Lot 3622
  • 3622


800,000 - 1,200,000 HKD
7,060,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • jade
  • length 6 cm, 2 3/8  in.
of square section with shallow sides, surmounted by a deftly worked crouching dragon in openwork, the ferocious beast depicted with rounded eyes, flaring nostrils and mouth agape revealing sharp fangs, with horns flanking a neatly combed mane sweeping back joining its bushy tail curled along its arched spine, its finely incised limbs terminating in powerful claws, the seal face crisply carved in archaic script with a four-character inscription reading hong chan fo zong (‘to spread the teachings of Buddhism’), the translucent stone of an even greyish white tone


Sotheby’s London, 2nd December 1997, lot 97.

Catalogue Note

The present piece is an extremely rare and fine example of Yuan dynasty jade seal carving. The dynamism associated with the Mongol Yuan rulers is evident in the boldly rendered dragon, whose crouching position captures the innate power of a creature that is ready to leap at any moment. Such pending movement is perhaps achieved best in the small yet masterful detail of the front claws that have been carved to grip the edge of the square seal face. The dragon embodies the characteristics of Yuan dynasty carving and the spirit of the period, such as its sinuous body that tapers to a thin neck, protruding eyes and upturned nose. The natural linear inclusions of the stone have been skilfully utilised to run diagonally across the seal face, which serves to heighten the energetic effect.

During the Yuan dynasty, official seals were a token of political authority. According to Xin Yuan shi [New Yuan History], all the official seals of the Yuan were produced centrally by the Ministry of Rites of the Secretariat by strict regulations. Different materials, designs and sizes were used according to rank, such as gold for princes and feudal princes, jade for preceptors of emperors and state, silver for upper first to upper third rank officials, and bronze for officials of third rank or lower. Several jade seals, but surmounted by dragons in various poses and carved with inscriptions in Phagspa, were bestowed to the imperial Buddhist preceptors by the emperors and preserved in the Tibet Museum, Lhasa, illustrated in Treasures from Snow Mountains: Gems of Tibetan Cultural Relics, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, 2001, cat. no. 1, and Tibet. Treasures from the Roof of the World, Taipei, 2010, cat. nos 077-079.

Jade seals of the Yuan dynasty surmounted by dragon-shaped knobs are otherwise rare; see a rectangular example, also with its claws gripping the edge of the seal, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum. Jade, vol. 5, Tang, Song, Liao, Jin and Yuan Dynasties, Beijing, 2011, pl. 266, together with a slightly larger square seal, but with a less ornately-carved dragon, pl. 267. Related jade seals attributed to the early Ming dynasty include a square seal, included in the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition Chinese Jade Throughout the Ages, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1975, cat. no. 342; another, included in the exhibition Dr Newton's Zoo: A Study of Post-Archaic Small Jade Carvings, Bluett & Sons, London, 1981, cat. no. 46. Compare also a seal surmounted by a dragon, but the claws carved away from the edge, from the collection of Alan and Simone Hartman, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 28th November 2006, lot 1357, and again in these rooms, 7th October 2015, lot 1908.

In the Qing dynasty, seals from the preceding periods were reworked and reused by the imperial court. A Yuan dynasty seal surmounted by a dragon in similar crouching pose, was carved with the inscription Yongzheng yubi zhi bao (‘Treasure in the imperial hand of the Yongzheng Emperor’) in the early Qing dynasty, entered the collection of Emile Guimet (1836-1918) and sold in these rooms, 5th October 2011, lot 1908.

The seal face is carved in jiudiezhuan with the characters hong chan fo zong (‘to spread the teachings of Buddhism’). A smaller celadon jade seal with a similar inscription reading da chan fo zong (‘the grand Buddhism’), but in small seal script (xiaozhuan) and attributed to the Qing dynasty, is recorded as preserved in Norbulingka, Lhasa; the seal impression is illustrated in Ou Chaogui and Qi Mei, Xizang lidai cang yin [Seals in Tibet through the ages], Lhasa, 1991, p. 93 bottom. Composed only by horizontal and vertical lines, Jiudiezhuan or 'seal script with nine folds' first appeared in the Tang dynasty and was often used on official seals, especially during the Song and Yuan dynasties.