style, was included in the British Museums exhibition Ming: Fifty Years That Changed China, The British Museum, London, 2014, pp. 170-71, fig. 146.  The illustrations, however, are delicately engraved into the lacquered black surface of the goat-brain paper and the grooves filled in in gold, like in the qiangjin technique used for gilt-etched lacquer. The overall execution, which is identical to that of the 1430 Sutras in Taipei, follows models from the Yongle period and is closely related, for example, to a gold-script, goat-brain paper Sutra dated in accordance with 1418, also preserved in the National Palace Museum, see Yuan cang Zang chuan fojiao wenwu, op.cit., cat. no. III-7; similar illustrations can also be seen in a woodblock-printed Buddhist text produced for the court in 1417, in the National Palace Museum, ibid., pl. IV-5, or a printed edition of the Flower Garland Sutra of 1419, included in the British Museums Ming exhibition, op.cit., p. 217, fig. 187 (fig. 3). The first album of our set opens with a gilt-etched stele inscribed with a long prayer for the benefit of the nation, headed by the words yu zhi (made to imperial order), and surrounded by six five-clawed imperial dragons amidst flaming pearls and clouds, rising above a steep rock washed round by waves. Very similar gold-engraved (qiangjin) dragons, pearls and clouds can be seen on red lacquer Sutra boxes, which might have held similar Sutras, such as the (slightly smaller) example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which is attributed to the Yongle period, illustrated in James C.Y. Watt and Denise Patry Leidy, Defining Yongle. Imperial Art in Early Fifteenth-Century China, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005, pl. 21 (fig. 4). This stele correlates to those in the Taipei Xuande Sutras of 1430, but differs from those in the Yongle versions mentioned above. Lotus flowers, as here depicted raining from Heaven above the stele, are very similarly seen on a silk-damask temple hanging, also in the Metropolitan Museum, illustrated ibid., pl. 33 and on the cover. The first album continues with a spectacular gilt-etched illustration of a Buddhist pantheon composed of forty celestial beings, which is impressive in its overall composition, captivating in its fine detail, and exquisite in its elegant, pencilled style of drawing a dramatic imperial work of art in its own right. The corresponding illustrations of the two companion sutras of 1430 in Taipei are stylistically very close and clearly done in the same imperial workshop, but deviate slightly in the composition of figures and the iconography. The central figure of Shakyamuni seated on a lotus pedestal on a shaped throne in front of an openwork torana is the very image of the periods gilt-bronze sculptures: two famous examples of Yongle mark and period have been published, one included in the exhibition Defining Yongle: Imperial Art in Early Fifteenth-Century China, op.cit., catalogue p. 69, pl. 24, and sold in these rooms, 7th October 2006, lot 808 (fig. 5); the other in the British Museum and included, together with the present Sutra, in the Museums Ming exhibition, op.cit., p. 227, fig. 195. The latter sculpture and its stylistic details, which closely relate to the present image, are discussed in David Weldon, Yongle Period Metalwork: The British Museum Shakyamuni (http://www.asianart.com/articles/yongle/index.html). In order to render the body of the Buddha in our manuscript in gold, the respective area of the image was fully carved out of the paper surface and filled in in gold. Tibetan Buddhist iconography is most complicated and variable, but for this period we are lucky to have closely related renderings of the Buddhist pantheon in the almost contemporary murals and sculptures of the Fahaisi, the important Buddhist monastery outside Beijing, which was completed between 1439 and 1443. The monastery was founded by the Grand Eunuch Li Tong, who was in charge of the Directorate of Imperial Accouterments (Yuyongjian) and thus oversaw the work of imperial artist and artisans. The Fahaisi project enjoyed the patronage of the Zhengtong Emperor (r. 1436-1449) and of three high-ranking Tibetan Buddhist clerics, two of whom, Shakya Yeshe (Sakya ye-shes, 1354-1435, who had died before the monastery was built) and Palden Tashi had been in close contact with the Xuande Emperor. Li Tong himself had already served at the court of the Yongle and Xuande Emperors, it is therefore not surprising that we should find many correlations in the Tibetan Buddhist iconography of two such near-contemporary, imperially sponsored, meritorious projects. The complex iconography of the Fahaisi has been researched and discussed in detail by Ursula Toyka in a monograph entitled The Splendours of Paradise: Murals and Epigraphic Documents at the Early Ming Buddhist Monastery Fahai Si, 2 vols, Monumenta Serica Monograph Series LXIII, Sankt Augustin, 2014, which provides important clues to the identification of figures depicted in our Sutra. Shakyamuni Buddha is shown preaching to a celestial host seated on the ground facing him, and is venerated by a pantheon of disciples, deities, demons, guardians and attendants. The Buddha is flanked by his principle disciples, Ananda and Kasyapa, who are standing beside him. The leading female and male figure on either side at the front should represent in analogy to the Fahaisi murals Dishi Tian (Indra), Ruler of Heaven, and Fan Tian (Brahma), Ruler of the Earth. Both are accompanied by two female attendants, those of Fan Tian holding a canopy and offering a miniature mountain-shaped rock those of Dishi Tian presenting a dish with lotus flowers and carrying a fly whisk. Their retinues consist of twelve celestial beings each, divided into three groups of four: On either side we see four deities depicted as female Bodhisattvas, bejewelled and wearing elegant garments and headdresses, which are not further distinguished and therefore not individually identifiable, although one holds a book balanced on a lotus flower, and one a ruyi sceptre. Further, we see four figures of monks on each side, distinguished by age and including at least one foreigner with beard and earrings, but otherwise also not further distinguished. The last groups of four, higher up on either side, include some more esoteric figures. On the left another female Bodhisattva is followed by three demon-like figures, one with a birds beak and two wearing animal-mask caps with open mouths, which seem to devour their heads, probably representing Yanmoluo Wang, the King of the Fifth Hell accompanied by the demons Oxhead and Horsehead. Those on the right include a male figure in the guise of a ruler, holding a tablet, identified in the Fahaisi as the Dragon King Suojie Longwang, accompanied like in the monastery by a yaksa demon, the only figure in the pantheon without a halo; behind him is an old man with a lotus censer, whose counterpart at the Fahaisi is interpreted as the Immortal Posou; and further below, a figure in military garb, probably representing Weituo (Skanda). Two apsaras are hovering overhead, carrying sacrificial offerings, one holding a tray with a miniature mountain-shaped rock, the other a dish with a lotus flower. In the lower two corners of the image we see the four Heavenly Kings, clad in elaborate ornamental armour, depicted in the same manner as in the Fahaisi: following Dishi Tian are Duowen Tian, the Heavenly King of the Northern regions, carrying a long staff with an umbrella-like royal emblem, and a model of a stupa; and Guangmu Tian, King of the West, his right hand grasping a snake, his left holding a pearl. Fan Tian is followed by Chiguo Tian, the Heavenly King of the East, playing a pipa (Chinese lute); and Zengzhang Tian, the King of the South, holding a sword and with one finger testing the blade. At the end of the last volume of this set, depicted in the same gilt-etched technique, there is a guardian figure in military garb, which can be identified as Weituo. A similarly attired figure was already depicted by Zhu Bao (active c. 1350) in an illumination of a Lotus Sutra in gold on blue paper, dated in accordance with 1342, preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Toyka, op.cit., pl. 188. These ten albums of the Prajnaparamita Sutra, copied for the merit of the Xuande Emperor, clearly represent the work of the most accomplished calligraphers, painters and engravers working for the court, and are unsurpassed in the quality of the materials employed, the design on which they are based, and the brushwork and artistry with which they were accomplished. It is extremely rare for any early Ming imperial manuscript to be available for sale at auction. One smaller album containing 39 leaves of Buddhist scriptures and illustrations in gold on blue paper, dated to the 12th year of Yongle (1414) was sold in our New York rooms, 19th March 2015, lot 427. The Imperially-Sponsored Sutras of the Xuande Reign Liu Guowei The Xuande Emperor Zhu Zhanji (1399-1435, sobriquet Changchun Zhenren, temple name Xuanzong) was the eldest grandson of the Yongle Emperor and the fifth emperor of the Ming dynasty (r. 1426-1435). During his decade on the throne, he engaged able and virtuous ministers and maintained the steady growth of his empire initiated by his father, sustaining what is known to history as the prosperity of Hongxi and Xuande reigns. The Xuande Emperor was passionate about brush arts and adept at painting, and was exceptional among Chinese rulers for his artistic talent and taste. Influenced in his religious outlook by his grandfather, the Yongle Emperor, he was chiefly, though not exclusively, devoted to Buddhism. Moreover, the Buddhist monks who were closely connected to him had for the most part been summoned to the capital during the Yongle reign. The Xuande Emperor was especially close to Indian and Tibetan Buddhist monks and clearly preferred esoteric Buddhism. The Tibetan lamas Palden Tashi (1377 after 1452) and Shakya Yeshe (1354-1435), who had been invited to the court during the Yongle reign, enjoyed also the favour of the Xuande Emperor. The Indian Buddhist lineages dominant during the Xuande reign were that of the Indian monk Sahajasri (dates unknown), who had arrived in China during the Hongwu reign (1368-1398), and his Chinese disciple Zhiguang (1348-1435), and that of Sri-Sariputra, the Great Monk of the Diamond Throne (Jingangzuo shangshi), who had arrived in China from India in the 11th year of the Yongle period (1413). The Chinese monk whom the Emperor favoured was Huijin (1355-1436), known as the 21st patriarch of the Huayan School, who had edited Yongle Beizang [Yongle Northern Tripitaka] at Haiyinsi in Beijing on the Yongle Emperors order. Zhiguangs disciple Daoshen also studied Huayan teachings in Beijing under Huijin. Monks of Tibetan Buddhism In the first year of the Xuande period (1426), Palden Tashi was promoted from Senglusi zuochanjiao (Left Interpreter of Teachings of the Central Buddhist Registry) to Jingjue ciji Daguoshi (Grand National Preceptor of Pure Consciousness and Benevolent Salvation), and lived at Dalongshansi (now Huguosi, known during the Yuan dynasty as Chongguosi. In the second year of the Xuande reign (1427), it was renovated and renamed Dalongshansi and became Palden Tashis base. A wooden portrait statue of him, originally from the monastery, is now in the Buddhist Library of Fayuansi, Beijing, after temporarily having been stored in the Palace Museum, illustrated in Ming: Fifty Years That Changed China, The British Museum, London, 2014, fig. 211). Palden Tashi performed multiple empowerment rites on the Xuande Emperor and was charged by him to translate into Chinese such texts as Commentary of the Hevajra Tantra, Ritual of the Mahacakra-Vajrapani Mandala, and Ritual of the Sarvajna Mandala. In the 13th year of the Yongle period (1415), Palden Tashi founded a monastery in his hometown of Minzhou, and in the 3rd year of the Xuande period (1428) this was expanded into Dachongjiaosi on the Emperors order. This is documented in Shen Cans Stele Inscriptions on the Construction of Dachongjiaosi by the Xuande Emperor. Palden was the most trusted Tibetan monk at the Emperors inner court. Aside from the aforementioned title, he was also later bestowed the title of Xitian fozi Daguoshi (Grand National Preceptor of the Buddhists of the West). Shakya Yeshe was a disciple of Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) and was received by the Yongle Emperor in Nanjing as a representative of his teacher, earning the title of National Preceptor. After returning to Tibet, Yeshe used funds bestowed by the Emperor to found Serasi. In the 4th year of the Xuande period (1429), the Emperor summoned Shakya Yeshe to Beijing and installed him at Daciensi (originally Haiyinsi and renamed in that year). In the 9th year (1434), the Xuande Emperor gave Shakya Yeshe the title Daci fawang (Great Compassion Dharma King) along with a kesi thangka with a portrait of the latter (preserved in the Great Sutra Hall of Serasi) and an official rank. Indian Monks A disciple of the Indian monk Sahajasri, Zhiguang was well-versed in Sanskrit and Tibetan and went to Tibet several times on official missions. He was responsible for inviting the Fifth Karmapa, then aged twenty, to Nanjing for a meeting with the Yongle Emperor. Zhiguang was responsible for the