The Chinese Imperial Artwork Collections Exhibition part One










The Driwan’s  Cybermuseum







Important imperial style ‘double dragon’ white jade seal. Qing dynasty ‘treasure of concern over phenomena at eighty’ . Photo courtesy Freeman’s

Philadelphia, PA) September 10 – At approximately 3:15 this afternoon, with a packed gallery and over 15 phone lines, Freeman’s experienced record success when an important Chinese imperial-style ‘double dragon’ white jade seal was realized at just over $3.5 million. This Qing Dynasty seal, with a pre-sale estimate of $30,000-50,000, was sold to an in-room bidder by auctioneer and Asian department head Robert Waterhouse.

“The ‘imperial-style’ jade seal was, of course, very popular at exhibition and we knew it was going to do well, but only the bidders could determine whether or not it was truly imperial. The multi-million winning bid was an over-whelming validation for us,” said Asian Arts Associate Specialist Richard Cervantes,

Freeman’s President Paul Roberts commented from the phone-bid table, soon after the hammer fell, “this is not far from the total turnover for Freeman’s 12 years ago. The sale will have realized over $5 million by the time we are through, thus setting a new turnover record in a single day.”

Roberts may or may not have anticipated that results would in fact surpass $7 million.

Says Samuel “Beau” Freeman, Chairman, “We couldn’t be happier. It just goes to show that Philadelphia is an international hub, and that Freeman’s can produce results meeting and exceeding our competitors for choice pieces. It’s thrilling to be a part of an auction like this.”


Important imperial style ‘double dragon’ white jade seal. Qing dynasty ‘treasure of concern over phenomena at eighty’

A celadon and russet jade seal. 17th century



 “The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City”


Panel (hanging). From Yanghe Jingshe Cloisonné and zitan, 57 ¼ x 29 ¾ inches (145.5 x 75.5 cm).

 Objects and artwork from the Forbidden City’s hidden inner sanctum, a sealed off compound built in high luxury for the Chinese emperor’s retirement, will be unveiled in Driwancy7bermuseum now.

“The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City”

The show features 90 objects from the 27-building garden sanctuary, built at Emperor Qianlong’s request in the northeast corner of Beijing’s Forbidden City.

Known as the Qianlong garden, the compound was supposed to be for the emperor’s retirement, but he never relinquished the throne and the space remained unchanged and unoccupied since its 1776 completion.

It is made up of separate buildings meant for different activities, such as the “supreme chamber of cultivating harmony,” or the “building of luminous clouds.”

This secret garden, which curators said showcased the epitome of late 18th century Chinese skill, has remained closed to the public since it was built. It has been undergoing restoration since 2001, with expected completion in 2019.

Curators said on Monday that the exhibition was a unique opportunity to view the objects since they would likely return to China never to travel again.

“The garden was meant to be a lasting testimony to the efficacy of his (the emperor’s) rule,” said Maxwell Hearn, the curator of the exhibition. “Every surface was embellished with the finest workmanship, the most precious materials imaginable.”

The show regroups Buddhist icons, murals, furniture, decorative objects and painted scrolls that have been restored.

But as much as the Qianlong garden embodied the height of late 18th century Chinese craft, it also showcases various Western influences.

Traditional motifs of the bamboo, plum tree blossoms and pine trees in one representation are juxtaposed to lavishly decorated screens inlaid with glass, a Western import. Western techniques of proportion and representation are incorporated into some of the scrolls.

But beyond decorative aspects Western influence was kept somewhat at bay, Hearn said. Although every European country competed for his favor in order to get access to trade routes, the emperor failed to grasp Europe’s rise.

“Because this emperor was so surrounded by the wealth of his environment, he failed to understand the importance of bridging East and West,” Hearn said. “That was the myopic vision of the emperor.”. (Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Patricia Reaney)


Portrait of the Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799). Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk; Image: 99 5/8 x 59 1/16 in. (253 x 150 cm); Overall: 148 7/16 x 78 3/8 in. (377 x 199 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

This grandly scaled depiction of the Qianlong Emperor is one of several nearly identical formal portraits that were made for ritual use in the Imperial Ancestral Hall and elsewhere in the palace. In keeping with Chinese conventions of physiognomy, Qianlong’s face is fully frontal; only his arms break with the otherwise rigid symmetry of his pose. However, the subtle use of light and shade to model his facial features as well as the folds of his robe reveal the influence of Western-style pictorial techniques, which Qianlong favored for portraiture and other documentary or commemorative purposes.

