Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury also auctioned an imperial ghanta/ritual bell that sold for £2.4 million. The Buddhist ghanta, exquisitely crafted in white jade, represented the female aspect of wisdom and ranked among the most important symbols in Tibetan Buddhism. Furthermore jade was believed to ward off evil spirits. So items like this were very welcome as a wedding present, but I wonder how many proud parents could afford such gifts.
white Chinese jade deer, 21 cm long
sold for £3.8 million in Nov 2010
Woolley & Wallis, Salisbury
From the Kingdom of Khotan, on the southern leg of the Silk Road, yearly tribute payments consisting of the most precious white jade were made to the Chinese Imperial court, and from there it was worked into art objects by skilled artisans. Clearly jade was more valuable than the precious metals that the West was passionate about (gold and silver), explaining why jade came to be thought of the imperial gem. If that was the case in the 18th century, it is not surprising that jade would have been used the imperial family for the finest objects and cult figures.
And what an imperial family it was. Emperor Qianlong was the sixth ruler of the Qing dynasty and enjoyed the longest reign period in all of Chinese history - 61 years. Even in 1796, at the grand old age of 85, he had to be pushed into abdicating the throne on behalf of his son. Historians seem a bit rude about Emperor Qianlong, but there is general agreement that he was truly an important patron of the arts. More than any other Manchu emperor, Qianlong seemed to spend a great deal of money and time on expanding the imperial collection.
Why was a mythical deer chosen and what, if anything, was the symbolic value of this beautiful creature? The closest I could find is that a mythical horned Chinese deer-like creature is said to arrive only when a sage has appeared. Thus it is a good omen associated with serenity, prosperity and long life.
celadon jade carving of a water buffalo
Bonhams Hong Kong Nov 2014
See Alain Truong for details
A seal commissioned and used by Emperor Qianlong sold for £2.7 million at Bonhams Sale of Fine Chinese Art in Nov 2010. Seals were used to print stamps that were used in lieu of signatures. Often in jade, ivory or precious hardwood, each seal was used on personal or public documents and contracts that required formal acknowledgment. This particular seal, with its inscription Self-Strengthening Never Ceases, has been linked to the Emperor's 80th birthday celebration, so it was extremely imperial. Of even more interest to historians was the fact that the seal had been based at the Yan chunge Pavilion in the Forbidden City during its use by the Qianlong Emperor.
small jade seal, 4cm square
sold for £2.7 million
Bonham’s Auction of Fine Chinese Art London, Nov 2010
Country Life magazine (8th June 2011) noted that during this May, at least nine English salerooms held sales of Far Eastern works of art, often achieving prices well above the estimates. How long, they ask, before the deep well of British Far Eastern material runs dry?
In the meantime, Country Life was very impressed with a yellow jade ruyi/septre acquired by a British officer in Beijing in 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion. Made in the palace workshops during the Qianlong era, it was sold by Bonhams for £1.3 million inclusive. Carved from a semi-opaque pale greenish stone with a few pale brown inclusions, the upper side of the shaft had two crisp shallow relief cartouches of archaistic C-scrolls. The surface was lustrous, a double red silk thread tassel suspended from the end of the shaft.
jade septre, 37cm long
sold for £1.3 million
Bonham’s Auction of Fine Chinese Art London, May 2011
Despite the belief that quality was more important than colour, I wondered if white jade was more treasured than green or yellow jade. Bonhams noted that the popularity of yellow jade was well documented as early as the Ming Dynasty. The number of Imperial vessels and decorative items worked from this sought-after colour in the court collections suggested its popularity within the Qing court, particularly under the Qianlong Emperor.
Readers might like to pursue the topic of imperial jade art objects in a book written by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy in 2002. The Stone of Heaven: Unearthing the Secret History of Imperial Green Jade’s story began in 1735, when jade-obsessed Chinese emperor Qianlong tried to extend China's reach into present-day Burma, reputed to contain the world's finest jade. Or read Christopher Proudlove's article, "Chinese jade: the collectors' market", in The World of Antiques & Art, Issue 80, Feb-Aug 2011.
jade bell, 18cm high
sold for £2.4 million
Woolley & Wallis Auctions, May 2010
A Chinese jade marriage bowl from the collection of the late Commander Paul Bridgeman of Dowdeswell Manor near Cheltenham was sold in March 2013 by Chorley’s. What intrigued me most about the marriage bowl was its shape. The ring handles, which were suspended from phoenix masks, were typical of the form popular at the Imperial Qing court (1644-1912). The phoenix birds were emblematic of new beginnings which is why it would have been given as a gift from the bride's family to her new husband. Plus the jade was of that pale celadon colour prized by the craftsmen who served that court, as we have seen.
And popular again. The marriage bowl has returned to China.
jade marriage bowl
27cm diameter, 1740s
auctioned by Chorley's in March 2013