Lot 54
  • 54


50,000 - 80,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • approximately 261 by 186cm; 8ft. 6in., 6ft. 1in.
  • Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), circa 1800
inscribed 乾精宮御用 Qianjing gong yu yong; ‘For Imperial use in the Palace of Heavenly Purity’ incorporating various symbolic motifs within the design, the pearl (purity and perfection: one of the eight precious things), the Buddhist motifs of the swastika character (good luck), and Buddhist emblems of the happy augury: the endless knot (destiny, fate, inevitability and longevity), the conch shell (calling to prayer, voice of Buddha), the wheel of law (truth, majesty, order and dignity), the closed vase (heavenly exlixir, peace and harmony), the umbrella of state (dignity, good government), the canopy (protection or official rank) and the lotus flower (purity and perfection), set against saffron yellow and red ground in border, and with saffron lattice and metal-thread brocaded field, with medallions centred by motif of interlocking ruy-i (cloudband) motif (symbol of unlimited power)


Overall measurements: 183cm across the top, 186cm across the bottom, 257cm the left hand side, 261cm the right hand side. Knot density: H/cm 4: V/cm 4 Overall in outstanding condition for age. There are some minor areas of re-piling notably in the upper right and lower left hand golden yellow surrounds. There is associated re-piling in the orange corner motif beneath the upper right area of re-piling. Metal thread in good condition. Pile generally 2-3mm in depth. Beautiful glossy silk. Lovely flexible handle. Very splendid. Ready to use or display.
"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

The Forbidden City (now Palace Museum), in Beijing, with its large walled complex, encloses various palaces and gateways, was first built in 1420. It served as the imperial home for Emperors and their households and as the ceremonial and political centre for the Chinese government for almost 500 years. The Palace of Heavenly Purity (or Qianqing Palace), which is the largest of the three halls within the inner court, was from 1420 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) the residence of the Emperor, being divided into nine rooms, and then later during the Qing Dynasty (19th century), when the Yongzheng Emperor ascended to the throne it was used as the Emperor’s audience hall, where he held court and council, received emissaries and held banquets. It was rebuilt several times and the extant buildings date from Jianqing 1798. The palace carpets were produced for the Forbidden city complex, for the Summer palaces to the North of the city, and other Imperial cities within the city of Beijing. They varied in size, quality, design and proportion, in materials used, and were woven in workshops in various weaving centres, including Beijing, and Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. See Hali (Winter 2017), pp.128-131). Some examples, as in the present lot, indicate they were for Imperial use, and state for which palace; others are inscribed pei yang 'made for use in' and probably intended for more generic use. The present carpet may well have been a dais cover, and placed at the top of the steps leading up to the platform with the throne and desk, above which the Shunzhi Emperor (1638-1661: third Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, had a tablet hanging above, inscribed zhèng dà guāng míng (let the righteous shine – and sometimes as an idiom meaning ‘to be decent, honest and magnanimous). The elaborate platform was a sacred space, and a caisson is set in the roof above featuring a coiled dragon. The dragon was especially symbolic and associated with auspicious powers, strength and power, and was a motif exclusively associated with the Emperor, whether it was used decorating a jade seal or his luxurious silk robes, or depicted with five claws in the pile rugs and carpets.

For a comparable ‘silk and metal-thread floral lattice carpet’, inscribed ‘For Imperial use in the Great Hall of Supreme Harmony’, China, 19th century (310 by 247cm), see Christie’s, Hong Kong, Chinese ‘Imperial’ Works of Art, 31 May 2010. In addition to a compartmentalised floral lattice design with the metal-thread brocade ground, it has a very similar border type to the offered carpet, having the cartouches enclosing the endless knot symbol in the corners, flowering foliate stems in others around the border, which alternate with cartouches with variations of the diaper pattern, and the inscription is in the centre of the yellow outer guard, along the top edge. Another virtually identical design of field and border, is found in a smaller example of a silk and metal thread rug, Qing Dynasty (250 by 155cm), with the inscription ‘For Imperial use in the Hall of Supreme Harmony’, with three columns and six rows of medallions in the main field, Bonham’s, 26 November 2007, lot 18.  

For another comparable silk and metal thread rug, circa 1900 (292 by 191cm), with inscription ', ‘For Imperial use in the Palace of Heavenly Purity’, and variation of the compartmentalised floral lattice design, with the metal-thread brocade ground, and inner borders with a repeat of pearl motif against indigo and another with scrolling floral trail, the main border with the geometric design of the recurring Buddhist swastika character, symbolic of good luck, see Grogan & Co., Boston, 7 December 2017, lot 28.

There are examples of rugs and carpets, which have inscriptions attributing them to the palaces in which they were used, and in addition to the offered carpet there are rugs that have appeared at auction with the same dedicated inscription, ‘For Imperial use in the Palace of Heavenly Purity’. There is a silk and metal thread brocaded ground rug, late Qing Dynasty, (256 by 155cm), which is centred by a coiled dragon with a beribboned babao (eight precious objects), with four further dragons with flaming pearls and similar border to the present carpet, with the cartouches enclosing the endless knot and the attributes of the eight immortals, alternating with variations of the diaper pattern (Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 3 April 2018, lot 3628). For a Qing silk and metal-thread nine-dragon carpet, inscribed ‘The Palace of Heavenly Purity’, China, late 19th century or possibly earlier (267 by 361cm), with the wave and cloud pattern border, see Christie’s, New York, 18 March 2016, lot 1388. Another example of a silk and metal-thread rug, Qing Dynasty, 19th century,  (215 by 126cm), of stylised geometric design, with quadrangular lattice design with floral medallion repeats, enclosed by trellis pattern and florets, against a saffron yellow ground, within a band of wan fret scrolls, and with the same inscription in the saffron yellow outer surround, centre of top edge, was sold Sotheby’s, New York, 14 March 2017, lot 592 and another similar, Sotheby’s, London, 12 July 2006, lot 114. For an earlier example of the stylised geometric lattice design, see a Ming Dynasty rug in the Palace Museum Collection, see Baojian and Hongqi, Yuan (2010), p.32.