translation of several Buddhist classics and earned the favour and attention of the three early-Ming emperors for his intellectual cultivation and his diplomatic contributions. The Yongle Emperor bestowed on him the rank of National Preceptor and then elevated him to that of Sengsilu shanshi (World Benefactor of the Central Buddhist Registry). He lived at Chongguosi (which, as mentioned above, would be renamed Dalongshansi). The Hongxi Emperor (r. 1425) gave him the rank of Daguoshi (Grand National Preceptor) and installed him at Danengrensi. The Xuande Emperor further gave him the title of Xitian fozi (Buddhist of the West), the highest title attainable by a Han Chinese Buddhist monk at the time. In the 2nd year of the Xuande period (1427), on the order of his mother, the Empress Dowager Zhang, the Emperor built Dajuesi for Zhiguang as a place of retirement. Zhiguang held multiple Sutra teaching sessions for the Emperor. After arriving in China and being received by the Yongle Emperor, Sri-Sariputra was ordered first to stay at Haiyinsi. He had brought from India five golden Buddhist icons and a painting of the Mahabodhi stupa of Bodhgaya, and Zhenjuesi was built specifically to house them. In the 15th year of the Yongle period (1417), after visiting Mount Wutai, Sri-Sariputra was given the title Sengsilu chanjiao (Promoter of Teachings of the Central Buddhist Registry) and stationed at Nengrensi by imperial decree. After the Hongxi Emperor ascended the throne, he received the title of Grand National Preceptor. During the early reign of Xuande, he was ordered to host Buddhist ceremonies. Sri-Sariputra entered nirvana in the first year of the Xuande reign (1426), and his sarira are housed at Zhijuesi (now Beijing Stone Carvings Art Museum). Huijin and the Xuande-Era Buddhist Sutras in Gold Ink The Bu xu gaoseng zhuan [Supplement to further biographies of eminent monks], edited by the Ming-dynasty monk Minghe, documents the life of Huijin, a renowned monk of the Huayan school during the Yongle and Xuande periods. The substance of this record was drawn from the Qiyanfazhu dashi ta ming [Epitaph on the Stupa of the Great Instructor Mountain-Dwelling Dharma Master] written in the first year of the Tianshun period (1457) by the Minister of Rites Hu Ying (1375-1463). In his early years, Huijin was summoned by the Yongle Emperor to explain the central meaning of the Surangama Sutra. Subsequently the Emperor bestowed on him a prestigious purple robe, appointed him Abbot of Tianjiesi in Nanjing, and then tasked him with editing and compiling Da Ming sanzang fashu [Categories of Buddhist concepts from the canon of the Great Ming dynasty] at Lingusi in Nanjing. Huijin later followed the Yongle Emperor to Beijing and was stationed at Haiyinsi, where he managed the publication of the Yongle Northern Tripitaka. At Huijins invitation, the Yongle Emperor himself wrote thirteen Sutra prefaces and twelve colophons on Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Later the Emperor bestowed on Huijin an Indian-style portrait of Shakyamuni, a kesi panel of Avalokiteshvara, crystal rosary beads, and gathas of the seven Buddhas. During the Xuande reign, Huijin was treated as an elder of the nation and tasked with copying in gold ink the four Sutras of Avatamsaka, Prajnaparamita, Ratnakuta, and Parinirvana. According to this record, Huijin was most likely responsible for the 120-case copy of the Ratnakuta Sutra (fig. 1) and the 40-case copy of the Parinirvana Sutra (fig. 2) in gold ink (additionally there are two cases of a copy of the Later Analysis of the Parinirvana Sutra in the same mounting and calligraphic styles), both accompanied with prefaces by his Majesty, dated to the 5th year of the Xuande reign (1430) and now preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. According to Hu Yings epitaph, Huijin was friendly with several prominent monks in Beijing and socialized with them frequently, including Daoyan (1335-1418), who helped Yongle ascend the throne, Zhiguang, Yinfeng, and Palden Tashi. Xitian fozi yuanliu lu [Itineraries of the Buddhist of the West], which includes a biography of Palden Tashi, records that he once invited Huijin to his home monastery of Dalongshansi to lecture on the Surangama Sutra, the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, and other sacred texts, indicating their close friendship. According to Tibetan-language sources, the Medicine Buddha Hall at Dachongjiaosi, built by Palden Tashi, housed two copies of the Avatamsaka Sutra in gold ink, one in Chinese and the other in Tibetan. The former may have been one of the four Sutra copies that Huijin supervised and may have been gifted to Dachongjiaosi by the Xuande Emperor. Goat-Brain Paper and Sutras in Gold Ink In Chinese Buddhism, the practice of copying Sutras in gold began very early. Typically, a text is copied in gold ink on indigo-coloured paper, creating a strong contrast and a solemn mood. Historical records refer to such paper as gan (red-tinted blue) or bi (jade-blue) paper. Fang Yizhi (1611-1671) wrote in the late Ming dynasty in his Wuli xiaozhi [Notes on the principles of things], vol. 8, In the 5th year of the Xuande reign (1430), suqing (plain fragrant) paper was created, and from it sajin (splashed gold), wusefen (five-coloured powder), and ciqingla (porcelain-blue waxed) paper was printed. Because of this, many scholars date the creation of indigo-dyed porcelain-blue paper to the Xuande period and suggest that before this point indigo-coloured paper was generically referred to as gan or bi paper. The new name of porcelain-blue was perhaps because the colour is similar to Xuande period blue-and-white porcelain. The National Palace Museum in Taipei houses a number of Ming-dynasty Sutras in gold ink formerly in the Qing court collection. Nine of them are recorded in Midian zhulin xubian [Forest of pearls in the secret palace, second series], a catalogue of the Qianlong Emperors religious art, as having been written on goat-brain paper. In his Xiqing biji [Miscellaneous Notes of Xiqing], Shen Chu (1735-1799) of the Qing dynasty writes, Goat-brain stationery is made from Xuande porcelain-blue paper. Goat brains and dingyan ink are mixed and stored underground for a long time, and then applied to paper, which is then polished with stone. This paper is as dark as ink and as shiny as a mirror. It was first made during the Xuande period of the Ming for writing in gold. It is long-lasting and resistant to insects. Now in the capital only one workshop still continues this tradition, and other craftsmen cannot make it. This text is the earliest historical record of how goat-brain paper is made. What is the purpose of mixing ink with goat brains The latter contains a large amount of lecithin, a natural emulsifier that binds oil and water (just as egg white, another natural emulsifier, binds oil and water to create tempera pigments). The mixture of goat brains and ink, containing protein, lecithin, and oils, is easily applied to the paper to create a thick and reflective surface, which prevents gold ink from being readily absorbed into the fibres underneath. The method of creating goat-brain paper is now lost in Chinese culture, but the Tibetans continue to practise it to this day, although they tend to use yak brains instead. Currently, there is no direct evidence for whether this method of paper-making originated in Han or Tibetan areas, but Han paper-making traditions generally did not use animal ingredients. If goat-brain paper was indeed first seen in Han China in the Xuande period as the above document suggests, then it is likely that it first originated in Tibet, but this is a matter for further investigation. The current ten albums of the Prajnaparamita Sutra are an excerpt from Xuanzangs 600-fascicle translation. The one-fascicle-per-album format, calligraphic and mounting styles, frontispiece illustration, and especially the use of goat-brain paper are consistent with Huijins copies in gold ink of the Ratnakuta Sutra (fig. 1) and the Parinirvana Sutra (fig. 2) in the National Palace Museum collection, and confirm that the ten albums were likewise created by Huijin during the Xuande reign. The 600-fascicle Prajnaparamita Sutra contains five albums per case, while the Ratnakuta Sutra and the Parinirvana Sutra, both much shorter than the present one, contain ten albums per case with slightly different brocade covers. Huijin (1355-1436) A Biography The Dharma Master whose canonical name was Huijin (Wisdom Advanced) had for his personal name Qiyan, and Zhiweng for his sobriquet. He was a native of Lengquan village, Lingshi county, Shanxi. His secular surname was Song, and his parents enjoyed doing good works. He was born on 20th January 1355 during the Yuan dynasty. While still quite young he could recite sayings of the Buddha from memory. Only at eight years of age, when he lost the support of his parents due to a local military conflict, did he begin to weave chaste-tree twigs together to make baskets and so managed to support his grandparents, who later passed away as well, due to warfare. Resolved to renounce secular life, he took the tonsure and was ordained as a monk by His Eminence Jian at the Dayunsi (Hunyuan county, Shanxi) and took up the scriptures to study. Saved thanks to the imperial grace newly bestowed during the Hongwu period (1368-1398), he went to the Gufeng fashi (Ancient Peaks Dharma Master) in Bianliang (Kaifeng) to study the fundamental teachings of the Avatamsaka Sutra, while secondarily becoming proficient in treatises concerned with the hundred Dharmas of the Yogacara (conscious-only) tradition. In the course of time Huijin advanced to become an authorized lecturer and was so admired and universally trusted that he acquired the reputation of a veritable Dharma Lord. When the Yongle Emperor (r. 1403-1424) heard of his reputation, he dispatched a eunuch to summon him to the palace in Nanjing post-haste. He questioned him about the main points of the Surangama Sutra, and after Huijin had responded personally in response to the imperial command, he was conferred a purple robe (indicating his elevation as an eminent monk) and ordered to reside at Tianjiesi (Nanjing), where outstanding monks were selected to study with him. Huijin was also ordered, first, to take charge of eminent monks at the Linggusi (also in Nanjing) who were editing the Sanzang fashu [Categories of Buddhist Concepts in the Tripitaka], and then to accompany the Emperor to Beijing, where he took up residence at the Haiyinsi and was by imperial decree placed in charge of monks and nuns all over the empire. Outside the Great Ming Gate he held a massive Buddhist service dedicated to releasing all sentient beings from suffering, and over a month gave lectures on the three categories of pure precepts, which effectively addressed issues both recondite and manifest. Massive rice cauldrons glittered and tall pennants fluttered in the wind. For this service, Huijin was conferred a scripture impressed with the imperial seal and a gold-thread kasaya and was promoted to Rectifier of the Left (in the Buddhist Registry) and made Supreme Supervisor of all literary Confucian scholars and eminent monks in the empire. When he was engaged in collating the Tripitaka at the Sutra Printing Hall of the Haiyinsi, he memorialized the Emperor thus: Since we are printing these Tripitaka teachings in order to assist moral transformation of the people through governance, it is only right that Your Majesty compose a preface to the work, for the instruction provided in it should spread near and far.  The Emperor agreed and personally composed thirteen introductions to the Sutras in thirteen Colophons to the Eulogies for Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Huijin was then summoned to the Incense Hall, where he was given a seat of his own, a Buddhist image of Shakyamuni, a kesi panel of Avalokiteshvara, crystal rosary beads, and instructions from the Emperor in the form of a gatha (poetic verses) entitled Seven Past Buddhas, one couplet of which reads Model yourself on them to practice cultivation / For I promote you to Explicator of Teachings of the Left. In total, Huijin was active for some seventy years. In the first year of the Hongxi period (1425), when the Emperor purged Buddhist teaching positions, only Huijin was rewarded for excellence. The imperial edict regarding this states Buddhists teach in order to enable people to be humane and thus guide the ignorant classes toward moral transformation, covertly supplementing the transformative virtue of the Emperor, which effectively brings peace and stability to the multitudes. This general teaching surely depends on getting the right people to do it, for teaching should not be taken lightly. You, Explicator of Teachings of the Left, Huijin have thoroughly investigated all doctrines and with strict purity adhere to moral discipline, which is why I have appointed you to this position.  