593
593

PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF GORDON GETTY

A RARE AND LARGE 'LEGEND OF THE WHITE SNAKE' AUTOMATON
QING DYNASTY, 19TH CENTURY
Estimate
60,00080,000
JUMP TO LOT
593

PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF GORDON GETTY

A RARE AND LARGE 'LEGEND OF THE WHITE SNAKE' AUTOMATON
QING DYNASTY, 19TH CENTURY
Estimate
60,00080,000
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Important Chinese Art

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New York

A RARE AND LARGE 'LEGEND OF THE WHITE SNAKE' AUTOMATON
QING DYNASTY, 19TH CENTURY
the narrative scenes from The Legend of the White Snake set within three hinge-connected hardwood and glass casements, the central and largest depicting  the famous battle between Bai Suzhen and her nemesis, the immortal amasses an army of underwater creatures and demons, shown in the roiling waves at the base, to attack the monastery of her enemy Fa Hai, attempting to submerge the temple but the attack fails as Fa Hai magically commands the mountain to rise out of harm's way, the temple depicted in lavish detail amidst towering, rocky mountains painted in shades of blue and green, varying trees and foliage and swirling colorful clouds, the left casement illustrates further scenes from the drama including the rescue of Bai Suzhen from the Leifeng pagoda, the right case depicting other moments from legend among them, the disapproving monk Fa Hai wielding a sword, comprising papier-mâché, silk, wire, glass, gilt 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 'Hongmu' stand (2)
Height 37 1/2  in., 95.3 cm; Width 71 1/2  in., 181.6 cm; Depth 15 1/2  in., 39.4 cm
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Provenance

Christie's Hong Kong, 28th-29th April 1996, lot 559.

Catalogue Note

The Chinese craftsmen who produced this magnificent automaton were undoubtedly inspired by the fabulous musical and automaton clocks commissioned by the English entrepreneur James Cox which were exported to various Far East destinations during the second half of the 18th century.The Emperor Qianlong (1736-95) had a large collection of clocks in his palaces, many presented by visiting dignitaries in the hope of promoting trade with China, others made by craftsmen in the Imperial workshops which remained active until at least 1879. When the demand for Western-style clocks and automata permeated among the merchant elites, Canton and Suzhou also became manufacturing centers. Sadly many of the clocks and automatons were badly damaged or destroyed during several turbulent periods in the history of China. Of the few examples that survive, many were damaged by unskilled restorers who found it easier to remove troublesome musical and automaton features rather than attempt to restore them. 

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.  A clock enclosing an automaton of waterfalls and sailing ships was sold in our Hong Kong rooms 8th October 2008, lot 2212.

Important Chinese Art

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New York