ANCIENNE COLLECTION PARTICULIÈRE FRANÇAISE
'Inscribed on a 'Hetian Peach and Crane Ruyi Sceptre', respectfully offered to the Empress Dowager in support of her health and happiness in the New Year.'
Dated Qianlong guisi mengchun yubi (Inscribed in the Emperor’s Own Hand, dated the first month of spring in the year guisi [23 January – 20 February 1773])
Seals: Guxiang (Antique Fragrance) and Taipu (Supreme Uncut Jade)
in Yuzhi shiji (Poetry Collection Composed By His Majesty), Siji (Fourth Collection) Wenyuange Siku quanshu, 9:23a-23b.
The present sceptre is exceptional for many reasons. Firstly, it is a technical feat, requiring a jade boulder or a slab of jade of sufficiently large size and even colour to realise such a large object. Jade of such flawless pale, almost white tone was rare and even more difficult to find in a large boulder. Hence, by making a large piece of jade into a sceptre, a significant part of this precious material was wasted, implying that jade objects of this size and quality stone such as the present sceptre were made either for the emperor or a high-ranking member of the Imperial family. The inscription on the back of the handle confirms both the rarity and outstanding qualities of the jade used for this sceptre while confirming that it was an Imperial commission.
The inscription is a poem by the Qianlong emperor, its content a eulogy to the jade, the design and the purpose of the object. It clearly states that the jade used for this sceptre came from Hetian, present day Khotan in Xinjiang province. Hetian jade was considered the best quality jade prized for its even colour and translucent quality. It was during the reign of the emperor Qianlong (1736-95) that the Chinese empire expanded into and took control over the western regions of Xinjiang. As a result, sources and supplies of superior quality white and pale celadon jade increased, supplying the court with this rare material. It was prized by the Qianlong emperor whose appreciation of Hetian jades is evident in the prose he composed for objects made of the best quality Hetian jade.
In his poem on this sceptre, the Qianlong emperor also refers to the highly auspicious design on the handle and ruyi-shaped head of the sceptre. The ‘cranes of longevity’ and the ‘peaches of immortality’ express the wish for long life and longevity. Moreover, he alludes to the gardens of the fabled Queen Mother of the West, guardian of the Western paradise where she was believed to preside over the secret of immortality. As a final honour, the emperor bestowed upon the piece the title 'Hetian Peach and Crane Ruyi Sceptre', a rare sign of his appreciation.
There are very few jade pieces bearing an Imperial inscription which explicitly notes the outstanding qualities of the precious jade which, like the jade for this sceptre, was sourced in Hetian. At least six large ruyi-sceptres skilfully carved of the same creamy and softly gleaming pale celadon or white stone in the collections of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, and the Palace Museum, Beijing, are similarly inscribed with poems composed by the Qianlong emperor, compare Auspicious Ju-i Scepters of China, Taipei, 1995, cat. nos. 12-15 and pp. 217-220, and The World rejoices as One. Celebrating Imperial Birthdays in the Qing Dynasty, Beijing, 2015, cat. nos. 39 and 40. What distinguishes this particular jade sceptre is that was designed and decorated for a specific purpose. In the poem incised on the back of the handle, the Qianlong emperor states that this sceptre was an offering to his mother, the Empress dowager Chongqing (1693-1777), on her 82nd birthday in 1773, to wish her health and happiness in the New Year. The emperor's birthdays were one of the three major court festivals that were accompanied by splendid ceremonies to mark the occasion. The 60th, 70th and 80th birthday celebrations of the Qianlong and Jiaqing emperors as well as that of the empress dowager Chongqing were known as the Grand Ceremony of Vast Longevity (Wanshou shengdian). Officials, merchants, foreign tributaries came to the capital for this occasion from every corner of the empire and beyond, exchanging lavish gifts, sharing blessings and praying for the emperor's and the empress dowager's longevity, see Shan Jixiang, The World Rejoices as One. Celebrating Imperial Birthdays in the Qing Dynasty, Beijing, 2015, pp. 2-3. Among gifts were numerous objects that were reflected the Vast Longevity theme, either in their shapes, materials and designs, but also inscriptions. The present sceptre is unique as the inscription clearly indicates that it may have been one of the Imperial gifts from the emperor to his mother, the empress dowager Chongqing.
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