Rise and Fall of Dynasties
Three Supremely Important Ming and Qing Imperial Seals
盛世皇權 — 重要明清御璽三方
These three extraordinary seals, presented together for the first time, capture in their inscriptions and in the scars of history left upon them, the most defining moments in Chinese imperial history – from the apex of the Ming dynasty to its downfall, from the consolidation of the Manchu empire to the most controversial imperial succession power struggle ever, and finally to the decline of imperial China in the 19th century.
The Only Surviving Ming Dynasty Imperial Seal
Until the emergence of this extraordinary jade piece, all Ming dynasty imperial seals were thought to have been lost or destroyed – having been either adapted for Qing imperial use or destroyed during the ravages of war during the fall of the dynasty.
The personal seal of Empress Wen – the consort of the Emperor Yongle, who played a key role in the establishment of the Ming dynasty – this rare survival is carved in the shape of a ferocious horned dragon, encapsulating the pinnacle of wealth and power of the Ming dynasty in the early 15th century. At the same time, the scars and scorch marks on the surface of the seal act as a powerful visual record of the tumultuous events of the 3rd June 1644, when the seal was clearly smashed and burned as the last Chinese dynasty was destroyed. The survival of this piece, which tells the story of the Ming dynasty at its height and at its fall, and is nothing short of miraculous, making it the only known surviving imperial seal of the Ming era.
The Largest and Most Potent Seal Ever Carved for the Kangxi Emperor
This is the largest and most potent seal ever carved for the Kangxi Emperor, who in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, was the single most powerful person on earth, ruling over a vast empire of over 100 million subjects.
This seal, the largest and most potent seal ever carved for the Kangxi Emperor, bears the inscription “Jingtian qinmin” – “Revere Heaven and Serve Thy People” – words that served as the Kangxi Emperor’s moral and philosophical compass as he completed the conquest of China, anchored the Qing dynasty, and ushered in a long period of great prosperity and peace.
The Seal of the Qianlong Emperor, Incised with an Inscription Legitimising his Rule
Superbly carved with a pair of powerful intertwining dragons, this present white jade seal demonstrates the extraordinary workmanship in the Qianlong reign.
This imperial seal is inscribed with an essay by his majesty the Qianlong Emperor, memorialising his beloved relationship with his grandfather, but more importantly legitimising the most controversial and possibly darkest succession of power in Chinese history – that of his father, fourth son to emperor Kangxi, who was rumoured to have been favoured for the throne because of the emperor’s strong faith in his grandson, the future Qianlong Emperor.
As a young man, the future Qianlong Emperor first met his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor, in Ji’entang, The Hall of Grace Remembrance, which no longer exists. Burned and cracked in the late 19th century, the seal is a testimony to a special memory and a turbulent history.
The eldest daughter of the 'Founding Meritorious Official' Prince Zhongshan Xu Da (the future Empress Wen, 1362-1407) is born.
Lady Xu marries the Prince of Yan (the future Yongle Emperor, 1360-1424) and obtains the title of Princess of Yan.
On July 13th 1402, the Prince of Yan enters Nanjing and ascends the throne as the Yongle Emperor. His wife is given the title of Empress in the same year.
In the 7th month of the dinghai year (1407), Empress Wen dies at the age of 46.
On August 12th 1424, the Yongle Emperor dies and is succeeded by the son of Empress Wen, the Hongxi Emperor (1378-1425).
Li Zicheng marches into Beijing. On April 25th 1644, the Chongzhen Emperor (1611-1644), acting out of despair, hangs himself on Coal Hill, which marks the fall of the Ming dynasty.
On June 3rd 1644, Li claims the throne for a day before setting the Forbidden City on fire and escapes from Beijing. All the Ming seals at the Imperial Ancestral Temple, except for this one (lot 3601), are destroyed.
The Manchu army enters Beijing. The first ruler of the Qing dynasty, the Shunzhi Emperor, ascends the throne on November 8th 1644.
On May 10th 1722, at the Peony Terrace of the Yuanmingyuan, the 12-year-old Prince Hongli (the future Qianlong Emperor, 1711-1799) first meets his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor, who is close to 70 years old.
On December 20th 1722, the Kangxi Emperor dies and is succeeded by the fourth prince, the Yongzheng Emperor (1678-1735).
On October 8th 1735, the Yongzheng Emperor dies and is succeeded by the Qianlong Emperor.
The 'Ji'entang' seal (lot 3603), inscribed with the imperial essay On the Hall of Grace Remembrance, is carved for the Qianlong Emperor.
On February 7th 1799, the Qianlong Emperor dies.
On October 18th 1860, British and French troops enter the Summer Palace.
In addition to the historically important seals, we are pleased to offer a selection of imperial ceramics from the Ming and Qing dynasties, such as an impressive Yongle blue and white charger brilliantly painted with grapes, a Zhengde doucai ‘dragon’ bowl, and a Yongzheng blue and white lotus-mouth vase. The sale will also present a range of fine and rare works of art, including two treasures from the Qianlong period: an imperial Beijing enamelled 'peony' covered wine ewer and a richly-decorated ruby-red overlay covered glass jar.
Superbly painted with one of the great classic patterns of the Yongle period, this dish demonstrates the remarkable quality of porcelain and stylistic sophistication at the time, and would have been used as an exquisite practical item by the Ming imperial household or an appropriate diplomatic gift for a foreign empire.
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This magnificent bowl, with its unusual colour combination of blue, green and red on the dragons, is a rare example from the Zhengde period, when monochromatic beasts were the predominant design.
明正德 鬪彩內暗花外雲龍紋盌 《正德年製》款
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Other highlights include a Yongzheng blue and white lotus-mouth vase, which, with an elegant, slender silhouette, attests to the ingenuity with which historical precedents were used in the creation of new works in order to meet the Yongzheng Emperor’s exacting standards for quality and antiquarian taste. It is extremely rare and only one companion vase appears to have been recorded.
The sale will also present three treasures from the Qianlong period: a ruby-red overlay glass jar, a blue and white Ming-style moonflask, and a Beijing enamelled wine ewer.
The composition and execution of the design of the glass jar, with exceptional attention to detail, set a standard of unparalleled excellence. The openwork knop in the form of a pavilion, together with the overlay seal mark on the base, attest to the superiority of workmanship of the Qianlong period.
In both its form and painted motif, the moonflask immediately references China’s glorious porcelain tradition. While flasks of this type are numerous, the present piece is particularly unusual for its size, the form of its handles and the raised rib on the neck.
The Beijing enamelled ewer and cover, elegantly shaped and delicately enamelled, illustrates the technical perfection of Qianlong enamelled wares. It is a close copy of a prototype from the reign of the Kangxi Emperor, whose fascination with the Western examples led to the establishment of the Imperial Enamel Workshop.
Later Chinese Bronzes from the Collection of Sydney L. Moss Ltd
The sale includes twenty-three Chinese bronzes, carefully selected and put aside by the gallery Sydney L. Moss over three decades, which encompass all the major categories of post-archaic bronzes, including incense burners, archaistic vessels, hand warmers and religious figures, reflecting the refined taste of the official scholar elite from the Song to Qing dynasties.
拍賣以 Sydney L. Moss 藝廊珍藏晚期銅器作結。在過去三十寒暑，傾其熱忱，搜珍集寶，成就其藏，精選銅器二十三件，上追蒙元，下攬明清，有熏爐、手爐、仿古器、佛道造像等，琳琅滿堂，訴述昔日文士的高華風雅。