Despite his idealized features, the emperor’s advancing age is quite apparent. However, seated on a golden dragon throne and dressed in his robes of state, his lifesize portrait still conveys an imposing sense of imperial majesty.


Portrait of the Qianlong Emperor in Ancient Costume. Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk; Image: 98 13/16 x 53 15/16 in. (251 x 137 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

The Qianlong Emperor was a master in using Western-style illusionistic images of himself in different guises to create alternate personae. Here, the youthful emperor had himself portrayed as a cultured Chinese scholar. Sitting in his study appointed with classical Chinese-style furniture, he is poised, brush in hand, to transcribe a poem onto a banana leaf. The only detail that distinguishes him from a traditional scholar is his ornate robe covered with auspicious motifs of flowers and cranes in bright, contrasting colors.


Interior Scene. From the Supreme Chamber for Cultivating Harmony (Yanghe Jingshe). Ink and color on silk; Image: 10 ft. 8 in. x 10 ft. (325.1 x 304.8 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

Introduced to China by Jesuit missionaries, European-style perspectival paintings were appreciated not only as a playful entertainment but also as a device for “expanding” the intimately scaled rooms the Qianlong Emperor favored for his personal living quarters. In addition to using realistic, Western-style portraiture techniques to present himself in different roles—Manchu warrior, Chinese scholar, or Buddhist sage—the emperor delighted in using Western pictorial devices to create illusions such as this trompe-l’oeil (“fool the eye”) mural, which would have been painted by a Chinese artist from the imperial workshop who had been trained by European missionary artists.

The mural offers a true-to-life glimpse into many of the rooms within the Qianlong Garden. In the foreground an ornate doorframe set with pictorial inserts—an example of which is on display in the adjacent gallery—frames a view of an elegantly coiffured lady offering flowers to a child. Resting upon an altar table set against the back wall are a bronze ritual vessel, bound books, and vases of bronze and porcelain; behind the table hang three paintings. The central landscape is a hanging scroll so tall that its mounting has been attached to the ceiling, thus underscoring the small scale of the residential rooms. Flanking the scroll are two vertical paintings that have been pasted directly onto the wallpaper—another typical decorative strategy of the era. Side entrances to the room are concealed behind blue-and-green cloth curtains.

Very few examples of trompe-l’oeil murals from the 1700s have survived in situ in the Forbidden City. This example is one of three such paintings that were recently cleaned and relined with supportive backing papers by Palace Museum conservators.


Partitions and Entablature. From the Belvedere of Viewing Achievements (Fuwangge). Purple sandalwood (zitan) and cloisonné with inset paintings and calligraphies on silk; Overall: 12 ft. 1/2 in. x 11 ft. 3 1/16 in. x 25 9/16 in. (367 x 343 x 65 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

This assembly framed one of the thrones facing each of the four cardinal directions on the first floor of the Belvedere of Viewing Achievements, the Qianlong Garden’s largest and tallest building. In the late 1800s, the powerful Dowager Empress Cixi (1835–1908), as mother of the Tongzhi emperor (r. 1861–1875), was entitled to live in the Tranquility and Longevity Palace and enjoy the Qianlong Garden. She redecorated some of the buildings for her sixtieth birthday celebration in 1895. She replaced the original paintings and calligraphies on these partitions with works by her own court artists and officials.


Ornamental Lingbi Rock. From the second courtyard, before the Hall of Fulfilling Original Wishes (Suichutang). Limestone; H. 25 1/2 in. (64 cm); W. 44 1/8 in. (112 cm); D. 15 3/4 in. (40 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

The Qianlong Emperor was an aficionado of rocks. This example is one of four placed on pedestals in the second courtyard of the garden.

In China, connoisseurship of rocks was comparable to that of knowledge of painting and calligraphy. Favored specimens were prized for their dynamic forms, numerous perforations, and wrinkled surfaces. Larger rocks were often placed on pedestals in the manner of sculptures; smaller examples were displayed indoors on wooden stands. This specimen, with a striking jagged silhouette and deep-fissured surface, embodies a popular maxim: “Although they are really just fragments of mountains and chunks of stone, they should have a feel of the wilderness about them.”


