A MAGNIFICENT AND EXTREMELY RARE PAIR OF EMBELLISHED LACQUER PANELS QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD
- jade, ivory, porcelain, soapstone, hardwood, hardstones
- 70 by 66 cm., 27 1/2 by 26 in.
Spring Poems Posted for the Year yiwei
[The Emperor dates his poem to the day guichou (4 February 1775).]
As blue birds begin to sing at government offices,
An eastern breeze resonates with Beginning of Spring.
Since divinations for both high and low all turned out well,
We hope this can comfort Our peasant farmers.
Of course, government must be solidly administered,
So how can We merely cultivate virtuous words!
Let Our administration consult all metropolitan officials,
As this auspicious day just now falls on the Ox.
With banners and pennants inscribed with “Spirit of Spring”
Let Us discern the secret of Heaven’s purpose on this renewal of
Just as thousands of years of tortoise shell and mirror are recorded
in the Classics and Histories,
And as the four seasonal spirits always complete their cycle from
ancient times ‘til now.
Spring Poems Posted for the Year wushen
[The emperor dates his poems for Lichun (Start of Spring) in the
wushen (4 February 1788).]
As Spring on this shen year enters the day you,
The hill of wu augurs hardship for grain.
Saluting the common folk, we shall share Our good fortune,
If they ask for sauce they shall get wine, such is Our pledge.
When solstices a thousand years from now occur,
We stir not from Our seat yet can know it by calculation.
So when amidst Our divinations a bountiful harvest is foretold,
We declare such good fortune to ease the lot of the common folk.
Last month of the year snow on the twenty-eighth day,
And just with the blessing of abundant soaking, wind from the sea was
And as Spring slipped in this year, the day before yesterday,
Came such triumphant news that We now shall recall Our main forces.
This magnificent pair of panels has been executed with meticulous detail and great skill in reverse trompe l’oeil, whereby the objects depicted are reproduced in miniature in their original material and placed against a flat surface. The manufacturing of the various objects required the cooperation of various Palace Workshops, where skilled craftsmen paid particular attention faithfully to recreating miniature copies of treasured objects from the Imperial collection, as seen in the attractively rendered patina on the bronze vessels to simulate age. Panels in reverse trompe l’oeil are an innovation of the Qianlong period and reflect the emperor’s fondness for technically challenging and innovative designs.
Often made in pairs or sets, wall panels adorned the numerous private halls built under the direction of the Qianlong Emperor. An avid collector and connoisseur of the arts, the Emperor identified himself as a Han Chinese scholar and spent long hours in his studio practising calligraphy, composing poetry and studying objects from his collection. The mixture of antique and contemporary pieces depicted on this pair of panels, from the blue and white gu vase holding branches of a flowering plum to the ivory brushpot and the bronze hu, reflects some favoured objects to be displayed in an elegant studio. Panels depicting a combination of antique and contemporary objects began to be produced in the Kangxi reign, although they peaked in popularity during the Qianlong period when they were made in a variety of materials; see for example a large pair of cloisonné enamel panels decorated with this subject, from the Pierre Uldry collection, illustrated in Helmut Brinker and Albert Luz, Chinesisches Cloisonné die Sammlung Pierre Uldry, Zurich, 1985, pls 309 and 310, together with a smaller pair, pls 307 and 308.
Wall-panels of this type are rare although three related examples are known: the first, inscribed with a poem with a cyclical date corresponding to 1779, was sold in these rooms, 29th April 1997, lot 770, the second dated 1773, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29th May 2009, lot 1816; and the third is offered in this sale, lot3005. Compare also panels of this type, but lacking the carved lacquer cartouches at the top, such as one on display in the Suianshi (Room of Finding Peace) in the Yangxindian (Hall of Cultivating Mind) in the Forbidden City, Beijing, where the emperor is said to have rested during fasting periods, illustrated in situ in Qingdai gongting shenghuo [Life in the Forbidden City], Hong Kong, 1985, pl. 175, together with a wall panel simulating a display cabinet filled with precious objects, pl. 178; and another sold in our London rooms, 11th June 1996, lot 154, and again in these rooms, 23rd October 2005, lot 362.
The objects adorning these panels not only represent the scholar’s studio but are also steeped in auspicious symbolism, such as the wish for longevity, good fortune and wealth represented by the group of scholar’s objects with flowers and fruit, and the blue and white bowl filled with Buddha’s hand citrons (foshou), peach (tao) and grapes (putao) on one panel which expresses the wish for abundance of blessings, long life and many sons. Furthermore, the two pomegranates (shiliu) with exposed seeds similarly symbolise fertility and abundance.