LONDON – Dreweatts will feature an exceptionally rare Chinese vase, created in the 18th century for the court of the Qianlong Emperor and estimated at £100,000-£150,000, in its Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art (Part 1) auction on Wednesday, May 18. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
It was purchased by a surgeon in the 1980s for a few hundred pounds and passed from the original owner to his son, who, also not realizing its true value, positioned it in his kitchen. It was only when a visiting antiques specialist spotted it that its true value and history was revealed.
The vase is two feet tall and bears the distinctive six-character mark of the Qianlong period (1736-1795) on its base. It is believed that its Imperial past and exceptional quality and craftsmanship will attract a lot of attention from bidders in the UK and abroad.
The vase is an extraordinary example of Imperial Qianlong porcelain and is significant for its highly unusual enameling techniques, with a striking palette of gold and silver against a vivid blue ground. The rich cobalt blue is often referred to as sacrificial blue, deriving from the use of vessels in this color glaze being used during sacrifices at the Imperial Altar of Heaven. It is extremely rare to see blue vases painted in both gilding and slightly raised silver, probably because the medium was difficult to control.
This vase, therefore, is a testament to the skills and creativity of craftsmen working during the Qianlong period in exploring and perfecting enameling techniques to cater to the Emperor’s taste for the innovative and exotic. Such a vase would require at least three firings in the kiln, one for each of the three different glazes and enamels – first at more than 1200℃ (about 2200 Fahrenheit) for the cobalt blue, then at a lower temperature for the turquoise green on the interior of the vase and finally the gold and silver enamels in a special kiln designed for enamels.
The name of this shape of vase in Chinese is Tianqiuping, which translates to “heavenly globe vase.” The name alludes to Chinese iconography, in which heaven is represented as a sphere. This explains the large globular shape of the vase, which references heaven.
The exceptional quality, monumental size and imposing presence of this vase, as well as its auspicious decoration, would have rendered it suitable for prominent display in one of the halls of the Qing palace. No other porcelain decorated with the same subject in gold and silver appears to have ever been documented.
As a devout Buddhist, the Qianlong Emperor was also a follower of Daoism, with a wish for longevity. This desire is expressed in the silver cranes on the vase, which hold an emblem for each of the eight immortals associated with Daoism including: a flower basket, flute, fan and castanets on the vase’s body. The flying cranes and bat also carry messages for longevity and prosperity.
The current rate of exchange is £1 = $1.24.
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