Panel. From the Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service (Juanqinzhai). Sandalwood, jade, lapis lazuli, malachite, purple sandalwood (zitan), and glass; H. 43 1/2 in. (110.5 cm); W. 75 3/4 in. (192.3 cm); D. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

The plum, which blooms in late winter—about the time of the Chinese New Year—traditionally heralds the coming of spring. It symbolizes purity and the ability to thrive untainted even in harsh times. For fifteen hundred years, the flower in all its stages of growth has been a common motif in Chinese painting and poetry. Many furnishings in the Qianlong garden incorporate representations of blossoming plum delicately wrought from precious materials. This panel, depicting a thousand-year-old tree in full bloom, was presented as a gift to the emperor with wishes for longevity.


Panel. From the Supreme Chamber for Cultivating Harmony (Yanghe Jingshe). Cloisonné and purple sandalwood (zitan); Overall: 57 1/4 x 29 3/4 in. (145.4 x 75.6 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

In 1776, the Qianlong Emperor held a grand banquet to celebrate the completion of the Tranquility and Longevity Palace (Ningshougong) and its garden. The event coincided with the New Year and the eighty-fifth year of his mother’s birth. Musical and operatic performances took place on a new three-story outdoor stage—the largest in the Forbidden City—called the Pleasant Sounds Belvedere, which is located just beside the Qianlong Garden. One year later, his mother passed away and, as a memorial, the emperor commissioned this sumptuous panel depicting the celebration.

Lush trees and exaggerated mountainlike rockeries encircle a courtyard where courtiers look on as actors perform on an open-air stage. Low Manchu-style tables set with small dishes for the banquet line the left side of the compound. Spiral and floral patterns surrounding the inscription enhance the golden sky. Colorful buildings express the exuberant feel of the newly minted palace and its garden.


Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799; r. 1736–95), Calligraphic Inscription, dated 1776. From the Belvedere of Viewing Achievements (Fuwangge). Ink on paper; Image: 37 x 73 1/4 in. (94 x 186 cm). Overall with mounting: 38 3/8 x 76 in. (97.5 x 193 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

An avid calligrapher, the Qianlong Emperor developed a distinctive style characterized by regularity and restraint. Inscribed on gold-painted paper made specifically for the court, this text describes his anticipation of retirement.


Wei Heling (act. late 18th century), Landscape. From the Supreme Chamber for Cultivating Harmony (Yanghe Jingshe). Hanging scroll; ink and colors on paper; Image: 79 15/16 x 29 3/4 in. (203 x 75.6 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

Many buildings within the Qianlong Garden were decorated with calligraphies or paintings that were pasted directly onto the wallpapered surfaces of interior walls—a practice that became especially popular in the 1700s. In its original location, this tall vertical panel functioned as a fake door (jiamen); a cloth valance above it furthered the illusion that the landscape was painted on a curtain covering a doorway.

The landscape, by a little-known court painter, evokes antique prototypes as reinterpreted by Wang Hui (1632–1717), the early Qing artist whose painting style became the orthodox model for later court painters.


Brush pot. Jade; H. 5 7/8 in. (15 cm); W. 5 1/2 in. (14 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing


Container. Carved cinnabar lacquer; includes album of forty two paintings and calligraphies by the Qianlong Emperor; H. 6 7/8 in. (17.5 cm); W. 6 5/16 in. (16 cm); D. 3 15/16 in. (10 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

This carved lacquer container for storing miniature paintings, among them the two scrolls on view in the exhibition, has been fashioned in the shape of several handscrolls and albums piled atop a stand. Such cleverly designed boxes concealing other works of art were a favorite amusement of the Qianlong Emperor.