May you cultivate yourself as a Maitreya. I have given you highly valued gifts to encourage you to strive forward with ever more diligence and invigorate the teachings of your sect, which is entirely in accord with Our wishes. Respect this! At the beginning of the Xuande period (1426), the Emperor rewarded him by making him an Elder of the State, gave him a Five Buddha pilu crown and a gold-twill ceremonial pilgrimage robe. He also summoned Huijin to the Hanlin Academy where, together with many other officials and a congregation of monks, he copied in gold characters the four great scriptures, the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Prajnaparamita Sutra, the Ratnakuta Sutra and the Parinirvana Sutra, while cooked food and drinks were provided by the imperial kitchen. Once the task was finished, he was awarded the title National Preceptor guanding jingjue (Consecrated Pure Enlightenment) and composed a memorial to the Emperor requesting that he with his immense goodness lecture on the Surangama Sutra, so that both the Buddhist clerics as well as laymen present could hear how to understand its more than a myriad meanings. The older he became, the loftier his virtue, his ears and eyes were ever pure and bright, his countenance ever praiseworthy for its simplicity and unsophistication, and his personal nature ever straightforward and prudent. His old monastic friends include the Duke of Rongguo Gongjing Yao (Yao Guangxiao, 1335-1418). Huijin died at the worldly age of 82 and the monastic age of 62, on 2nd August 1436 in the Zhengtong period. After his coffin had been kept in the Abbots quarters for three days, as thick clouds hung over the sky, the official announcement of his passing was made, and the Emperor had the Ministry of Rites hold a ceremony for him. On 14th August 1436, his body was cremated in Fucheng (Hengshui, Hebei), and on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, 25th September 1436, a stupa for the ashes of his spirit bones was erected west of the Grand Canal. The Emperor bestowed an imperial order that a fountain be installed at the Ten Thousand Buddha Temple in special honour of him (fig. 6). Xianshou chuandeng lu [Record of transmission of the lamp in the Xianshou Tradition], vol. 1, pp. 314-317. Xuande (Propagating Virtue) Complete in the Arts of Both Peace and War Zhu Zhanji, who ruled China as the Xuande Emperor from 1426 to 1435, came nearest of all Ming (brilliant or shining) emperors to the early Ming (1368-1644) imperial idea of a ruler that is summed up in the phrase wen wu shuang quan, complete in the arts of both peace and war an ideal not dissimilar to that of the Western Renaissance.1 He was ruler, reformer, warrior, horseman, poet, painter, calligrapher, Buddhist, and father, all at once. As a ruler, the Xuande Emperor had inherited from his father, the Hongxi Emperor (r. 1425), a grasp of the administrative challenges of the nation. The latter had repeatedly acted as regent and competently governed, while his father, the Yongle Emperor (r. 1403-1424), was on extended tours of the country or on the battlefield. As a reformer, the Xuande Emperor lowered taxes in 1430 on all imperial lands and stemmed the corruption of tax collectors. He opposed the death penalty whenever possible and he ordered re-trials that helped to release thousands of prisoners. Compared with the reigns of the paranoid first Ming ruler, who had conquered the empire, the Hongwu Emperor (r. 1368-1398), and the brilliant usurper of the throne, the Yongle Emperor, both of whom had tens of thousands killed and their extended families exterminated, the court experienced a period of relative ease during the Xuande era. Zhu Zhanjis military skills had endeared him to his grandfather, the Yongle Emperor, who had taken him into battle against the Mongol tribes as a fifteen-year old. They spent weeks together on horseback and in tents, where the grandfather would teach his young grandson military strategy and tell him about his conquests. The Xuande Emperor is recorded as being a gifted archer on horseback and to have led many hunting parties with his officers. As a warrior, he led troops numerous times to defend the empires northern borders, fighting at the front and personally taking part in battle. As a respected poet and an innovative painter, the Xuande Emperor was a natural sponsor of the arts. He continued the building of the imperial city, acted as patron of the imperial workshops and commissioned the creation of treasures in all fields of the arts. He encouraged improvements in the manufacturing of ceramics at the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen and re-established court painting along the lines of the famous Song dynasty (960-1279) painting academy. As a Buddhist, the Xuande Emperor followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, who was a fervent believer and a staunch supporter of Buddhist causes and like his forebear supported the building of temples and monasteries, the casting of Buddhist images and the copying of Buddhist scriptures. From 1407 onwards, from the age of eight, he had been instructed by the learned and influential Buddhist monk, Daoyan (Yao Guangxiao, 1335-1418), who had supported the Yongle Emperors usurpation of the throne. He called the Tibetan cleric Shakya Yeshe (1354-1435) back to the capital, who after a first visit to the capital in the Yongle period, had returned to Tibet with lavish imperial gifts, bestowed him with important titles. According to the biography of Palden Tashi (1377 after 1452), another Tibetan cleric who played an important role in the religious life of the capital, the Xuande Emperor received several tantric initiations directly from this cleric and shared many conversations with him about the Buddhist doctrine and faith. It was in a time of peace, a time that historians call a Golden Age, that the Xuande Emperor entrusted the monk Huijin (1355-1436) with the production of four major Mahayana Sutras in golden script a project that remained the largest and most important golden script Sutra compilation of the Ming dynasty. 1 Craig Clunas writes in Wen: The Arts of Peace that The ideal of the early Ming emperors lay in the phrase wen wu shuang quan, complete in the arts of both peace and of war, Ming: Fifty Years That Changed China, The British Museum, London, 2014, catalogue p. 158.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2018-04-02
Hammer price
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A superbly enamelled, fine and exceedingly rare pink-ground falangcai

Conjured out of immaculate kaolin clay with steep rounded sides flaring out just barely at the rim, fired plain in the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen and thereafter carted off to the Imperial Workshops beyond the walls of the Forbidden City in Beijing, most delicately painted using imported enamels finely ground and blended with four five-lobed azure-ground window panels the colour of a fair morning sky, each revealing respectively, narcissus with cinnamon rose, hibiscus, poppy with tuberose, and gardenia with mallow, each cluster with its characteristic stem and leaf, the panels reserved on a radiant pink enamel ground studded at the rim with single chrysanthemum sprays overturned, their petals dramatically jutting out towards the viewer, encircled round the footring by broad green leaves overlapping blue petals, centred with a multi-coloured florette, the emphatic European manner hinting the hand of a Jesuit master, the interior left white, the four character Kangxi yuzhi mark inscribed in puce enamel on the base within a square, the enamels brilliantly fired on the premises Provenance K.K. Chow, Shanghai, 1930/31. Bluett & Sons, London, 1931. Collection of Martin Erdmann, acquired in 1931. Christie's London, 17th November 1937, lot 73 (part lot). Bluett & Sons, London. Collection of Henry M. Knight (d. 1971), The Hague, Holland, acquired in 1938. Sotheby's Hong Kong, 20th May 1986, lot 123. Collection of the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo. Exhibited Oosterse Schatten: 4,000 Jaar Aziatische Kunst, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1954, cat. no. 368, illustrated pl. 23. Ceramics that Fascinated Emperors Treasures of the Chinese Jingdezhen Kiln from the Idemitsu Collection, Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo, 2003, listed in the catalogue. Literature Daisy Lion-Goldschmidt, Les Poteries et Porcelaines Chinoises, Paris, 1978 (1957), pl. XXV D. Sotheby's Hong Kong Twenty Years, 1973-1993, Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 215. Imperial Alchemy: H.M. Knights Gold-Pink Falangcai Bowl Regina Krahl Alchemists have endeavoured to transmute base metals into gold since time immemorial, in cultures both east and west and were never in want of patrons. The reverse process ventures to transform gold into something even more desirable naturally, was rarer. To create a masterpiece such as the H.M. Knight falangcai bowl with its gold-derived pink surface colour required a patron with a remarkably open mind and chemists and artisans at the very forefront of their métiers. For all three to come together it took an auspicious moment in history. This ravishing bowl can be counted among the most ambitious projects of the imperial workshops in the Forbidden City under the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1722), and among the most successful. The Kangxi Emperor was an extraordinary personality, fanatic in his thirst for knowledge, progressive in his belief in science, demanding in his quest for tangible results, and enlightened in his recruitment of brilliant minds and hands, whatever their background. The short-lived cooperation between imperial artists and artisans and European Jesuits inside the Forbidden City, under the watchful eye of their imperial patron, was a rare lucky episode for Chinas material arts that brought about works unimaginable just decades earlier, such as this amazing bowl. In all cultures, attempts at aurifaction, the quest to make gold, were intimately connected to the search for elixirs of long life. In China, the property of gold to take on a beautiful purple (zi yan) colour was admired already in the Han dynasty (206 BC AD 220) and purple gold (zi jin), probably a copper-gold alloy treated to acquire a purple patina, was held in the highest esteem throughout the countrys mediaeval past.1 Artificial gold, created through alchemical practices and often containing small amounts of gold, was considered propitious and beneficial and therefore superior to genuine gold, and there was no shortage of chemical experiments to create it. The secret of a purple colour achievable through gold remained in China, however, in the realm of philosophers, alchemists and natural scientists, and did not reach artists and artisans. In the West, gold had been used at least since late Roman times to colour red glass. The colouration is achieved through colloidal gold, that is, the suspension of nanoparticles of gold in fluids where, depending on their size and shape, they take on different tones of purplish red. The process of creating this so-called purple of Cassius, was first described by Andreas Cassius the elder (died 1673), published in 1684, but employed and made known to a wider audience only somewhat later, through a publication by the German glass maker and alchemist Johann Kunckel (1630s-1703), which appeared in print in 1716. This was a period, when alchemists in Italy, Germany and France worked actively both on the transmutation of metals and on the production of gold-ruby glass; and this was also the time, when Western Jesuits were trying to impress the Kangxi Emperor with new scientific methods and materials. The Kangxi Emperors establishment of workshops inside the Forbidden City, close to his own living quarters, where he could observe and comment scientific experiments and technical procedures first-hand, was a remarkably courageous undertaking. Not only were the noise, odours and dirt, which such factories necessarily produced, hazardous, and the fire-risk they posed, dangerous; but the presence of foreigners intent on proselytizing at the very seat of the empires power also represented a not inconsiderable, if less tangible, peril. French enamel wares had come to China with the first embassies exchanged between Louis XIV of France (r. 1643-1715) and the Kangxi Emperor in the 1680s, and the Emperor soon asked specifically to be sent European artisans able to make glass and enamels. Already in 1693, when fourteen new workshops were established in the Forbidden City, they included one falang workshop (falang denominating the foreign enamelling technique), and a glass factory was built in 1696.2 According to a letter written in 1716 by the Italian Jesuit painter Matteo Ripa (1682-1746), with the help of European know-how and the recruitment of European painters, enamelling work was well under way by then, but still in its early stages.3  When in 1719 a specialist enameller arrived at the court, the French missionary Jean-Baptiste Gravereau (1690-1762), his skills disappointed the Emperor. Copper, glass and porcelain were enamelled side by side in the enamelling workshops, and although the porcelain painters of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province had long mastered the technique of enamel painting on porcelain, the Beijing workshops went a different route. The first enamellers there probably Westerners who had never worked with porcelain, which had only just begun to be made in Europe apparently considered the shiny porcelain glaze an unsuitable surface for the enamels to adhere. Besides experimenting with Yixing stonewares, they ordered custom-made porcelains partly or fully unglazed and left in the biscuit to