each intricately cast in the form of a gnarled fruiting branch in gilt-bronze, the head set with a pair of cloisonné fruit, one finger citron and the other pomegranate, the shaft entwined with high-relief veined leaves and attendant fruits
These sceptres represent an impressive display of craftsmanship and creative genius that reflects the development of the ruyi sceptre over time. 'Ruyi' means 'as you wish' and such sceptres are a talisman presented to bestow good fortune. Derived from its original function of a backscratcher, its association with Buddhism saw them develop into increasingly ornamental and auspicious items by the Tang dynasty (618-907). With the temporary decline of Buddhism in the latter half of the Tang, it was adopted by Daoists who turned the form into a longevity fungus (lingzhi), and any shape was suitable for its use as a secular good luck charm. Its auspicious tradition was revived by the Yongzheng emperor, who made the sceptre imperial by commissioning examples in various materials, and their number and opulence increased under the Qianlong emperor, who officially called upon courtiers to present ruyi sceptres at birthday and New Year celebrations. Because their only function was now to serve as auspicious objects, artisans were given free-reign to explore their imaginations, as exemplified in this piece.
See a closely related set of three ruyi sceptres, the terminals formed as pairs of peaches, finger-citron and pomegranate, sold in these rooms, 22nd May 1979, lot 296; a pair of sceptres, one cast as a peach branch and the other as a pomegranate branch, sold in these rooms, 20th November 1984, lot 510; and a slightly later example, but with a single peach head, sold in our New York rooms, 16th March 1984, lot 103. Compare also a gilt-bronze sceptre similarly decorated with two finger-citrons on the terminal and leaves disbursed down the gnarled shaft, sold in our New York rooms, 22nd March 2000, lot 40; and another embellished with pomegranates, in the Osterreichisches Museum Fur Angewandte Kunst collection, included in the exhibition Die Ware aus dem Teufelsland, Museum fur Kunsthandwerk, Frankfurt am Main, 1981, cat. no. 12. For a gilt bronze sceptre of this type, but cast with all three fruit, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, see one illustrated in Masterpieces of Chinese Ju-i Sceptres in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1974, pl. 29; and a zitan wood version inlaid with jade and various hardstones to depict a finger-citron, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in the exhibition China. The Three Emperors, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005, cat. no. 277.
The combination of a finger-citron, peach and pomegranate form the 'Three Abundances' (sanduo) and represent longevity, blessings and many sons respectively.
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