Throne. From the Supreme Chamber for Cultivating Harmony (Yanghe Jingshe). Purple sandalwood (zitan), bamboo, jade, semiprecious stones, and lacquer; H. 38 1/2 in. (98 cm); W. 46 1/4 in. (117.5 cm); D. 33 1/16 in. (84 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

This throne incorporates the collaborative efforts of many different craftsmen. Furniture makers designed the basic mortise-and-tenon structure, while lacquer specialists and painters decorated the panels with gold and colored lacquer. Bamboo experts sliced stalks into threads that they then dyed and arranged into geometric marquetries; they also removed the inner skin of the bamboo to create a flat, carvable surface, which was adhered to the seat in a pattern of plum blossoms floating on cracked ice. Woodworkers fashioned tropical purple sandalwood into branches and stems, while stonemasons shaped blossoms of semiprecious stones and mother-of-pearl for the backrest. As a final touch, jade carvers created dragon ornaments for the front corners of the seat.

As artisans skilled in these traditional techniques were needed for conservation, authorities at the Palace Museum sent notices to cultural bureaus across the country. He Fuli, an elderly craftsman from Dongshan County, Zhejiang Province, knew how to fabricate bamboo-thread marquetry, and he traveled to Beijing to assist and teach others the craft. Together with Palace Museum lacquer specialists and expert jade carvers, they restored the throne to its original state.


Screen of Sixteen Double-Sided Panels. From the Building of Luminous Clouds (Yunguanglou). Purple sandalwood (zitan), lacquer, jade, and gold paint; Each panel with legs: H. 84 in. (213.4 cm); W. 28 in. (71.1 cm); D. 2 1/2 in. (6.4 cm).. Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

This set of sixteen jade-inlaid panels depicting luohans, the enlightened disciples of the Buddha, was built into a niche within of the Building of Luminous Clouds. When Palace Museum conservators removed the screen for restoration, they discovered that the backs of the panels were sumptuously decorated with symbolic botanical motifs that had been hidden for more than two hundred years. The bizarre figures on the screen are based on paintings of the sixteen luohans by the monk-artist Guanxiu (832–912), who claimed that the images had come to him in a dream. The figures’ grotesque forms are perhaps meant to convey the idea that one cannot judge someone’s spiritual achievement by external appearance alone.

The Qianlong Emperor saw these paintings in Hangzhou while on his southern inspection tour of 1757 and had a court artist make copies. Inspired by the emperor’s visit, the temple abbot had artisans replicate the paintings in stone so that rubbings of the images could be disseminated. Years later, a provincial governor sought to curry favor with the emperor by commissioning this screen after the rubbings. Consequently the emperor ordered the construction of a special niche to house the gift within the Building of Luminous Clouds.


Mandala. Cloisonné H. 22 1/2 in. (57 cm); Diam. 19 in. (48.2 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

A mandala is an abstract diagram of the universe used in Buddhist meditation. While they most commonly take the form of painted or woven hangings, the Qianlong Emperor commissioned a number of luxurious three-dimensional cloisonné mandalas.


Hanging Panel with Niches. From the Building for Enjoying Lush Scenery (Cuishanglou). Purple sandalwood (zitan), painted and gilt clay, and colors on silk; Overall: 63 x 36 5/8 x 2 15/16 in. (160 x 93 x 7.4 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

The Qing dynasty emperors adhered to a form of Esoteric Buddhism practiced in Mongolia and Manchuria as well as in Tibet. In this highly structured panel, three-dimensional painted-clay figures (known in Tibetan as tscha tscha) represent Buddhist deities, teachers, and other beings. The two largest figures depict the emperor as an emanation of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Enlightened Wisdom, and as a chakravartin (literally, “wheel-turning-king”), a just ruler who brings peace and prosperity to his subjects. In the large round aperture in the sky above the emperor is his Buddhist mentor Rolpay Dorje, and farther above is Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), founder of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism to which the emperor subscribed. The finely delineated building, flowers, rocks, and mountains reflect Chinese painting traditions and suggest that the shrine was produced in the imperial workshops.


Statues of Amitabha and Stand. From the Building for Enjoying Lush Scenery (Cuishanglou). Gilt copper and purple sandalwood (zitan); Overall: H. 57 22 7/16 in. (57 cm); W. 39 9/16 in. (100.5 cm); D. 8 1/4 in. (21 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

This set of five gilt statues of the Amitabha Buddha as well as the purple sandalwood altar are part of the paraphernalia used in ritual practices that took place in the Building for Enjoying Lush Scenery.