be made in Jingdezhen and sent to Beijing for this new imperial adventure. For bowls like the present example, very specific orders must have gone out, to provide specimens with a glazed interior, rim, base and inside of the foot, and an unglazed exterior and outside of the foot. Enamels sent from Europe or custom-made at the imperial glass factory in Beijing provided a range of enamels very different from the wucai or famille verte palette in use at the same time at Jingdezhen. The main innovations were the European introduction of gold-ruby enamel, a transparent, deep purplish-red colour derived from colloidal gold; and the impasto use of a white enamel derived from lead-arsenate, that had been made in the glass workshops for some time, for use on cloisonné enamel wares, but only now was found to be highly effective on porcelains where, mixed with other enamels, it added a whole new range of opaque, pastel tones. Among the earliest porcelains successfully decorated in Beijing using a gold-based ruby colour may be a vase in the Palace Museum, Beijing, and a tripod incense burner in the Au Bakling collection, both supplied by Jingdezhen as fully unglazed biscuit vessels, the former with an engraved reign mark, the latter a blue enamel mark on the unglazed base; the vase is illustrated in Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong. Qing Porcelain from the Palace Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1989, p. 98, pl. 81; the censer was sold in our London rooms, 6th July 1976, lot 170 and is illustrated on the cover of Chinese Ceramics. Selected Articles from Orientations 1983-2003, Hong Kong, 2004. The Kangxi falangcai production lasted only for a few years and, being located inside the Forbidden City, remained a very small undertaking, with pieces individually designed and painted, and enamels specially mixed in small quantities. In spite of this individuality, it did not take long for a recurring style to appear, with large-scale formal designs of fanciful flowers on a yellow, blue or gold-ruby ground. Any other ground colours or designs are exceedingly rare. The kind of gold-pink seen on the present bowl stands out among the falangcai production of the Kangxi reign. Although our bowl is unique, it is particularly interesting that it has a brother in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, with a close family likeness, yet very different individual traits. The bowl from the palace collection features in numerous publications, was already included in the International Exhibition of Chinese Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1935-1936, cat. no. 2154, and more recently in the exhibition Shenbi danqing: Lang Shining lai hua sanbai nian tezhan/Portrayals from a Brush Divine: A Special Exhibition on the Tricentennial of Giuseppe Castigliones Arrival in China, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2015, cat. no. I-19 (fig. 1). The two bowls share the same basic layout and extraordinary colours: As colloidal gold produces a translucent ruby, puce or purple colour, the opaque, delicate rose-pink of these bowls required admixture of the opaque white lead arsenate. The two enamels were combined more frequently in variegated shades to depict rose-pink flowers or other design details, but are known in this even, monochrome version, suitable as a ground colour, only from one other piece (listed below). Equally exceptional is the bright turquoise enamel that fills the lobed panels. The likeness between the two bowls, however, ends here: while they would seem to have been painted side by side, in the same workshop, using the same batch of specially mixed enamels, they were almost certainly painted by two different artists. The National Palace Museum bowl exhibits in the four roundels the classic Chinese rendition of flowers of the four seasons peony, lotus, chrysanthemum, and prunus with camellia painted in a traditional style, clearly by a Chinese hand, and the prunus-shaped panels evoke Chinese shaped windows or doors opening onto garden vistas. Unusual, and clearly revealing a Western presence nearby, are only the sheaves of tobacco leaves separating the four panels. The H.M. Knight bowl, on the other hand, deviates in many respects from the classic Chinese painting manner and is pervaded by a Western flair. The flowers daffodils with roses; hibiscus perhaps with buttercups; Turks cap lilies with poppies; and another rose and rose buds with gardenias cannot easily be put in a seasonal order, nor do the combinations lend themselves for interpretation as auspicious puns. The depiction of flowers against bright blue sky is not known in Chinese painting; the pendent green foliage with tips of blue buds, and the pink-and-orange rosettes do not derive from a Chinese decorative repertoire. Most extraordinary of all design elements on our bowl, however, are the small blue asters in the pendentives between the windows, depicted dramatically foreshortened, like the prunus windows themselves, as if the painter wanted to prompt us to pick up the bowl and turn it, so as to better appreciate the full design. This depiction of perspective, brought to China by European scientists and painters, was never really adopted by their Chinese counterparts. Similar blue asters, seen from various different angles, feature frequently in paintings by the Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), who was employed as a court painter; see, for example, the blue asters in the foreground of his painting Endless Longevity and Everlasting Spring, illustrated in Shenbi danqing, op.cit., cat. no. I-06 (fig. 2); or in Golden Pheasants in Spring, ibid., cat. no. V-02. Together with Ripa, Castiglione had at one point even been ordered by the Kangxi Emperor to paint in the enamelling workshop, and was also involved in preparing designs for Western enamellers.4  Similar blue asters appear also on some of the early Yixing pieces enamelled in the imperial workshops, see Qing gongzhong falangcai ci tezhan/Special Exhibition of Ching Dynasty Enamelled Porcelains of the Imperial Ateliers, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1992, cat. nos 10 and 11. The rendering of the decoratively paired flowers in the four windows may have been influenced by the styles of contemporary florilegia, exactingly painted flower books made popular by the German natural scientist and painter Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), which were widely distributed in Europe for their educational benefit as well as their aesthetic appeal, were much copied, and greatly influenced the decorative arts of the time. The present bowl and its companion in the National Palace Museum belong to the most remarkable and rarest pieces from that period. With their Western stylistic components, their original manner of decoration, and their pink reign marks, they most likely belong to the early porcelains painted in the Kangxi workshops, conceived before a certain degree of standardization set in, and before all marks were inscribed in blue; yet they are executed to perfection, painted and fired to satisfy the highest standards, and thus represent a distinct step ahead of the more obviously experimental pieces of that period. Among those, a very unusual shallow bowl in the National Palace Museum should be mentioned, painted in a somewhat naïve, large-scale, boneless Western style with red asters, similar to the blue ones on the present bowl, as well as roses, morning glories and pinks, all on a rare white enamel ground, also inscribed with a deep pink Kangxi yuzhi mark, illustrated, for example, in Shenbi danqing, op.cit., cat. no. I-14, where Yu Pei-chin writes it reminds one of the possibility that Western missionary-artists took part in painting painted enamelware at the time. Also worth comparing among the trial pieces is a bowl of similar shallow form with a purple ground that seems to be slightly misfired, illustrated in Shi Jingfei, Feng Mingzhu & Xie Zhenhong, Ri yue guanghua: Qing gong hua falang/Radiant Luminance: The Painted Enamelware of the Qing Imperial Court, Taipei, 2012, pl. 15, illustrated together with the white-ground bowl mentioned above, pl. 16, and together with an enamelled copper bowl with a flower design on an uneven purple ground, pl. 17. Gold-ruby or gold-pink enamel were rarely used as a ground colour for enamelled copper or for glass; only one rare enamelled glass cup of Kangxi mark and period, formerly in the collection of Barbara Hutton, is enamelled with flower roundels on a gold-ruby ground; it is illustrated in Hugh Moss, By Imperial Command: An Introduction to Ching Imperial Painted Enamels, Hong Kong, 1976, pl. 33, and was sold in our London rooms, 6th July 1971, lot 384, and in these rooms, 19th May 1982, lot 384, and again 15th November 1989, lot 557. Only one other piece of porcelain enamelled with the same or a similar gold-pink ground appears to be recorded, but painted with a formal flower pattern and inscribed with a blue enamel Kangxi mark: the bowl from the collection of Sir Percival David, later in the British Rail Pension Fund and then in the Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, sold in our London rooms, 5th December 1961, lot 39, and 12th/13th May 1976, lot 363, and in these rooms, 16th May 1989, lot 85; and illustrated in Sothebys Hong Kong Twenty Years, 1973-1993, Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 214. It is interesting that gold itself was rarely used as a ground colour of porcelains, although two falangcai bowls with a gold ground are preserved in the Baur Collection, Geneva, both painted with a formal flower design, see John Ayers, Chinese Ceramics in the Baur Collection, Geneva, 1999, vol. 2, pls 162 and 164. In the West, Kangxi falangcai pieces had at least since the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition in London, 1935-1936, when the Chinese Government sent several examples, including the companion bowl now in Taipei, been recognised for what they are. In the 1960s and 70s, however, several scholars doubted them, since they seemed far too advanced to be accepted as dating from the Kangxi period. In 1976, for example, Margaret Medley wrote in The Chinese Potter (Oxford, 1976, p. 249) Neither technically nor stylistically can these have appeared as early as the Kang-hsi period, and it seems likely that the earliest date to which they can be assigned with any confidence is the very end of the eighteenth century. It was publications by the National Palace Museum, Taipei, such as Tsai Ho-pis exhibition catalogue Qing Kang, Yong, Qian ming ci/Catalog of the Special Exhibition of Kang-hsi, Yung-cheng and Chien-lung Porcelain Ware from the Ching Dynasty in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1986, that dispelled all doubts once more and truly opened our eyes to the beauty and quality of Kangxi falangcai porcelains. Henry M. Knight was a most discriminating collector who from 1930 practically until his death in 1971 assembled a major collection of Chinese ceramics and other works of art, focussing mainly on Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) porcelains, buying largely from Bluett & Sons, London. Roger Bluett wrote about him: Henry Knight, who built up perhaps the best collection of eighteenth-century porcelains in Europe as well as magnificent early pieces, was fond of telling how it was my late father who told him to buy Chinese taste porcelains. Their time would come, my father used to say, and how right he was.5 1 Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 5: Chemistry and Chemical Technology, part II: Spagyrical Discovery and Invention: Magisteries of Gold and Immortality, Cambridge, 1974, p. 70 and p. 257-66. 2 Shih Ching-fei, A Record of the Establishment of a New Art Form: The Unique Collection of Painted Enamels at the Qing Court, Collections and Concepts, vol. 7, 2005, pp. 5-6. 3 George Loehr, Missionary-Artists at the Manchu Court, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 34, 1962-63, p. 55. 4 Loehr, op.cit., p. 51. 5 Roy Davids and Dominic Jellinek, Provenance. Collectors, Dealers and Scholars: Chinese Ceramics in Britain and America, Great Haseley, 2011, p. 276, quoting Arts of Asia, vol. 10, no. 6, 1980.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2018-04-02
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An exceptionally large, fine and important blue and white lobed 'fish

