PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE ASIAN COLLECTION
This imperial jewel is carved from a tianhuang dong stone from Shoushan in Fujian province, and is carved in an ovoid form with three chilong. lts seal inscription is composed of the three-character phrase de ri xin ('Virtue renewed every day'). The phrase de ri xin is derived from Shangshu [The Book of History] where it is written: 'De ri xin, wan bang wei hai. Zhi zi man, jiu zhi nai li.' The meaning of this is that a gentleman should diligently build his moral character, and should daily progress and improve anew. The three characters carved on the Qianlong Emperor's seal thus sum up this phrase. What is even more meaningful is that the Qianlong Emperor used this three-character phrase as a name for one of his private studies. In fact, these words were personally inscribed onto a plaque and hung on the walls of the Jingshengzhai (Studio of Esteemed Excellence) within the Jianfugong (Palace of Established Happiness). But in 1923 (13th year of the Republic), when the Jianfugong was set aflame, the Jingshengzhai perished in the fires and the 'de ri xin' plaque along with it. Thus the fact that this treasure has survived through these perils is very remarkable.
According to the Shiqu baoji [The Precious Collection of the Stone Canal Pavilion], a written record of the paintings and calligraphies of the Qing court, the earliest record of this seal on a work of art dates back to the 8th year of the Qianlong reign (in accordance with 1743) thus dating the seal to before 1743 and within the early Qianlong period. This seal was often used together with the Qianlong Emperor's suo bao wei xian ('the only treasure is virtue') and Qianlong yubi ('Qianlong's imperial brush', fig. 1) seals and most often chopped on to his own imperial calligraphy and paintings and used as the leading seal (at the opening of colophons, fig. 2).
The stone from which this seal was carved has an excellent texture and its temperature and moisture are very agreeable. The colour of the body has a lustre and shine in its bright yellow, and the top section contains a chilong of a slight tinge of white, which is why we know that this stone is in fact cut from a precious Shoushan Mountain yin guo jin (literally 'gold wrapped in silver') tianhuang stone. This type of soapstone "is rarely seen and an outstanding type of tianhuang stone, which should be considered the most rare and precious of stones as it is the optimum combination of tianhuang and baitian stones," according to Ye Weifu, Zhongguo yin shi [Chinese stone seals]. Moreover, this seal is very large, and is amongst the largest tianhuang seals from the Qianlong period.
The three chilong that are carved atop this imperial seal seem to move naturally, the carved lines of their form are flowing and smooth. Their dense fur and manes flutter with ease without becoming disordered, and their bones and musculature are carved realistically and in great detail. The three animals turn around and playfully clamber to get close to one another, looking around, their faces display their enjoyment. All these characteristics are features associated with typical workmanship of Shoushan craftsmen during the Qianlong period.
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