Shrine and Statue of Jingang (Vajrayaksk). From the Building for Enjoying Lush Scenery (Cuishanglou).. Painted Yingde stone, gilt copper, silver, and glass; Shrine: H. 15 5/8 in. (39.7 cm); W. 11 in. (28 cm); D. 7 1/2 in. (19 cm); Statue: H. 5 1/8 in. (13 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

Contained within an elaborately worked silver shrine, this statue of a Tibetan Buddhist guardian deity was carved from a stone quarried in Guangdong Province, which was then painted and embellished with a gilt-copper crown and implements.


Window. From the Three Friends Bower (Sanyouxuan). Purple sandalwood (zitan) and glass; H. 55 1/4 in. (140.4 cm); W. 80 5/8 in. (204.8 cm); D. 3 9/16 in. (9 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

This massive window frame is carved with representations of pine, bamboo, and blossoming plum—the Three Friends of Winter. The window is typical of the extravagant use of luxurious materials that went into the construction of the garden. Carved from precious purple sandalwood (zitan), the middle of this panel was slotted to receive a large sheet of glass, a rare commodity in the eighteenth century. Sitting in the Three Friends Bower, the Qianlong Emperor would have thus been able to gaze through this window to the rockeries beyond.


Chair. From the Purification Ceremony Pavilion (Xishangting). Rootwood; H. 41 1/2 in. (105.4 cm); W. 23 1/2 in. (59.7 cm); D. 29 in. (73.7 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

Chinese paintings from as early as the eleventh century depict Buddhist and Daoist figures seated on rustic rootwood chairs as a way of suggesting their indifference to worldly goods and their synchrony with the natural forms of the cosmos. By the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), members of the urban elite had begun to commission furniture carved to resemble naturally contorted roots. Imperial inventories record that rootwood chairs and tables furnished the Purification Ceremony Pavilion in the garden’s first courtyard. The name and design of this structure refers to ancient purification traditions associated with a poetry-writing contest in which players would sit by a stream, drink from wine cups floated down a waterway, and write poems. In the Qianlong Garden, an abstracted watercourse—connected to a well—was channeled into a stone floor so that the emperor and his companions could reenact the tradition.


Pair of Screens. From the Three Friends Bower (Sanyouxuan). Purple sandalwood (zitan), glass, jade, agate, and crystal; Each: H. 82 11/16 in. (210 cm); W. 41 3/4 in. (106 cm); D. 23 5/8 in. (60 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

These imposing screens epitomize the high level of craftsmanship, as well as the lavish use of materials, found throughout the Qianlong Garden. They also demonstrate how all the furnishings in a given space might be dedicated to a single auspicious theme, such as the “three friends of winter”—traditional emblems of a long, vigorous life. The incorporation of glass into the panels reveals the emperor’s delight with the material, newly imported from Europe.


Vase. Porcelain; H. 13 3/8 in. (34 cm); Diam. 4 13/16 in. (12.3 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

This polychromatic vase is decorated with a narrative scene of four old men conversing under a pine tree in a garden setting. It may refer to the four historical figures collectively known as the Hoary Four of Mount Shang, renowned scholars who spent most of their lives in reclusion due to their discontent with the political situation during the dynastic change from Qin (221–206 B.C.) to Han (206 B.C.–A.D. 220). They have been esteemed as models of the reclusive literati ideal. The vividly rendered figures and landscape motifs in multiple colors attest to the technical proficiency of ceramists during the Qianlong period.


Pair of Cabinets. From the Bower of Purest Jade (Yucuixuan). Wood, lacquer, and gilding; Each: H. 46 7/8 in. (119 cm); W. 34 7/16 in. (87.5 cm); D. 14 3/16 in. (36 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

The Qianlong Emperor’s interest in foreign techniques and aesthetics was not limited to Europe. Like his father and grandfather, he was also intrigued by certain Japanese arts, particularly the styling of gold designs on black lacquer. The decoration on these cabinets includes depictions of Japanese-style figures enjoying a spring picnic by a river.


Partitions. From the Building for Enjoying Lush Scenery (Cuishanglou). Purple sandalwood (zitan), bamboo, and painted glass; Overall: 77 15/16 x 77 3/16 x 2 15/16 in. (198 x 196 x 7.5 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

The frosted glass panels in these interior partitions, painted to resemble embroidered silk, allow light to enter a room even when they are closed.