“I stumbled upon this early Chinese palace carpet at the premises of that London original, Moses Waroudjian, in Hammersmith; occasionally, one had the luck to find a trouvaille .” (EH)

Hali (Winter 2017), Issue 194, pp.128-131

Liu & Hongqi (2010): Liu, Baojian and Hongqi, Yuan, Classics of the Forbidden City, Carpet in the Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, 2010, p.32

A Note on Classical Chinese Carpets

The study of pre- 1800 Chinese carpets is a relatively recent discipline.  Carpets from Persia, India and the Ottoman Empire were extensively traded from at least the late 15th century; their aesthetic and commercial value has been well understood by collectors since they first arrived in the West.  In contrast, the classical carpets of China were little known until the early 20th century, during the final years of the Qing dynasty, (1636–1912), when they began to appear on the international market.  The rug scholar, Arthur Urbane Dilley wrote “The advent of Chinese rugs in America was as dramatic as their quick capture of popular approbation.  As if the art arrived from another planet, The American Art Association announced the first sale of it in 1908”1. They were enthusiastically  taken up by collectors such as Dilley himself, Louis Tiffany,  J K Mumford, Frederick Moore, T B Clarke and the patron of modern art and literature,  and collector, Scofield Thayer, whose dais carpet is included in this sale (lot 89). As calculated by Michael Franses 2 some 1,650 ‘antique’ Chinese carpets had been offered across 15 auction sales in New York by 1920, when the sales effectively ceased, as the sources of these pieces dried up.  Illustrated examples in the American Art Association catalogues show many pieces in pristine condition, but the depredations of time and use have had their effect.  Franses3  suggests fewer than six hundred classical Chinese carpets survive today with the Palace Museum in Beijing having the largest collection, of something less than one hundred, mainly examples from the reign of The Wanli Emperor, fourteenth Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, (1573-1619). In addition there are ‘some sixteen rugs’3 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a similar quantity in the Textile Museum in Washington, mainly from the collection of George Hewitt Myers, with the majority of the remainder held in private collections In Europe and the United States. 

This sale offers a unique opportunity to acquire several exemplary examples of Chinese carpet weaving, both published and unpublished.  The works offered are in the main attributed to the weaving centre of Ninghsia in Western China, which seems to have seen an expansion in the production and availability of its weavings after a military expedition to the area by the Kangxi Emperor, fourth Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, (1662-1722), in 1696-97, during which he asked to see carpets being woven and was presented with several examples.4  Carpets were clearly highly prized as prestigious possessions: virtually all the portraits of the Ming and Qing emperors include depictions of carpets, see König. H. & Franses. M, 2005,5 pp. 19-23, pp.33, 39 for examples.  Photographs of interiors of the several halls in the Forbidden City, dating from circa 1900, show how carpets were still being displayed in the palace by that date, see König. H. & Franses. M., ibid, pp.24-25. The sale includes a rare early example of a silk and metal thread carpet inscribed for Imperial use in the Palace of Heavenly Purity, possibly for the throne platform, dated to c.1800, (lot 54).  Carpets were used on raised platforms (dais), on beds, kang, as chair, bench, table and saddle covers, to define areas of importance, provide warmth and comfort, and through their motifs and decoration, create a harmonious aesthetic which integrated their symbolism with the other Chinese works of art with which the royal household, their courtiers and officials surrounded themselves. In particular, the Larsson lion-dog medallion with 'hundred antiques' dais carpet, (lot 71) dating from the first half 18th century, and the Thyssen- Bornemisza lion dog medallion and ‘hundred antiques’ dais cover (lot 96), from the second half of the 18th century, exemplify the tradition of using symbols and homophones to decorate works of art. Further information can be found in the catalogue entries for these pieces. This sale also includes examples of carpets and rugs displaying all the key motifs associated with the genre:  dragons, designs derived from woven silks, peony and lotus flowers, and complex fretwork and geometric patterns, which together provide a rare opportunity to appreciate the range and subtle beauty of classical Chinese pile weavings.

1 Dilley, Arthur Urbane, Oriental Rugs and Carpets,  A Comprehensive Study, Scribner’s,  New York, 1931 cited in Franses, Michael,  A Brief Introduction to classical Chinese carpets, in Classical Chinese Carpets I, London, 2000

2    Franses, Michael,  A Brief Introduction to classical Chinese carpets, in Classical Chinese Carpets I, London, 2000, p.14

Franses, Michael , A Brief Introduction, Classical Chinese Carpets in Western Collections, The Kangxi period, 1661 – 1722, London, 2002

4 Franses, Michael , The emperors and their carpets, Classical Chinese Carpets in Western Collections, The Kangxi period, 1661 – 1722, London, 2002, p. 7&10, quoting Du Halde, Description geographique, historique , chronologique, politique et physique de l’empire de la Chine, Vol LV, fol 02, no.39, Biblioteque Nationale, Paris, 1697, p. 372 (26 April)

5 König. H. & Franses. M., Glanz de Himmelssöhne, Kaiserliche Teppiche aus China 1400 – 1750, Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Köln, exhibition catalogue,  London, 2005