Qianlong Revolving Vase to be Auctioned at Christie’s Hong Kong

Christie’s fine art auctioneers, will offer a revolving vase from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) (estimate on request) at its upcoming Hong Kong Spring Sale of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on 1 June 2011 at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre.

Preserved in perfect condition, the rotating vase has reticulated outer walls and painted interiors, with a complex form and structure that exemplifies the technical brilliance of the craftsmen at the Imperial kilns of the period. The vase, intricately decorated inside with symbols of happiness, longevity, prosperity and joy, is a tour de force of artistic and technical achievement, skillfully combining archaism, novelty and exquisite taste. As few reticulated revolving vases were successfully produced in China at the time, it is not surprising that even fewer surviving specimens are found today. Christie’s is privileged to present collectors with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire such a work of spectacular beauty and ingenuity at its Hong Kong Spring sale.

A technical and innovative triumph
Although Imperial porcelains from this reign are universally admired for their exquisite craftsmanship, an astonishing technical mastery of ceramics production would still have been needed to make this reticulated revolving vase, which is constructed so that the neck and inner cylinder are one piece, while the reticulated outer walls, base, and foot form the envelope within which it revolves. A porcelain cone placed in the centre between the bases of the outer and inner sections provides the pivot on which the latter is able to rotate. It would have been necessary that no part of the vases should distort during firing; that all the sections should shrink the same amount in the firing; and that the revolving section should not become stuck to the rest of the vase during or after the assembly process. This would be a tall order for a vase that was only fired once, but the current vase and other similar vessels, such as those preserved in the Imperial collections, are decorated in enamels, which required an additional firing at a lower temperature.

Not content with making a vase that revolved, the ceramicists who produced this vase added a further degree of difficulty to their task by piercing the outer shell in order to create a reticulated pattern and to allow the decoration of the inner wall to be seen. The design of the reticulated roundels in the outer shell had to be very carefully balanced so as not to result in distortion or collapse of the outer wall during firing.

An artistic marvel fit for Imperial tastes
Elaborately decorated on the exterior, the elegant scrolls on the outer wall of the vase are hibiscus, which in Chinese are mufurong, providing a rebus for ‘wealth and glory’. The revolving inner section is also beautifully painted in enamel with auspicious symbols used at the time. Twelve magpies, (the word in Chinese being a homophone for joy) provide a rebus for shishi baoxi ‘happiness announced at all hours of the day’ – since the Chinese day was traditionally divided into twelve hours, each equivalent to two Western hours. Accompanying the magpies in the decoration on the current vase are pine trees, rocks (both symbolising longevity), Buddha’s hand citron (implying blessings or riches) and lingzhi fungus (also regarded as fungus of immortality). The message of the decoration, conveyed on the inner revolving section, can thus be summarized as ‘may you be blessed with continuous joy and boundless longevity’.

Image: Qianlong Revolving Vase. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2011.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

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