Vase.. Porcelain with malachite glaze; H. 12 3/16 in. (31 cm); Diam. of base 4 7/8 in. (12.4 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

This lavishly decorated vase features a realistically rendered sash tied at the ends. Its trompe-l’oeil accuracy rivals that of European murals painted according to rules of mathematical perspective.


Pair of Table Screens. From the Building for Enjoying Lush Scenery (Cuishanglou). Purple sandalwood (zitan), glass, silver foil, and paint; Each: 26 3/8 x 28 3/8 in. (67 x 72 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

Just as European consumers delighted in chinoiserie, including fanciful depictions of Chinese people and architecture, this pair of screens showing a European-style landscape and cityscape attests to the Qianlong Emperor’s similar fascination with foreign subjects.

While European traders in the southern port of Guangzhou (called Canton by Europeans) commissioned Chinese artists to reproduce reverse glass paintings such as these for export, these two examples were, apparently, produced for the Chinese court. Such screens, backed with silver foil, would have served to both protect and reflect the light from desk lamps or candles.


Clock. Gilt copper, enamel, and glass; H. 41 5/16 in. (105 cm); W. 24 13/16 in. (63 cm); 22 1/16 in. (56 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

The Qianlong emperor was very fond of European clocks with their intricate internal mechanisms. Europeans, eager to gain his favor, brought him numerous complex examples, which he included among his collection of traditional Chinese masterpieces.


Table Screen. From the Building for Enjoying Lush Scenery (Cuishanglou). Purple sandalwood (zitan), glass, silver foil, and paint; Overall: H. 41 9/16 in. (105.5 cm); W. 25 3/8 in. (64.5 cm); D. 12 5/8 in. (32 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

This table screen, which served to protect a lamp or candle from drafts, features a European couple in a landscape—a clear indication of the Qianlong Emperor’s fascination with foreign motifs and styles. It was probably a gift from an official in Guangzhou (called Canton by Westerners), where European traders had long commissioned Chinese artists to reproduce European-style reverse-glass (“eglomise”) paintings for export to Europe. This ancient Roman technique involves drawing onto the back of a piece of glass and then laying down a sheet of silver leaf, which turns unpainted areas into a mirrorlike surface.


Throne with Footstool. From the Belvedere of Viewing Achievements (Fuwangge). Purple sandalwood (zitan) and cedar; Throne: H. 44 1/8 in. (112 cm); W. 50 3/16 in. (127.5 cm); D. 31 5/16 in. (79.6 cm); Base: H. 20 1/2 in. (52 cm); Foot stool: H. 6 1/8 in. (15.6 cm); W. 25 1/4 in. (64.2 cm); D. 12 3/4 in. (32.3 cm). Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

This grand throne is lavishly decorated with intricate curves along its top edges. The finely carved ornamentation on the back and side panels depicts deer in a mountain landscape with pine trees, leafy bushes, and grass. While the pine symbolizes longevity and the virtue of perseverance, the deer is associated with Buddhist paradise and is a homophone for the Chinese character for “successful career.”


A fine Imperial yellow-ground silk Throne Cushion Cover. Qing dynasty, 18th century


A fine Imperial yellow-ground silk Throne Cushion Cover. Qing dynasty, 18th century. Photo Sotheby’s

finely embroidered in polychrome silks with a central medallion of nine peaches surrounded by cranes in flight amidst wispy two-tone blue clouds, each grasping a bamboo stalk in its beak, the border with rolling and cresting waves centered on pierced rocks and celestial peaks, all on a muted gold ground. Height 50 in., 127 cm; Width 51 in., 129.5 cm. Estimate 70,000-90,000 USD

PROVENANCE: Spink & Son Ltd., London, 1989.

EXHIBITED: Spink & Son Ltd., The Minor Arts of China IV, London, 1989, p. 111, cat. no. 148.

Fine Classical Chinese Paintings, the first dedicated New York auction in this category for over a decade. The sale is made up of 80 diverse works from the Ming and Qing dynasties, as well as a small selection of modern and contemporary works that were executed clearly in the classical manner. The pre-sale exhibition opens on Friday 9 September.

