- wood, enamel, alabaster, metal
the large central glass case flanked by two smaller cases, all within hardwood frames connected by brass hinges, depicting a lush mystical mountain setting with pavilions, bridges and a pagoda, comprising papier-mâché, silk, wire and polychrome paint, the entire landscape dotted with kingfisher feather ornaments (later added from a headdress), the central case electrically wired, now mounted on a later hardwood stand (2)
Christie's Hong Kong, April 28-29, 1996, lot 559
Thereafter with the present owner
The cases: In generally good condition, though the glass pane on the far end of the proper right side has an approximately 4 3/4 inch crack. The top surfaces of the cases have some scratches. Each case covered on the rear with wood boards that are easily detachable. The wiring requires maintenance as it was recently in working order, but is now having difficulty running.
The interiors: The pigments are still very vibrant. Some of the papier-mâché and silk have expected wear and small losses. The most significant area affected is in the central case on the proper left side where brown-colored or faded paper is used as a patch, next to a small vertical mirror with strands of small glass beads. The figures and animals are all in good condition. The top of each case has been fitted with small track lights.
Stand: The stand is in good condition and is probably mahogany. It was not original to the automaton.
Overall (including stand):
Height with stand 54 1/2 in.; width 77 in., depth 15 1/2 in.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.
The present work, though extremely rare, has its roots in the clock making tradition. When the Jesuit Matteo Ricci introduced two striking clocks to the Wanli emperor in 1601, the fascination with the mechanical marvels continued into the reigns of the Qing dynasty rulers. A palace workshop focused on the production of western-style clocks was established by the Kangxi emperor and remained active until at least 1879. When the demand for clocks permeated among the merchant elites, Canton and Suzhou also became manufacturing centers.
Within the palace workshop, automata were created and conceived by Jesuit missionaries. According to Catherine Pagani in her discussion on this subject (see 'Europe in Asia: The Impact of Western Art and Technology in China,' Encounters: The Meeting of Asia and Europe, 1500-1800, p. 302) an automaton in the form of a walking lion by Gilles Thebault (1703-66) was made according to basic horological principles. Moreover, a walking automaton in human form was planned -- but not ultimately realized -- by Sigismondo Mainardi di San Nicola (1713-67).
A small clock in the Palace Museum, Beijing, set within a 'landscape' similar in palette and style to the automaton, and accompanied by two blue birds comparable to one in the present example, attributed to the 19th century, is illustrated in Gugong Zhong Biao, Beijing, 2004, p. 254.