Exquisitely potted, of ten-lobed mallow shape with deep rounded sides rising from a correspondingly shaped foot to a flared rim, the exterior strikingly decorated in different washes of cobalt with a dense and dynamic scene depicting four fishes, a carp, mandarin fish and two kinds of bream, swimming amidst water plants, the fishes with dark blue outlines and finely detailed with hatching and stippling, rendered interrupted by clumps of lotus blooms and leaves, the latter with white veins precisely picked out by incision through the washes to the porcelain body, the larger leaves further rendered with frayed edges accentuated with dark heaping and piling, the interior similarly painted with a double-line medallion enclosing a carp and mandarin fish dynamically swimming amidst clumps of lotus and undulating water weeds, the base inscribed with a six-character reign mark within a double circle Exhibited Chgoku Min Shin bijutsu ten mokuroku/Chinese Arts of the Ming and Ching Periods, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, 1963, cat. no. 290. Shinkan kansei kinen tokubetsu tenrankai zuhan mokuroku/Illustrated Catalogues of the Special Exhibition in Memory of the New Building, Kyoto National Museum, Kyoto, 1966, cat. no. 287. Mei hachi ten [Exhibition of famous bowls], Osaka, 1971, cat. no. 10. Ty no sometsuke tji ten/Far Eastern Blue-and-white Porcelain, Mitsukoshi, Tokyo, 1977, cat. no. 34. Min Shin no bijutsu [The art of Ming and Qing], Osaka Municipal Art Museum, Osaka, 1980, cat. no. 1-26. Literature Fujioka Ryoichi, Tji taikei [Outlines of ceramics], vol. 42: Min no sometsuke [Ming blue-and-white], Tokyo, 1975, col. pl. 17. Sat Masahiko, Chgoku tji shi [History of Chinese ceramics], Tokyo, 1978, p. 182, fig. 224. Sat Masahiko, Chinese Ceramics. A Short History, New York and Tokyo, 1981, p. 164, fig. 237. Fishes in the Imperial Pond Regina Krahl The deep fish pond on this dazzling bowl exudes an irresistible warm sentiment that instantly touches the heart. The bowl is unrivalled in its design, its painting quality, shape and size, and only two comparable smaller pieces appear to exist, both in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Although the fish pond design has been frequently used as a motif on Chinese porcelain, it is hardly ever infused with as much life as on the present bowl, whose shape cleverly evokes the illusion of gentle underwater motion. Fish paintings were a recognized, if not widespread, genre of Chinese ink painting since the Song dynasty (960-1279), perhaps made popular through Liu Cai, a court painter of the late Northern Song (960-1127) specialized in paintings of fishes. The most famous painting attributed to him is the two-and-a-half-meter long handscroll Fish Swimming amid Falling Flowers today in the St. Louis Art Museum (97:1926.). The representation of fishes and their movements was perceived as a task yet more challenging than the depiction of other animals and birds, because their habitat impedes observation, and the resulting naturalism is awesome for painters not working directly from nature. The topos of fishes swimming in a pond was in China inextricably associated with one of the most famous passages of the book Zhuangzi by Zhuang Zhou (c. 369-c. 286 BC), Daoisms foremost thinker, where fish feature frequently in allegories. In this passage the free-thinking spirit of Zhuangzi, who comments on the pleasures of fishes darting around where they please, is opposed by the methodological reasoning of the Confucian Huizi, who challenges the Daoists legitimacy to talk about the feelings of fishes, not being a fish himself. After some exchanges, the Daoist eventually wins the argument by refusing to submit to his opponents formal logic. The Pleasures of Fishes thus became a byword for freedom from restraints, one of the perennial ideals of Chinas literati, which represented either unachievable dream, for the members of the bureaucracy, or perceived reality, for those who had withdrawn from it. Daoist thought flourished in the early Ming period (1368-1644), although the Xuande Emperor (r. 1426-35) did not propagate himself as a particularly fervent proponent of Daoism. Among the imperial princes, however, patronage of Daoist causes was strong enough to provoke several memorials to be handed in to the court, which requested a ban on the furthering of new Daoist monasteries (Richard G. Wang, The Ming Prince and Daoism. Institutional Patronage of an Elite, Oxford, 2012). Even without the philosophical significance of this motif in mind, the serene state of the four fat fishes floating through water plants, seemingly at total ease within their surroundings, is palpable when immersing oneself in this pond, which emanates an air of peace and contentment. Grouped in two pairs, the fishes depict a carp and a mandarin fish, or Chinese perch, each confronted with a type of bream, fangyu, characterized by the bumpy forehead often developed by older fishes. While the former two are well known from Chinese porcelain designs, the latter, although, like the other two species, part of Chinas staple diet for centuries, are rarely depicted on porcelain. The fishes are alternating with three large and two small clumps of lotus with fully opened blooms, buds, pods and large leaves in different stages of development, interspersed with long undulating fronds of pond weeds, clumps of clover fern and some fallen flowers. The latter may be meant to evoke the enchanting topic of Liu Cais painting, where some fishes are chasing blossoms shed by an overhanging flowering branch. The deep, barbed mallow shape of the bowl, with ten sharp ridges inside and with the foot cut to correspond, cleverly reinforces the impression of rippling waves and together with the naturalistic depiction of the fishes creates an astonishingly vibrant, lively effect. On the present bowl, the painters managed to exploit the cobalt pigment to maximum effect and to create an amazingly rich tonal variation in this monochrome palette: the fishes are drawn with dark blue outlines and details over pale blue washes; on the leaves the veins are in contrast reserved in white, being incised through the blue washes down to the porcelain body; and the large leaves that are rendered with frayed edges, as if about to wilt, are accentuated with dark heaping and piling, a feature that appears to have been deliberately induced. A large wilting lotus leaf, similarly rendered with fuzzy edges, appears next to a diminutive bird in an ink painting of a lotus pond signed yubi (imperial brush), executed by the Xuande Emperor, who was not only a devoted patron of the arts but is also considered as a gifted artist himself; see Craig Clunas and Jessica Harrison-Hall, eds, Ming. 50 Years that Changed China, The British Museum, London, 2014, p. 177, fig. 154 (fig. 2). As a porcelain motif, the lotus pond was taken up by Jingdezhens porcelain painters already in the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), and some of the finest Yuan blue-and-white jars are painted with this subject, such as, for example, the fish jar in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, from the Ataka collection (see Ty tji no tenkai/Masterpieces of Oriental Ceramics, The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 1999, cat. no. 33). The scene on the present bowl appears to have been directly inspired by such Yuan porcelain prototypes a very rare feature for Xuande imperial blue-and-white. The four fishes on our bowl depict the same species as those on the jar in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; and another exhibited in 2002 at Eskenazi, London; and the feature of the frilly lotus leaves is already found on the famous Yuan jar in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, from the Oscar C. Raphael collection, which depicts ducks in a lotus pond. For the two fish jars see Chinese Art under the Mongols. The Yüan Dynasty (1279-1368), The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 1968, cat. no. 155; and Two Rare Chinese Porcelain Fish Jars of the 14th and 16th Centuries, Eskenazi, London, 2002, cat. no. 1, where all three fish jars are illustrated together, compared with related Chinese ink paintings of fishes, including the painting by Liu Cai, and where the fish-pond motif is further discussed by Regina Krahl and Sarah Wong; for the Fitzwilliam Museums ducks jar see Margaret Medley, Yüan Porcelain and Stoneware, London, 1974, col. pl. C. Only one other Xuande bowl of this basic shape and design, of lower proportions and much smaller in size (18.4 cm), appears to have been published, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Museums exhibition Mingdai Xuande guanyao jinghua tezhan tulu/Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 140 (fig. 1), but two such bowls are listed in the inventory of the holdings of the National Palace Museum Gugong ciqi lu [Record of porcelains from the Old Palace], Taipei, 1961-6, vol. 2, part 1, p. 124. No comparable piece has ever been offered at auction or seems to be preserved in any other public or private collection. The Ming imperial kilns experimented with this design also on even smaller bowls: a related mallow-shaped bowl (15 cm) discarded at the kilns, also of deep bell shape and painted with a similar design, has been reconstructed from sherds excavated at the Jingdezhen kiln sites, and included in the exhibition Jingdezhen chutu Ming Xuande guanyao ciqi/Xuande Imperial Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 103-2 (fig. 3), together with a related fragmentary bowl of circular section (15.8 cm), cat. no. 103-1. The present bowl shape was also used for a Xuande bowl decorated with ten small dragon roundels and a band of petal panels, but to strikingly different effect; see Sothebys Hong Kong Twenty Years, 1973-1993, Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 60, for a bowl sold in these rooms, 16th November 1973, lot 135 (fig. 4). On the formal dragon bowl, the indentations emphasize the solemnity of the design; on the halcyon fish pond bowl, the undulant sides highlight the vivacious air of the painterly motif. A reduced version of this fish pond design can also be found on four brush washers of Xuande mark and period, of similar mallow-shaped section, and on some circular dishes, all with shallow sides and thus nowhere near as striking as the present piece, which undoubtedly displays the design to best advantage. Compare a brush washer illustrated in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1653, sold in these rooms, 7th April 2011, lot 54, where the other three washers of this design are listed; for a dish of this design see the National Palace Museum exhibition 1998, op.cit., cat. no. 180, illustrated together with a dish with a lotus pond without fishes, cat. no. 179. Fragmentary washers and dishes of this design were also recovered from the waste heaps of the kilns, see the Chang Foundation exhibition, 1998, op.cit., cat. nos 19-2 and 86-2. The design was also copied later in the Ming and probably the Qing (1644-1911) dynasty. A very shallow mallow-shaped bowl (or deep dish) with a similar fish pond design, of Jiajing mark and period (1522-66), in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, was included in the Museums exhibition Fu shou kang ning. Jixiang tu'an ciqi tezhan tulu/Good Fortune, Long Life, Health, and Peace: A Special Exhibition of Porcelains with Auspicious Designs, Taipei, 1995, cat. no. 72; and a very large bowl of similar shape and design in the same museum, inscribed with a Xuande reign mark and still included as being of the period in the Museums 1960s inventory Gugong ciqi lu, op.cit., p. 124, was included as a later copy in the Museums exhibition Ming Xuande ciqi tezhan mulu/Catalogue of a Special Exhibition of Hsuan-te Period Porcelain, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1980, cat. no. 28; it probably dates from the Qing period.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2017-04-05
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石渠寶笈 記載為趙令穰(上等) 鵝群圖 設色絹本 手卷

石渠寶笈 記載為趙令穰(上等) 鵝群圖 設色絹本 手卷 錢選(1235-1305)題跋:趙令穰字大年,弟令松,字永年,友于俱能畫, 其法出唐人畢宏、韋偃。此卷廼大年筆,聰明過人,變二者之法,自出一家, 可敬可服。選少年亦師之,可爲雅玩。大德元年(1297年)夏,吳興錢選舜舉跋。 鈐印:舜舉印章、舜舉 馮子振(1253-1348)題跋: 長楊並立黄栗留,舂鉏散落飛不收。 戎葵燄發撑薄縟,細雨薫風看未足。 鵞池超出逸少羣,山隂爾日専竒勛。 嶔崎石老濕醉墨,樹色嵗寒迎古栢。 大年小景二百年,縑題尚此雲日妍。 呉興繪手差韵度,尾尾精神難㸃汚。 人間肉眼莫作癡,想像逺意如當時。 千金雙璧俱白首,此詩此畫那復有。 舊見大年伯仲作小景,大抵與俗閒物色渾别。 此卷大似山隂道中,邂逅王逸少。 緑隂長晝,鷗鷺閒雅,鳴鸝在上,種種生色。 遂垂涎波上之禽,欲籠之而歸。 少慰平生健嘬之老頬,其風流韻勝。 大略故可覩已,乃為書之。 海粟老人馮子振觀,大徳乙巳(1305年)四月既望客燕南。 韓性題跋: 楊栁隂濃白鷺飛,簍蒿水暖子鵞肥。 燧林芳草無窮思,何事王孫怨不歸。韓性。 鈐印:□乎山人、明善 余復題跋: 垂栁隂隂溪水流,層巒映雲煙浮。 禽鳥飛鳴花草幽,問君此景在何所,我欲載酒乘扁舟。東平余復。 鈐印:余氏仲仁、訥菴 朱德潤(1294-1365)題跋: 白鷺驚飛鶯對吟,戎葵吐艶栁垂隂。 近來也欲籠鵞去,誰識蒼蒼檜柏心。澤民題。 鈐印:一印未辨 鄧文原(1258-1328)題跋: 江湖野水明碕灣,蒼木隱映白石頑。 樂哉禽鳥居其間,草有蒹葭魚鰋鯉,扁舟不見玄真子。 我復胡為滯留此,承平公子翰墨娛。 遺風流韻詩騶虞,宛勝滕王蛺蝶圖。巴西鄧文原。 鈐印:巴西鄧氏善士 劉必大(元代)題跋: 栁下鵞谿花草,卧㳺如到山隂。 云是大年小景,即今何處堪尋。湖南劉必大。 題跋: 古木隂隂翠長,弄波紅掌蘸晴光。 雪衣飛起金衣語,華自傾心向夕陽。無懷子題。 倪堅題跋: 一幅舊鵞溪,無聲詩更好。 前身智永師,故國山隂道。陽岡道人倪堅。 鈐印:汝實、陽□(半印) 柯九思(1290-1343)題跋: 緑楊鶯囀夢初醒,天影微凉斷岸青。 坐對物華俱自得,籠鵞不用換黄庭。丹邱柯九思題。 鈐印:柯氏敬仲、訓忠之家 丁復(元) 題跋: 南風播時薫,序物何翕赩。 崇條蔚垂榮,弱敷紛吐色。 緐滋被原野,宿漲彌川澤。 髙下一無頗,鉅細各有適。 林鳴命其儔,波㳺偕所匹。 仰睇雲霄翔,毎欲具羽翮。 終焉追鴻鵠,詎復從鷃鶂。天台丁復。 鈐印:天台仲容、青帛黃金道人、乾艮 陳子美題跋: 隂隂緑栁囀黄鸝,埜鷺飛來水滿陂。 縱欲籠鵞寫經去,山隂何處覔羲之。閩川陳子美。 鈐印:一印漫漶 楊惟賢題跋: 余家先世喜蓄畫,大年小景得四五幅。 後遭亂離,悉為人擕去,無一存者。 今觀此圖,不勝悵惋。 余深愛其精緻,遂為賦詩,藏者宜寳玩之。 王孫美風標,逍遥太平日。 詩酒有餘情,翰墨寄清逸。 戎葵華開向日紅,黄鸝緑栁囀薫風。 鷺羣鵞隊芳塘裏,彩筆能全造化功。華隂楊惟賢。 鈐印:思齊之印、菊南 乾隆皇帝(1711-1799)藏印: 石渠寶笈、乾隆御覽之寶、御書房鑑藏寶、乾隆鑑賞、三希堂精鑑璽、宜子孫 嘉慶皇帝(1760-1820)藏印:嘉慶御覽之寶 奕訢(1832-1898) 藏印: 恭親王印、御賜績懋褱柔濟世安人扶景運堅隆屏翰抒忱體國受蕃釐 沐昂(?-1445)藏印:黔寧府書畫印 王世懋(1538-1588)藏印:瑯琊王敬美氏收藏圖書 梁清標(1620-1691)藏印:蒼岩子(二次)、蕉林鑒定、蕉林書屋、 棠邨、棠邨(三次)、冶溪漁隱(二次)、秋碧、蕉林梁氏書畫之印、家在北潭、臥雪 張鏐(17世紀):邗上張鏐黃美拜觀、張鏐 其它藏印:半印不可識(半印疑為「典禮紀察司印」) 乾隆皇帝(1711-1799)題簽條:趙令穰鵝羣圖蹟。內府珍藏。 鈐印:乾隆宸翰 12 7/8 x 36 5/8 in. (32.6 x 93.1 cm.) 展覽:“本間美術館創立33週年紀念宋:元中國繪畫展”,本間美術館,1979年。 著錄: 《秘殿珠林石渠寳笈:石渠寳笈初編》,國立故宮博物院印行,台北,1971年,第966頁。 出版: 《本間美術館創立33週年紀念宋:元中國繪畫展》,本間美術館,1979年,圖版13. 鈴木敬編,《中國繪畫總合圖錄》,日本東京大學出版會,1983年,第三卷,JM14-0013。 鈴木敬著,魏美月譯,《中國繪畫史》,上卷,國立故宮博物院,台北,1987年,圖版176。

  • USAUSA
  • 2017-03-15
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An outstanding ru guanyao lobed brush washer northern song dynasty

