Sotheby’s to Auction Emperor Yongsheng Ceremonial Pearl Necklace

Sotheby’s Hong Kong has announced that the Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art 2010 Spring Sale will be held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on 8 April 2010. Comprising over 330 lots with an estimated total value of approximately HK$430 million, one of the outstanding highlights of the sale is undoubtedly the Magnificent Ceremonial Pearl Necklace of Qing dynasty, 18th century. Also on offer this season is the single owner sale – Water, Pine, and Stone Retreat Collection – Objects of Contemplation.

Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s International Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, said “2009 Autumn sale well demonstrates that the market continues to be solid and strong, particularly when the property is fresh and correctlyestimated. Buyers were out in force competing strongly for the finest objects of China’s Imperial past, the Imperial Zitan throne of Qianlong period achieved HK$85,780,000 and set the world auction for any Chinese furniture.

The coming sale will offer some important Imperial works of art that embody the power and glory of the Qing Emperors. The ceremonial court necklace made out of fresh water pearls from the Manchu homeland is both a sign of Manchu pride as well as a symbol of Imperial power. The necklace matches one depicted in the formal portrait of Emperor Yongzheng and it is believed to be the same one.”

A Magnificent Ceremonial Court Pearl Necklace
(Chaozhu) ,Qing dynasty, 18th century (Est.HK$8-12 million)
The importance of the present court necklace, or chaozhu, is immediately evident in the use of large white and flawless Eastern pearls – one of the most treasured and precious materials employed for the wardrobe and paraphernalia exclusively made for the emperor and his family members. Court necklaces consisted of 108 beads, with a bead of a different colour or material, called the fotou (Buddha’s head), placed between groups of 27.

The seated portrait of the Yongzheng Emperor, dressed in formal court attire in the collection of the Palace Museum Beijing depicts Yongzheng wearing an almost identical, if not the same chaozhu as that to be sold. While chaozhu were made in a variety of precious and semi-precious materials, with a number of examples in important museums and collections, those made with Dongzhu or Eastern pearls are extremely rare and no other example of such magnificent pearl in the 18th century is known in the Palace Museum Beijing or has ever appeared on the market.

The chaozhu was introduced as part of the official ceremonial attire by the Qing rulers. Rules also specified that only the emperor and his family members were allowed to wear this precious pearl that was made into necklace or sewn into Imperial robes. The emperor’s own accessories are meticulously documented, with specific instructions given for four necklaces of different colours so that they are suitable for the different occasions.

An Important And Superb Imperially Inscribed Taishanghuangdi White Jade Seal Yubi Seal Mark And Period Of Qianlong, Dated To The Bingchen Year (Expected To Fetch In Excess of HK$50 Million)
When Emperor Qianlong reigned, he promised to rule for sixty years, as long as but no longer than his grandfather and role model Kangxi, after which he would choose his successor and abdicate the throne. He kept his promise. In the sixtieth year of his reign, he gathered his sons and grandsons, ministers and officials, and declared that he was handing over his throne to the 15th prince, Jia Yong Yan, renaming that first year as the Jiaqing reign. He then declared himself as Taishanghuang (Emperor Emeritus). Under Qianlong’s instructions, the carvers working in the Imperial workshops in Beijing made several Taishanghuangdi seals and this is one of them. The present seal is very unusual in its circular form and is the only one from the Taishanghuangdi series. The Qian trigram, a symbol of the Emperor, is carved on the top. The seal was often used on books and paintings. For example it can be found on Han Huang’s Painting of Five Oxen and on Wang Xianzhi’s Mid-Autumn Calligraphy, which are both kept in the Palace Museum Beijing.

The important circular seal carved with the “Treasure of the Emperor Emeritus”, presented in this sale, is a work of great significance. This seal is made of a circular white jade that has a russet skin and a fine lustrous colour. The face of the seal is deeply carved in zhuanshu with the four characters tai shang huang di “Treasure of the Emperor Emeritus.” Qianlong’s poem titled “Treasure of the Emperor Emeritus’ is carved on the side of the seal. Considering the quality of the jade, its size and the carving, it is evident that the present seal is the one recorded, the genuine Qianlong treasure seal.

An Imperially Inscribed Bamboo-Veneer Ruyi-Sceptre, Qianlong Period (Est. HK$13-15 million)
This exceptional ruyi sceptre ranks among the finest sceptres produced for the personal enjoyment of the Qianlong Emperor and is in itself a masterpiece of bamboo-veneer technique. The present example, with its thin section and its elaborately controlled naturalism, pushes the technique to its absolute limits. No similar example is known, although other ruyi sceptres made of bamboo veneer can be found for example in the collection at the Palace Museum Beijing.

The back of the ruyi head is finely inscribed with a poem written in 1756 for this particular sceptre. In the poem, the Emperor compares himself with famous figures of the Tang dynasty, such as prime minister Li Deyu (787-850), the monk-poet Jiaoran (730-799) and the Daoist priest Luo Gongyuan – figures well-known for their high moral principles and devotion. The sceptre made out of bamboo, a material often used to symbolise moral rectitude, and in the form of a lingzhi, a symbol of immortality, is a seemingly perfect parabole for the poem.

An Extremely Rare Boxwood Imperial ‘Lingzhi’ Ruyi Sceptre, Mark and period of Yongzheng (Est. HK$5-7 million)
With its simple and ‘raw’ appearance, the present sceptre is a masterpiece of naturalism much favoured by the Yongzheng Emperor. Sceptres of this seemingly unaffected form would have been made for his personal use. Technically, the sceptre is impeccable and is finished to appear as if just found in the woods. The four-character reign mark, written in elegant regular script, is typical of that found on Imperial wares made in the Palace workshop. The Yongzheng Emperor is known to have had a strong interest in naturalistic ruyi sceptres and is sometimes depicted in paintings holding ruyis of this type, such as in the court painting in the Palace Museum Beijing entitled A Life Portrait of Emperor Yongzheng Watching Flowers.