The sale is led by Running Script Transcription of an Epitaph, written for Minister Chen Xinyi by Dong Qichang who is known as the most influential artist of his time (lot 47, est. $200/300,000).* The eight-leaf album, which has been expertly kept in its original 1850s mountings, was appraised by its then famed collector Kong Guangtao as “…genuinely stately and thoughtful in spirit, so fluid and elegant as if executed with divine power”.


Dong Qichang (1555-1636), Running Script Transcription of an Epitaph, written for Minister Chen Xinyi .  Photo: Sotheby’s

igned Dong Qichang, inscribed, with two artist’s seals, zong bo xue shi, dong shi xuan zai, and ten collector’s seals, ting yu, zhuang lie bo zhang, wu chen jin shi shi xue ling nan, ceng zai jing yin cao tang, wu lin weng shi shen ding ji, song nian mu shang, tian nan sheng yi, nan hai kong guang tao shen ding jin shi shu hua yin, shao tang han mo, yue xue lou jian cang jin shi shu hua tu ji zhi zhang, shao tang mo yuan. Inscribed by Li Tingyu and Kong Guangtao; ink on paper, album of eight leaves ; each 35.2 by 31.7 cm. 13 7/8 by 12 1/2 in. (8). Estimate 200,000-300,000 USD

PROVENANCE: Famous 19th Century Collector Kong Guangtao

Chang Pi-han (Zhang Bihan), Piedmont, California

LITERATURE: Yuexueloushuhualu, Vol. 4, Kong Guangtao (ed.), Preface 1861, p. 125-127

Dong Qichang xinian, Ren Daobin (ed.) (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, March 1988), p. 197.

Floating Studio: the Role of Water Travel in Chinese Calligraphy and Painting , Fu Shen, published in Meishushi yanjiu jikan (Journal of the Study of Art History), no. 15 (Taipei, 2003), p. 273.


Artist’s inscription: 

The Vice Minister of Justice makes this calligraphy of Epitaph a present for Minister Chen Xinyi.

[Text of the stele not recorded.]

Granted the titles of Tongyi Daifu based on the Jinshi rank as well as Minister of Zhanshifu at the Ministry of Rites, assisting the affairs at the imperial household, and also Academician Reader-in-waiting at the Hanlin Academy, who later received the orders to compile and edit the historical records from the former two dynasties and document the imperial chronicles. The Lecturer of the Imperial Household Dong Qichang.

Collector’s inscriptions:

[Li] I have reviewed quite a lot of Xiangguang’s writing. However, I have never seen such an unusual and peculiar piece. Both the present work’s calligraphy and text are wonderfully refined, probably equaling the stylistic quality of Zhengzuo tie and Erji gao. People are so enchanted by these two masterpieces that they might not realize how similar they are to each other. Master Chen Xinyi is an honest and thoughtful man, who was a great literatus with status in Ming times. After his passing, his virtues and reputation were even more highly regarded by everyone. Generally speaking, people skilled in calligraphy are usually willing to write for others. It’s wonderful that this is such a powerful piece. After reviewing it several times, I simply became more impressed and in awe. The time is the end of the tenth month of the fall, in the year dingyou (1837). I was shown this album and asked to give an inscription. I may not be well-versed in the field of calligraphy, but upon opening the work, I can determine that this is a piece of the finest quality in the tradition of Jin and Tang, even though I cannot expound upon such distinct features at great length.Please correct me immediately so that I know whether my remarks are appropriate or not.

Recorded by Runtang Li Tingyu.

[Kong] Over my entire life, I’ve already reviewed several hundred examples of Wenmin’s work. Many of them appear unnecessarily fast and slick. But this piece is genuinely stately and thoughtful in spirit, so fluid and elegant as if executed with divine power. Compared with the brushwork of Zuowei tie, one can see that it is written in the style of Zhao Mengfu combined with the basic structure of Yan Zhenqing, which seems to further enhance the remarkable presence of the writing. This is not a regular work by Dong, many of which do not even come close to this piece. I have recently examined another example of Dong’s writing, Shengzhu de xiancheng song, which was once in Emperor Qianlong’s Shiqu imperial collection. The writing of that piece displays grace and poise, while this present one possesses vigorous and assertive spirit; both of them can be regarded the best of Dong’s calligraphic works. The day of Chongjiu Festival, the ninth day of the ninth month of the year wuwu, reign of Xianfeng (October 15, 1858). Intoxicated by drinking the chrysanthemum wine, I washed the inkstone in order to try out my new brushes. Written in Yuexue lou studio by Nanhai Kong Guangtao.