THIS IS A PREMIUM LOT. CLIENTS WHO WISH TO BID ON PREMIUM LOTS MAY BE REQUESTED BY SOTHEBY'S TO COMPLETE THE PRE-REGISTRATION APPLICATION FORM AND TO DELIVER TO SOTHEBY'S A DEPOSIT OF HK$1,000,000, OR SUCH OTHER HIGHER AMOUNT AS MAY BE DETERMINED BY SOTHEBY'S, AND ANY FINANCIAL REFERENCES, GUARANTEES AND/OR SUCH OTHER SECURITY AS SOTHEBY'S MAY REQUIRE IN ITS ABSOLUTE DISCRETION AS SECURITY FOR THEIR BID. THE BIDnow ONLINE BIDDING SERVICE IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR PREMIUM LOTS.overwhelmingly beautiful, finely potted with shallow rounded sides rising from a wide flat base raised on a slightly splayed foot, the thin walls divided into six evenly spaced lobes by small pinched notches each extending to a vertical groove, fully enveloped in a luscious caesious coloured glaze, a tactile delight, suffused with a latent crackle now and then accented with darker veins of cracklure, the glaze thinning at the extremities and along the lobes to a purplish colour and, at times, pulling gently to reveal the dark body beneath, conjuring the occasional beauty spot, the underside heightened with three delicate 'sesame-seed' spur marks, two Japanese paulownia wood boxes Pride of Emperors, Desire of Connoisseurs, Model for Potters Regina Krahl Ru guanyao, the Ru kilns' 'official ware', plays a role quite extraordinary in the history of China and her art. Hardly any other artefacts have elicited feelings as fervent as the small and deceptively modest Ru ceramics. Of outstanding rarity, historically connected to patriotic sentiments of a grand era, conceptually to philosophical ideals of life in tune with nature, and aesthetically to a sophisticated taste for artlessness and excellence, they have obtained an almost mythical aura. The Northern Song court (960-1127) is recorded to have been unhappy about the white ceramics it received from the Ding kilns, apparently on account of the unglazed rims then characteristic of Ding wares. Thus it commissioned the kilns at Ruzhou, south of the capital, Kaifeng in Henan province, to produce celadons. The potters were ambitious, as they aimed to hide all evidence of the somewhat rough ceramic body by covering it all-over with luminous, mostly crackled glazes in various tones of a subtle blue-green. Fully enveloped in this glossy green coating the pieces almost looked as if carved from jade. To achieve this, they had to be precariously balanced in the kiln on pointed stilts. This technique of firing fully glazed vessels on small spurs rather than making them stand on an unglazed footring, was not invented by the Ru potters; it had been practised already at other manufactories before. The Ru kilns, however, perfected it by making the marks on the underside as tiny and tidy as possible and by reducing their number to the absolute minimum of three, thereby creating a distinctive characteristic for their wares. Already in 1591 Gao Lian flatteringly referred to the typical spur marks on Ru vessels as 'sesame-seed' markings. Ceramics, as a non-precious material made valuable through craftsmanship perfectly accorded with the ideals of China's elite at the time, of simplicity, modesty and naturalism. With their demanding criteria for judging proportion, glaze structure, tonal range and tactility, Song connoisseurs in many ways anticipated modern design movements, and Song ceramics still provide models of style and craftsmanship today. Although this taste was originally borne by the class of China's educated scholar-officials, its sophistication did not remain unnoticed for long and the court soon fully embraced it. Ru official ware with its superficially simple aspect, whose focus is the overwhelming beauty of its glaze subtly set in scene by elegant, finely potted forms, embodies the quintessence of this taste. Although the exact time of the production of Ru ware is still under debate, all scholars agree that it was made for an extremely short period only. Generally a space of some twenty years is proposed, from 1086 to 1106, although some scholars have argued for a slightly longer period. In any case, it was supplied to the court during only two reigns, those of the Emperors Zhezong (r. 1086-1100) and Huizong (r. 1101-25). We do not know yet in how far these emperors had any personal influence on its production. Zhezong ascended the throne as an infant and until 1093 power was de facto in the hands of the Empress Dowager Gao, neither of them known for a particular interest in fine works of art; Huizong on the other hand has gone down in history as one of China's greatest imperial connoisseurs, patrons and collectors. This was the first time that the court had expressly ordered ceramics to be made for its own use – rather than picking the best of those supplied in tribute. When in 1127 the Song lost the northern part of their glorious empire to the Jurchen and were forced to relocate the court to south China, they no longer had access to the official manufactory, which quickly declined to the level of a popular kiln. This lack of fine ceramics in the new capital, Hangzhou, must have served as a poignant reminder of this painful loss of territory and hegemony. As a quick return to the north became more and more unlikely, Emperor Gaozong (r. 1127-62), the first to rule out of Hangzhou in the south, in 1151 received a well-publicized gift of sixteen pieces of Ru ware from a high official, Zhang Jun – a symbolic patriotic gesture that clearly few individuals would have been able to match. Zhou Hui, writing on Ru ware in 1192 already said "... today it is very difficult to obtain", Cao Zhao, writing in 1388, reported the same, "... examples are very difficult to obtain...". In order to remedy this permanent shortage of wares of Ru quality, the Emperor set up new official kilns in Hangzhou to make ceramics especially for the court modelled on this coveted ware from the north that was reminiscent of happier days. By the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644) Ru official ware was deemed completely 'unobtainable' or 'to have ceased to exist'. Indeed its fame appears to have been based more on hearsay than on knowledge of actual items, with literary passages copying each other and by doing so, increasing the aura of this fabled product of the past. Its colour was said 'to approach the blue of the sky after rain', and agate was reputed to be mixed in the glaze. Although in the Song only selected pieces are supposed to have ended up at the court, whereas pieces rejected by the court were allowed to be sold, examples do not seem to have been available even to copy. In spite of its towering fame that surpassed that of the fabled guan and ge wares of the south, no copies of Ru were made in the Ming dynasty by the Jingdezhen porcelain kilns, which imitated anything of earlier periods that was deemed worthwhile, and certainly guan and ge. It remained for the Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1723-35) in the Qing dynasty to revive the Ru style. An inventory of the seventh year of Yongzheng (1729) lists thirty-one Ru wares carefully kept in lacquer boxes, probably imported from Japan, all of them brush washers of various shapes and with various inscriptions (Lin Baiting, 2006, p. 25). Although we do not know for certain whether they had all been correctly identified, many of them are described as having inscriptions and can thus be matched to pieces extant in Taipei today. And these were not the only Ru vessels held in the palace storerooms. The Emperor sent originals of various types from the palace in Beijing to the porcelain kilns in south China to have them copied, or else to hold them up as standards of quality and stimulants for inspiration. In a list of different porcelains ordered to be made for the Emperor, preserved in the Jiangxi tongzhi [Annals of Jiangxi] of 1732, two types of Ru ware are recorded to be copied at Jingdezhen from Song originals: 'Uncrackled Ru glaze with copper-coloured paste, copied from the colour of the glaze of two pieces of the Song dynasty', and 'Ru glaze with fish-roe crackle of copper-coloured paste, copied from the colours of the glaze of a piece of the Song dynasty sent from the imperial palace' (Bushell, Oriental Ceramic Art: Illustrated by Examples from the Collection of W.T. Walters, New York, 1896; reprint London, 1981, pp. 194f.). Not only Ru copies were produced, however, but a whole range of vessels with various greenish glazes was inspired by Ru. The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-95) contributed to the fame of the ware by composing poems on Ru and having them engraved on pieces from the imperial storerooms. At least twenty extant Ru pieces bear his inscriptions, although he did not always correctly identify them. Of eighteen different poems composed for Ru pieces, only two actually mention Ru ware. One of the Yongzheng Emperor's copies even seems to have fooled his son, as the Qianlong Emperor had a lengthy poem inscribed on it, taking it for a Song original (China. The Three Emperors 1662 – 1795, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005, cat. no. 197). Yet the Song original sent by his father to Jingdezhen to be copied (fig. 1) must have been one of his favourites, too, since he had a special wooden stand made for it provided with a small drawer to hold a miniature album of his own paintings, calligraphies and seals. In the West, the identity of Ru ware was long unknown. In 1915, when R.L. Hobson wrote his seminal work Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, he still stated (p. 52) "Though no authenticated example of Ju [Ru] ware is known in Europe, it is impossible to ignore a factory whose productions were unanimously acclaimed by Chinese writers as the cream of the Sung [Song] wares." It was the International Exhibition of Chinese Art at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1935/6, which brought some enlightenment about this unknown ware as the Chinese Government had lent ten examples identified as Ru. In China many attempts had been made to locate the kiln site, but it was only in 1986 that kilns considered to be the official Ru manufactories were identified at Qingliangsi, Baofeng, Henan province. A large number of sherds belonging to typical Ru official ware vessels were recovered. Remnants from the Baofeng kilns show that the potters also made ordinary, non-official wares, and that they were more ambitious than the extant items let one to believe. Whereas virtually all extant pieces of Ru official ware are small and plain, experiments were made with many complicated sculptural forms, openwork designs, and detailed engraved decoration, of which no complete examples may, however, ever have left the kilns. Although other more recently excavated kiln sites are now sometimes mentioned in this context as the possible official kilns of the Northern Song period, in particular the Zhanggongxiang kilns located nearby, at Ruzhou, also in Henan province, finds from those sites do not match extant pieces of what traditionally is called Ru ware. _________________________________________________________ Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Clark's Ru Guanyao Brush Washer Regina Krahl The present flower-shaped bowl is – arguably – the most desirable piece of Ru official ware still in private hands. Among extant pieces of Ru ware, it is remarkable in three respects: first for its glaze, perhaps the most attractive colour, structure and texture available; second for its rare shape, with its six delicate, sharp points subtly accentuating the glaze colour; and third for its illustrious provenance, the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Clark being one of the most noteworthy ever assembled in the West. The greatest asset of any piece of Ru ware is obviously its glaze. Small glazed test pieces discovered at the kiln sites and equally forming part of the Sir Percival David Collection attest to the high degree of care taken in the firing of Ru wares. It was the glaze that got ravishing reviews from connoisseurs of former dynasties, giving rise to poetic descriptions such as 'approaching the blue of the sky after rain'. In this respect, the present piece can stand up to the highest expectations. Yet Ru glazes vary widely, probably more so than those of any other Song green-glazed stonewares. Textual records since the times of Cao Zhao, who wrote the Ge gu yao lun [Essential Criteria of Antiquities] in 1388, made a clear distinction between pieces with and without crackle (often referred to as 'crab's claw markings') and invariably ranked the non-crackled variety much higher ("... those without markings are better still."). In the list of thirty-one Ru wares in the imperial palace, drawn up in the Yongzheng period, only one circular washer is singled out as being without crackle. Since crackled Ru ware is much more common, a crackled glaze is often thought to be characteristic. In fact virtually all Ru glazes show some form of crazing; but whereas this becomes a prominent feature in a translucent glaze, it remains subliminal in an opaque glaze. It is this rare even, monochrome appearance of opaque Ru ware that Chinese connoisseurs, imperial or otherwise, unanimously preferred. Only one piece in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is said to fit this description and is rated as "unique in the world" (fig. 1): it is the narcissus bowl that was specially selected by the Yongzheng Emperor to be copied at Jingdezhen, and by the Qianlong Emperor to be associated with a booklet of his own paintings and writings. Because of its extraordinary even glaze, Sir Percival David reputedly found it difficult to accept this piece as a Song original rather than a Qing copy, when it was sent to the Royal Academy of Arts, London, for the 1935/6 exhibition (Lin Baiting, 2006, p. 24 and cat. no. 7). The bluish-green glaze of our present washer, with its even milky appearance clearly falls into this category of the most highly ranked 'un-crackled' Ru glazes. In literary sources, even down to the Qianlong Emperor's poems, there is frequent reference to agate having been used in the composition of the glaze. This statement is still not fully explained, other than by giving the ware extra cachet by making it particularly precious. Agate was in fact mined nearby and is still unearthed in that area; yet according to Rose Kerr and Nigel Wood its inclusion in the glaze would have given "no real technical advantage but did no harm either" (Science and Civilisation in China, vol.5: Chemistry and Chemical Technology, part XII: Ceramic Technology, Cambridge, 2004, p.606). This finely potted six-petalled flower-shaped bowl, probably intended for washing brushes after writing, is reminiscent first and foremost of contemporary lacquer forms, but similar shapes were also produced by other northern kilns. It is particularly rare among Ru wares, where only one other companion piece is recorded, formerly the pair to the present piece and now in the collection of the British Museum, London (fig. 2). It would seem to be the most desirable shape among Ru pieces still in private hands, all others being plain circular dishes or washers. Even at the kiln site sherds of related 'melon-lobed' shape are said to have been exceedingly rare, and only one slightly smaller example, reconstructed from fragments but only partially preserved, has been published (Fang & Xin, 2008, p. 83, fig. 54: 8 and col. pl. 96, figs. 1 and 3). Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Clark of Fulmer in Berkshire formed their fabled collection mainly between the 1920s and 1940s, before Alfred Clark's death in 1950. He was an active supporter of the Oriental Ceramic Society and directly involved in the preparation of the 1935/6 exhibition in London to which he lent five dozen pieces. Asked whose collection Sir Percival David considered most highly, Lady David in an interview in 1992 replied "I think the Clark's", "The collection, I would say, was one of the finest. It was small, formed by two people with extremely good taste.... They... had a little room upstairs in which they kept their Song pieces in showcases around the walls ..."(Anthony Lin Hua-Tien, 'An Interview with Lady David', Orientations, April 1992, pp. 56-63). This washer was one of a pair owned by Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Clark. While the companion piece (fig. 2) was donated by the couple to the British Museum in 1936, Mrs. Clark, who survived her husband until 1976, seems to have held on to the present one until old age. It came to Japan sometime in the 1970s, where it has been kept with due respect ever since in paulownia wood double boxes. __________________________________________________________ The Worldwide Patrimony of Ru Official Wares Regina Krahl Today the worldwide patrimony of heirloom pieces of Ru official ware that can still be traced comprises only seventy-nine items. Virtually all of them are in Museum collections. Only six vessels are remaining in private hands besides the present piece: three of them plain circular washers, and three shallow dishes of which one is reduced in size (figs. 3-8). In addition, discarded specimens have been excavated from the kiln site, but mostly in fragmentary state. In 1958 G. St. G. M. Gompertz compiled a list of thirty-one pieces of Ru ware outside of China, in addition to the ten sent by the Chinese Government to the London exhibition 1935/6; in 1987 Wang Qingzheng et al. published a list of sixty-five heirloom pieces of Ru official ware worldwide, which was updated to sixty-nine in a revised publication in 1991. Both lists, however, included pieces which today would no longer qualify as such. In a recent exhibition catalogue Degawa Tetsuro compiled a list of seventy pieces and published each one with information about its whereabouts, size and one or two images (Degawa, 2009, pp. 279-87). To this invaluable and reliable inventory, the largest ever published, can be added:    Two further small dishes in the National Palace Museum, Taipei; one further small dish in the British Museum, London; one further brush washer in the Röhsska Museum, Gothenburg (one of a pair in the Museum); one brush washer from the Barlow Collection, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; one brush washer in the Meiyintang collection; one brush washer from the Chang Foundation, Taipei; one dish from Stephen Junkunc III, now in the Au Bak Ling collection; one cut-down dish, also from the Junkunc III collection. Two further pieces had been recorded in earlier publications (1923 and 1942), but are unaccounted for since and may no longer be extant. Of these seventy-nine recorded items, twenty-one are in the National Palace Museum, Taipei; seventeen in the British Museum, London; fifteen in the Palace Museum, Beijing, eight in the Shanghai Museum, a pair in the Röhsska Museum, Gothenburg, Sweden, and single items in the National Museum of China, Beijing; the Tianjin Municipal Art Museum; the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka; the Hong Kong Museum of Art; the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the St. Louis Art Museum; the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Only six pieces of Ru official ware were ever sold at auction: The bottle from the Eumorfopoulos collection, now in the Sir Percival David collection in the British Museum, London, was sold in our London rooms, 28th May 1940, lot 135.     The narcissus bowl with metal rim, later in the Ataka collection and now in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, was sold in our London rooms, 17th March 1959, lot 26, and again 24th February 1970, lot 1. The circular brush washer from the K.S. Lo Foundation in the Hong Kong Museum of Art was sold in our London rooms 15th April 1980, lot 140.     The circular brush washer later in the Chang Foundation, Taipei, now in a private collection, was sold in our London rooms 15th June 1982, lot 252. The dish from the Stephen Junkunc III collection, now in the collection of Au Bak Ling was sold at Christie's New York, 3rd December 1992, lot 276 (included in the exhibition 100 Masterpieces of Imperial Chinese Ceramics from the Au Bak Ling Collection, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1998, no. 1). A fire-damaged dish with its rim cut down, also from the Stephen Junkunc III collection, was sold at Christie's New York, 29th March 2006, lot 401. "...It remains to this day the supreme expression of the art of the Chinese potter..." (James C.Y. Watt in Wen C. Fong & James C.Y. Watt, Possessing the Past, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996, p. 238). __________________________________________________________ Selected Bibliography on Ru Official Ware Ju and Kuan Wares. Imperial Wares of the Sung Dynasty, Related Wares and Derivatives of Later Date, The Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 1952 G. St. G. M. Gompertz, Chinese Celadon Wares, London, 1958 Wang Qingzheng, Fan Dongqing and Zhou Lili, Ruyao de faxian / The Discovery of Ru Kiln, Shanghai, 1987, revised English edition, Hong Kong, 1991 Ye Zhemin and Ye Peilan, eds, Ruyao juzhen / Collection of Porcelain Treasures of the Ru Kiln, Beijing, 2001 Zhao Qingyun, ed., Songdai Ruyao [Ru ware of the Song dynasty], Zhengzhou, 2003 Lin Baiting, ed., Da guan. Bei Song Ruyao tezhan / Grand View: Special Exhibition of Ju Ware from the Northern Sung Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2006 Fang Yanming & Xin Ge, eds, Baofeng Qingliangsi Ruyao / Ru Yao at Qingliangsi in Baofeng, Zhengzhou, 2008 Henan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, ed., Ruyao yu Zhanggongxiangyao chutu ciqi / Ceramic Art Unearthed from the Ru Kiln Site and Zhanggongxiang Kiln Site, Beijing, 2008 Sun Xinmin & Wang Guangyao, Henan xin chu Song Jin ming yao ciqi tezhan [Special exhibition of ceramics from famous Song and Jin kilns recently excavated in Henan], Poly Art Museum, Beijing, 2009 Degawa Tetsuro, Hokusō Joyō seiji: Kōko hakkutsu seika ten / Northern Song Ru Ware. Recent Archaeological Findings, Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 2009

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2012-04-04
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A MAGNIFICENT AND UNIQUE FALANGCAI 'GOLDEN PHEASANT' VASE BLUE ENAMEL MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG

A MAGNIFICENT AND UNIQUE FALANGCAI 'GOLDEN PHEASANT' VASE BLUE ENAMEL MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG, THIS IS A PREMIUM LOT. CLIENTS WHO WISH TO BID ON PREMIUM LOTS ARE REQUESTED TO COMPLETE THE PREMIUM LOT PRE-REGISTRATION 3 WORKING DAYS PRIOR TO THE SALE. BIDnow ONLINE BIDDING SERVICE IS NOT AVAILABLE.   of the rarefied guyuexuan type, the body of tapering ovoid shape resting on an unglazed foot enclosing the countersunk mark, surmounted by the tall cylindrical neck finished with a slightly lipped rim, finely potted in the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen in white porcelain of the purest homogenous structure and applied with an even milky-white glaze suffused with tiny bubbles and with a smooth silky surface; enamelled in the imperial palace workshops within the confines of the Forbidden City in the finest opaque 'foreign colours', applied in subtly shaded washes and immaculately depicted detail with a pair of golden pheasants perched on a knotty trunk, the male balancing on one slender yellow leg, the other leg held up to the rich red breast, the head turned back over the shoulder with the long sharp beak flanked by short hairs below the bright oval eye, picked out in black, yellow, red and pink enamels, and the straw-yellow crest falling back over the thick pinkish orange ruff and multi-coloured wing feathers, the long tail depicted in iron red and sepia with yellow spot markings extending to the tip of the longest feather, the female crouching below her mate, the detailing of her feathers subtly picked out in sepia and the only colour being the yellow and puce of her eye; the thick knotted trunk set with spots of pale greenish moss and extending to angled branches sparsely sprouting pale pinkish leaves, small bright blue and deep purple asters with yellow stamens clustering at the base below a rose, the two large pink flowers and a single bud borne on thorny, leafy stems with detailing picked out in black on the green, the whole forming a continuous scene complimented on the neck with a couplet reading Zhaozhao long li yue.  Suisui zhan chang chun, ('May you capture the "beautiful month' for days on end.  May you seize enduring spring year upon year.') and three seals jiali ('beautiful'), sishi and changchun ('enduring spring at all seasons'), the countersunk base with the four-character mark Qianlong nian zhi written within a double-square in a characteristic greyish blue enamel 20.3 cm., 8 in.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2011-04-07
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AN OUTSTANDING BLUE AND WHITE VASE WITH FRUIT SPRAYS, MEIPING MING DYNASTY, YONGLE PERIOD

AN OUTSTANDING BLUE AND WHITE VASE WITH FRUIT SPRAYS, MEIPING MING DYNASTY, YONGLE PERIOD, THIS IS A PREMIUM LOT. CLIENTS WHO WISH TO BID ON PREMIUM LOTS MAY BE REQUESTED BY SOTHEBY'S TO COMPLETE THE PRE-REGISTRATION APPLICATION FORM AND TO DELIVER TO SOTHEBY'S A DEPOSIT OF HK$1,000,000, OR SUCH OTHER HIGHER AMOUNT AS MAY BE DETERMINED BY SOTHEBY'S, AND ANY FINANCIAL REFERENCES, GUARANTEES AND/OR SUCH OTHER SECURITY AS SOTHEBY'S MAY REQUIRE IN ITS ABSOLUTE DISCRETION AS SECURITY FOR THEIR BID. THE BIDnow ONLINE BIDDING SERVICE IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR PREMIUM LOTS. evenly potted of generous proportions with the full rounded shoulders rising at a gently flaring angle from the base, well painted in lively style with a wide band of ten fruit sprays arranged in an alternating double register, the upper register showing lychee, pomegranate, peach, longan, loquat, the lower one with crab apple, melon, ginkgo, cherry, and grape, all between a triple line border above and a five-line border below, the shoulders with a decorative band of twelve flower sprigs including two types of lotus, chrysanthemum, camellia, hibiscus and tea, each contained within a collar formed from interlocking upright and pendent ruyi lappets, all enclosing the white collar and small waisted mouth, the lower body with border of upright lotus lappets each enclosing a further flower sprig similar to those in the upper band, all above a narrow classic leafy scroll band above the foot, the underglaze cobalt blue of intense purplish-blue colour with pronounced 'heaping and piling' emphasising the three-dimensional quality of the design, the unglazed foot and slightly countersunk base showing the fine white ware dotted with tiny brown iron spots 36.5 cm., 14 3/8 in.

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  • 2011-10-04
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An extremely fine and magnificent imperial falangcai 'poppy'...

