Lot 105
  • 105


7,000,000 - 9,000,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • porcelain
each stand of slender proportion, sturdily potted on a rounded stepped foot rising to a shapely statuesque profile, centred with a bulbous central section between elaborate contours flaring out and curving inward, all below a wide double-lotus bordered top meticulously painted with striated lotus petals, the stand decorated in the yangcai palette with bands of floral designs arranged in registers, the bands of varying widths enclosing multi-coloured floral blooms rendered borne on curling foliage, interspersed with borders of dotted motifs and scrollwork, one stand supporting a neatly arranged pyramidal pile of eleven trompe l'oeil persimmons, each rendered lusciously fleshy and ripe with four main reddish-orange glazed 'cheeks', detailed at the top with a variegated beige calyx, the other a similarly modelled pile of eleven trompe l'oeil pomegranates, each plump fruit rendered lifelike and decorated with a pale peach glaze with areas of rosy speckles and depicted succulent with its skin bursting open revealing dense clusters of ruby-red seeds


The fruits are in overall very good condition, with only some expected tiny flakes to the extremities and a few possibly gently retouched enamel spots. One of the stands has two faint body lines to the upper lotus pedestals. Typical for this kind of stands, the lotus pedestals and the stems were fired separately and glued together. There are some minute frits to the tips of the lotus petals. The enamels have been superbly preserved with only some minor expected wear and insignificant flakes, including one to the turquoise enamel on the underside. Both porcelain stands have some residue of glue, especially to the lower sections, possibly as a result of having been secured to a pair of platforms at some point.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Good Fruits for Emperor and Buddha
Li Baoping

This pair of magnificent fruit trays is likely to have been commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795), arguably the greatest collector and patron of the arts in Chinese history, and is perhaps unique in the world, as no similar examples appear to be recorded. These trays with their porcelain fruits may have been produced as offerings for the altar of a Tibetan Buddhist shrine in the Forbidden City, although they could also have served as display items in a palace hall, as pomegranate and persimmon both have auspicious meanings.

The brilliant, attractive famille-rose palette here used was favoured by the Qianlong Emperor and has been called by him and others as yangcai or ‘foreign colours’, since this colouration had been inspired by European enamels introduced to the Qing court by Jesuit artisans. The lifelike rendering of the fruits, with meticulous attention to detail, demonstrates the marvelous technical skills of the potters in the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen, as porcelains of this size and complex form are very difficult to construct and prone to deform during firing. Objects like these must have been made in very limited numbers, and even fewer survive today, due to their fragility.

The Qing emperors are well known for their interest in Tibetan Buddhism. In particular, the Qianlong Emperor commissioned Buddhist figures and other objects in porcelain on numerous occasions through his reign of sixty years. For example, in the 24th year of the Qianlong period (1759), the Emperor ordered a range of Buddhist objects to be made in Jingdezhen following wooden models sent there that were based on painted samples that he personally examined and approved, such as porcelain pagodas, holy-water bottles, the Eight Treasures including dharma wheels and treasure bottles, and the Seven Offerings which typically include incense, flowers and fruits, etc. It is likely that the present fruit trays had been made for the Qianlong Emperor on an occasion like this.

For centuries it has been a common practice for Buddha followers from all classes and walks of life in China to put fruits, flowers and other offerings, either real or replicated in other materials, in front of Buddha images to express the wish for Buddhahood and/or worldly success, so the present fruits would have represented the perfect imperial altar offerings for a Tibetan Buddhist shrine of the Qing court.

The trays supporting the fruits, with their up- and down-pointing lotus petals, are very similar to the pedestal supporting a seated porcelain Buddha glazed in imitation of gilt-bronze, also from the Qianlong period, preserved in the imperial palace in Shenyang, Liaoning province, one of the summer residences of the Qing emperors, see The Prime Cultural Relics Collected by the Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum: The Chinaware Volume, Part II, Shenyang, 2008, p. 217. Similar lotus petals are also found on stands supporting famille-rose porcelain models of the Eight Treasures, of Qianlong mark and period, two of which were sold in these rooms, 27th April 1999, lot 448 (fig. 1), and two others at Christie’s New York, 16th September 1999, lot 382. The tall stands of the present pieces are very similar in form and decoration in their base parts to a Qianlong-marked stand supporting a dharma wheel, sold in our London rooms, 13th May 2009, lot 201, and to a Qianlong-marked holy-water bottle from the Qing court collection and now in the Nanjing Museum, in Treasures in the royalty: The Official Kiln Porcelain of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, Shanghai, 2003, p. 226.

The pomegranate and persimmon are perfect examples of cultural merging as they have special auspicious meaning in Chinese culture apart from their connection to Tibetan Buddhism. With many seeds, the pomegranate symbolises abundance of descendants and was a favoured design on porcelain throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties. This confluence of traditional Chinese lore and Tibetan Buddhist custom is well documented by an unmarked blue and white porcelain ewer of the Qianlong period in form of Tibetan monk’s hat, painted with the popular motif of ‘Three Abundances’, consisting of the auspicious fruits pomegranate, peach and Buddha’s Hand citron, illustrated in Geng Baochang, ed., Gugong Bowuyuan cang Ming chu qinghua ci [Early Ming blue-and-white porcelain in the Palace Museum], Beijing, 2002, vol. 2, pl. 211. Together with the peach, pomegranate and persimmon also form the auspicious motif of Three Fruits favoured for porcelain decoration. See a Xuande-marked white porcelain stem cup with the Three Fruits in copper red, in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, published in the Museum's Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 86; and a Yongzheng-marked bowl of similar design, in the Nanjing Museum, in Treasures in the royalty, op. cit., p. 146.

Although unique, the present fruit trays are closely related to other imperial Qianlong porcelains in various aspects. Compare a pair of famille-rose reading lamps made to the order of the Emperor in 1744 and inscribed with a poem by him, of related form and decoration, but of much shorter height and simpler form and design, included in Liao Pao Show ed., Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Ch'ien-lung Reign, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2008, cat. no. 24. Detailed lotus scroll designs in famille rose similar to those on the present pieces can also be found on a Qianlong-marked vase in the exhibition Emperor Ch'ien-lung's Grand Cultural Enterprise, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2002, cat. no. V-29. While imperial porcelains are usually inscribed with marks of the reigning emperors, exceptions are not uncommon, especially for items used in Buddhist ceremonies. A court record that the Qianlong Emperor decreed marks not to be used on some holy-water bottles with iron-red designs made in the 11th year of his reign (1746) is listed in Feng Xianming, Annotated Collection of Historical Documents on Ancient Chinese Ceramics, Taipei, 2000, p. 241, for such a bottle from the Qing court collection see Treasures in the royalty, op. cit., p. 225.