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Details & Cataloguing

Inscriptions: History as Art

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DA GUAN TANG BAO: AN IMPORTANT IMPERIAL JADE SEAL
QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD
of square form, surmounted by two intertwined dragons back to back, each dragon finely carved with bulging eyes and open-jawed baring sharp fangs, the body covered with small scales and flowing mane, an aperture drilled through the center for a yellow silk string, the seal face bears an inscription of four characters DA GUAN TANG BAO in zhuanshu, the sides incised and gilt with four Qianlong poems in kaishu
Height 3½ in., 8.9 cm; Width 4 in., 10.2 cm
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Catalogue Note

The inscription on the face reads: DA GUAN TANG BAO ("Seal of the Hall of Great Observation"). The inscriptions on the sides are four poems written by the Qianlong Emperor, all about the Da Guan Tang in Yangzhou where he stayed during his inspection tours to the south. They can be translated as:

(1)  

In the palace, at the side of the Tianning Temple 

Is a panel above the door, inscribed "Great Observation".

I have come to assist in righteousness and order,

To establish learning, but no roaming and lingering.

I make a display to show the meaning of the nine songs, 

Not to seek personal satisfaction for myself,

But to enhance the palace, should be of shame not delight.

Although there is no cost to the common people,

Is it right to rely on the wealth of merchants?

I know I cannot match the inspection tours of Shun

And how difficult it is to maintain the virtue of Yi.

(2)

My southern tour again stopped here, not for indulgence and entertainment.

The exhibition again is of essential teaching; although happy, I dare not take pleasure trips.

Where do these feelings come from? Shameful and ill at ease. 

I take it as a warning, a deterrent from personal pleasure.

I may renounce idleness, for it tangles and tires the spirit.

I look up at the stars above, but the constellations are hard to see.

(3)

The images in the Great Observation Hall illustrate the meaning of heaven.

Establishing teaching and its meaning is at the heart of everything.

It is essential to comfort the people, and carry out policies.

It is not for personal pleasure that I travel around.

When my heart meets the gods, we forget past and present.

The world becomes my home, from where I come and go.

Amidst all the official business, I find a rare moment of peace

And enjoy the relief as my inkbrush twists out a poem. 

(4)

Crossing the river to the north on this little boat, 

To stay for two days in the palace, having meditation.

The flowers in the south are still in bloom,

The shadows of trees in the summer courtyard grow darker.

To see the people, to see myself, I must observe my heart

And say that the morning sun is bright and waters will flow

One after another, I write poems on my study wall

Privately acknowledging it is a habit I cannot give up.

Inscriptions: History as Art

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New York