Exquisitely potted with deep rounded sides resting on a straight foot and gracefully tapering to an everted rim, the immaculate white porcelain of translucent quality, the exterior delicately and meticulously painted in finely ground and blended imported enamels with a group of poppies issuing forth from dense rockwork while a single yellow butterfly flutters overhead, the continuous scene further adorned with tender yellow, pink and lavender blossoms elegantly borne on undulating stems painted in various shades of lime and fern green, each individual bloom vibrantly detailed with subtle veining and lemon-yellow speckled stamens, the yellow butterfly depicted floating above with its body and wings striped in black, the latter further accentuated with a red circular spot, all contrasting with the gnarled roughness of the punctured and craggy rocks, the reverse inscribed with a fourteen-character poem flanked by three iron-red seal marks, the interior enamelled with a young branch of finger-citron, an apple and three cherries, the base inscribed in blue enamel with a four-character mark within a double square Ethereal Beauty Regina Krahl The unassuming beauty of this outstanding falangcai bowl with its ethereal painting of poppies and its elegantly inscribed colophon would not immediately suggest that in fact it alludes to a major event of Chinas history, a story reverberating with heroism and loyalty, love and devotion, that has become romanticized in poetry and fiction. The poetic inscription below the rim can be translated: They welcome the wind, as if it could chase the sound of singing that has arisen. The night full of rain, how it causes the dancing sleeve to hang down! For the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795), who as a young man was of course trained in the Chinese Classics, these two lines, together with the flower depicted, in China also known as Yu meiren, Beauty Yu, would immediately have evoked a story related in the seminal history of early China, the Shiji, Records of the Grand Historian, written by Sima Qian (145-c.90 BC), Grand Historian at the Han court (206 BC-AD 220). One of the Biographies included in the Shiji is devoted to Xiang Yu (232-202 BC), a warlord, who fought against the Qin (221-206 BC) to reinstate the former state of Chu. Upon the fall of the Qin, he proclaimed himself Hegemon King of Western Chu and became engaged in a lengthy struggle over the hegemony of China with Liu Bang (256-195 BC), founder of the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). Although that dynasty is officially set to have begun in 206 BC, the so-called Chu-Han contention lasted until 202 BC. It ended in the battle of Gaixia (in northern Anhui), where Sima Qian records the following story (translated by Burton Watson in Cyril Birch, ed., Anthology of Chinese Literature, Harmondsworth, 1967 [1965], p. 142, with the Chinese terms here transferred into pinyin): Xiang Yus army had built a walled camp at Gaixia, but his soldiers were few and his supplies exhausted. The Han army, joined by the forces of the other leaders, surrounded them with several lines of troops. In the night Xiang Yu heard the Han armies all about him singing the songs of Chu. Has Han already conquered Chu he exclaimed in astonishment. How many men of Chu they have with them! Then he rose in the night and drank within the curtains of his tent. With him were the beautiful lady Yu, who enjoyed his favor and followed wherever he went, and his famous steed Dapple, which he always rode. Xiang Yu, filled with passionate sorrow, began to sing sadly, composing this song: My strength plucked up the hills, My might shadowed the world; But the times were against me, And Dapple runs no more; When Dapple runs no more, What then can I do Ah, Yu, my Yu, What will your fate be He sang the song several times through, and Lady Yu joined her voice with his. Tears streamed down his face, while all those about him wept and were unable to lift their eyes from the ground. Since having been recorded by Sima Qian, who goes on to relate Xiang Yus death soon after, this epic story with its romantic side-line featuring the heros consort, Lady Yu (d. 202 BC), has become a beloved popular topic of drama and romance in China and freely enriched and embellished has inspired poems, plays, Peking opera, films, TV series and video games to this day. The two lines that are inscribed on the present bowl, which refer to the songs of Chu signifying defeat, and the resulting fate of the two lovers, are taken from a longer late Ming dynasty (1368-1644) poem about poppies (Yong Yu meiren cao) by Xu Gui, that evokes Lady Yus story. In later narratives, we can read that Lady Yu responded to the Gaixia song by singing a poem herself and by performing a sword dance for her lover, giving herself the sword at the end. This tale of loyalty and moral integrity has made her a popular heroine and she is revered as one of ancient Chinas famous beauties. As poppies are believed to have grown on the spot, where she killed herself, the flower is named after her, Yu meiren, Beauty Yu. Her tomb east of Suzhou in Lingbi county, Anhui province, in the area formerly named Gaixia, remains a famous tourist attraction. The poppy flower is easy to recognize by its frilly, less than paper-thin petals, its buds enveloped by a green hull, which it sheds when they open, and a hairy stem. Flower painting had been practised in China since at least the Song dynasty (960-1279), but became a specialist genre due to the virtuosity of Yun Shouping (1633-1690), probably Chinas most famous flower painter, who introduced a new diction: his scrolls and album leaves in the boneless style (without ink outlines) revived interest in the field as a whole. His depictions also of poppies inspired many painters particularly in the Kangxi (1662-1722) and Yongzheng (1723-1735) periods, such as Wang Wu (1632-1690), Yun Bing (1670-1710), Ma Yuanyu (c. 1669-1722), Zou Yigui (1686-1772) and others, all of whom painted poppies, often in the form of album leaves representing one of the months of the year. It is surprising therefore, that this photogenic flower was so rarely depicted on porcelain. On falangcai porcelains from the Beijing enamelling workshops it was used already, but in a very different, more lush and imposing form, in the Kangxi period, with the flowers set against a purple ground; see Shen bi danqing. Lang Shining lai Hua sanbai nian tezhan/Portrayals from a Brush Divine. A Special Exhibition on the Tricentennial of Giuseppe Castigliones Arrival in China, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2015, cat. no. I-17. In the Yongzheng reign, it appears to have been used only once in the Beijing workshops, but rendered in a manner much closer to the present example. A pair of small falangcai dishes of Yongzheng mark and period, also preserved in the National Palace Museum, is similarly painted with poppies growing from behind rockwork, both unique in composition and sharing between them the same two poetic lines inscribed on our bowl, one line appearing on each; see ibid., cat. no. II-05; and Qing gongzhong falangcai ci tezhan/Special Exhibition of Ching Dynasty Enamelled Porcelains of the Imperial Ateliers, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1992, cat. no. 98 (fig. 1). Although the present bowl was clearly inspired by these two dishes, it is very differently conceived and displays its own individual painting style. On the Yongzheng prototypes, the scenes are rendered with the flowers seemingly more substantial, less emphasis being put on the weightlessness of their stems and blooms that makes them dance in the wind. On the present bowl, the flowers are admirably observed from nature and superbly painted, growing in an unruly manner, their petals wind-blown and their stalks bent in disorderly ways. Falangcai (foreign colours) porcelains painted in the imperial workshops of the Forbidden City in Beijing with enamels partly introduced from the West are among the rarest and most dazzling ceramic wares of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The fine white porcelain, potted and fired in Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, south of the Yangzi River and then sent up to Beijing, was painted within the confines of the imperial palace, next the Emperors living quarters, before being fired once more to affix the enamels. Never before or after can porcelain painters have been exposed to similar pressure as in these tightly circumscribed workshops, where they were to meet the extreme imperial expectations while being subject to immediate scrutiny from the monarchs eyes. The whole setup was small in scale, not least for the simple reasons of space and inconvenience to ordinary palace life, and here individual artists would create individual works of art, incomparable to the mass production even of fine porcelains for the court undertaken at Jingdezhen. Every piece of porcelain produced in these workshops is unique, quality is unsurpassed and numbers, naturally, are very limited. Poppy designs were also produced at Jingdezhen, and although they are extremely beautiful, they cannot compare to the present piece. While this bowl uses a palette specially developed for it and its design is laid out in an individual manner, Jingdezhen poppy bowls are known in several virtually identical versions and are painted in the standard famille rose (fencai) palette that had been developed for painting on a larger scale; compare the pair of poppy bowls from the collection of Dr James D. Thornton, sold at Christies Hong Kong, 29th November 2017, lot 2806. During the Kangxi reign the imperial workshops in the Forbidden City resembled sophisticated laboratories more than art ateliers, where court artists, artisans and technicians explored new scientific discoveries, manufacturing methods and substances. To this end, the Emperor had welcomed foreigners to the court, mainly from Europe, to upgrade the countrys standards of scientific and technical knowledge to international levels. The Yongzheng Emperor mistrusted these foreigners right on his doorstep, and with few exceptions, expelled them from the court. One of the exceptions was granted to the Italian Jesuit painter Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), a particularly capable artist who had endeavoured to learn Chinese painting techniques and experimented with a hybrid style that combined the ingenious Chinese manner of composition with the meticulous way of detailed representation in which he had been trained in Europe. His depictions of flowers, birds and animals, clearly based on Chinese models, obviously pleased the Emperors, and although they had little effect on the development of Chinese painting in general, they decisively influenced court artisans working practically side by side with Castiglione and other Europeans inside the Forbidden City. Castigliones album Immortal Blossoms in an Everlasting Spring contains flower and bird-and-flower leaves that render the subjects in the stylish asymmetrical compositions that are quintessentially Chinese, yet with that almost excessive degree of precision that he had learned in Europe. One of these album leaves, which depicts corn poppies next to fringed irises, looks almost certain to have influenced the way the poppy flowers on this bowl were conceived in the enamelling workshops (fig. 2). A major difference in the depiction of the nature scene on this Qianlong bowl from those on the Yongzheng dishes concerns the way the motif here has been cut off at the rim, or better, enlarged beyond the space available for painting a ploy to make the motif seemingly jump out of the two-dimensional plane. Such attempts to catch the viewers attention by suggesting three-dimensionality, which were practised already in Chinese handscroll paintings on paper or silk, are today still frequently used in advertising. At Jingdezhen, this style of depiction was turned into the guozhihua style, where the design climbs over the wall and actually continues on the inside of the vessel a very different concept, which scorns the idea behind the present stratagem, namely to engage the viewer by omitting part of the design. No other pieces of Qianlong falangcai porcelain appear to exist painted with poppies, and this bowl is further unusual in showing loosely strewn fruits a variation of the sanduo, the Three Abundances on the inside. Comparable bowls with different flower motifs and accompanying poems on the outside are in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, but otherwise they are extremely rare; see the Museums exhibition catalogue, op. cit., 1992, cat. nos 57, 58 and 61, the latter with a fruiting branch also on the inside. Generally, however, bowls and dishes with such painterly decoration on the outside are undecorated on the inside, while pieces with more formal, coloured sgraffiato decoration often show painted insides; compare, for example, a pair of dishes with yellow sgraffiato grounds outside and freely strewn fruits inside, illustrated in Liao Pao Show (Liao Baoxiu), Huali cai ci: Qianlong yangcai/Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Chien-lung Reign, exhibition catalogue, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2008, cat. no. 91.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2018-10-02
Hammer price
Show price

A highly important and exquisitely enamelled yangcai reticulated...

Superbly potted with a baluster body rising from a countersunk base to a tall waisted neck and galleried rim, the neck meticulously and elaborately decorated with a pendent ruyi border shaded in tones of grisaille, the border rendered suspending pearl strings whimsically enamelled with reflecting highlights to simulate three-dimensionality, depicted attached with auspicious emblems, including the 'double fish', 'good luck' talismans and musical stones, as well as stylised luxuriant floral blooms and Rococo-inspired undulating acanthus leaves with feathery fronds, all against a brilliant yellow ground neatly diapered with twelve-sided polygons, the lower section of the body ingeniously modelled with a celadon-reticulated wall of kui dragons and archaistic phoenix emphasised with gilt borders, framing four evenly spaced gilt-rimmed medallions exceptionally carved in relief with dynamic scenes of different fishes, the celadon-glazed reticulated shell revealing an inner vase decorated in shaded tones of underglaze blue with a composite floral scroll reminiscent of early Ming blue and white porcelains, the lower section of the vase bordered with two green-ground bands enclosing iron-red kui dragons, above a yellow-ground frieze of an opulent composite floral scroll, all between two key-fret bands encircling the rim and foot, the base enamelled turquoise and centred with a blue-enamel six-character seal mark within a double square Provenance Yamanaka & Company, Osaka, Kyoto, New York and Boston, 1905. The American Art Association, New York, 1905. Acquired from Yamanaka by a Japanese private collector, 1924, thence by descent. Exhibited Antique and Modern Chinese and Japanese Objects of Art, Curios, Paintings, Prints, Textiles and Embroideries, The American Art Galleries, New York, January 1905, cat. no. 352 (illustrated). A Glimpse of the Past, Screened through the Present Regina Krahl This porcelain masterpiece is not only a triumph of craftsmanship designed to answer to the exorbitant standards of technical proficiency and the insatiable demand for stylistic nove