Chen Yumo, literary name Mengwen, studio name Xinyi, a native of Renhe, Zhejiang province. A Jinshi in the year Chen Yumo, literary name Mengwen, studio name Xinyi, a native of Renhe, Zhejiang province. A Jinshi in the year the office of Supervisor of Jiangxi province and retired as the Vice Minister for the Ministry of Justice. He died in the eighth month of the year 1622.

Both Ren Daobing and Fu state that this work was executed in the eighth lunar month of the year dingchou of the Wanli reign (1577), he was first assigned the secretariat position of Zhongshu, and later promoted to the office of Supervisor of Jiangxi province and retired as the Vice Minister for the Ministry of Justice. He died in the eighth month of the year 1622. 

Both Ren Daobing and Fu state that this work was executed in the eighth lunar month of the year 1622.

 This album was in the collection of Yuexuelou assembled by Kong Guangtao and his family from Nanhai. It is recorded in juan 4 of the four-volume Record of Paintings and Calligraphy in the Collection of Yuexuelou published in the eleventh year of Xianfeng reign (1861). The album retains its original mounting and original wooden box. The work’s title is inscribed on the front of the box and again on the side, which reaffirms that this piece was cherished by the Kong family.

The writer of the titleslip is Meng Hongguang, literary name Pusheng, sobriquet names Yinjue jushi, Xiaomeng  Shanren, Lujian Zhenren, and studio names Zhuanchou lu, Meixuexuan, etc. Meng, a native of Zhejiang, resided in  Panyu, Guangdong province. He became a provincial graduate in the jiawu year of the Daoguang reign (1834). With  his encyclopedic knowledge and photographic memory, Meng devoted his life to teaching, at one time running a private school in Guangzhou. He excelled in poetry and linguistics, and was good at calligraphy and seal carving.  Meng also befriended Chen Li because of their common interest in the study of epigraphy. His published works include the Collected Poems by Lujian Zhenren, and the Seals of Meixuexuan.

Li Tingyu (1792-1861), literary name Runtang, and studio name Heqiao, a native of Fujian, served as the commanderin-chief for Fujian Navy and fought alongside Lin Zexu in the Sino-British Opium War. Well versed in both military and literary matters, Li excelled in painting orchids, and was fond of collecting painting, calligraphy, seals, and ink stones. He authored books on both military and literary subjects, including A New View of Territorial Sea of the Seven Provinces and Record of Inscriptions on Paintings and Calligraphies by Meiyintang, etc.

Chang Pi-han (Zhang Bihan), studio name Jing Yintang, a native of Jiading, Jiangsu province, graduated from Hujiang University in Shanghai. He was a famed collector, connoisseur, and artist. He studied with Zhao Mengsu, a local master from the age of thirteen; later, he studied under the tutelage of Wu Hufan and Feng Chaoran. In the 1940s, he co-founded Lüyishe (Green Ripple Society) along with Ying Yeping, Wang Jiqian, Xu Bangda, and others. He immigrated to Hong Kong in 1948, and taught at the Department of Fine Arts at the New Asia College, Chinese University of Hong Kong, from 1957 until his retirement in 1974. At the end of 1970s, he immigrated to California. Chang Pi-han’s in-depth study of Classical Chinese paintings and connoisseurship earned him the role of consultant to the Hong Kong Art Museum. His collection of paintings and calligraphies from Ming and Qing dynasties were well known at the time. Among his published works is Collected Works by Chang Pi-han.

Thatched Hut in Autumnal Mountains by Dong Bangda, who was admired and highly praised by Emperor Qianlong, is a further highlight (lot 23, est. $180/250,000). The grandly composed landscape executed on silk conveys such free, refined brushwork that it is conspicuous among the artists repertoire.


Dong Bangda  (1699-1769),  Thatched Hut in Autumnal Mountains. Photo: Sotheby’s

signed Dongshan di Dong Bangda, dated guihai (1743), and with three seals of the artist, dong bang da, fu cun, yong zhuo, and four collector’s seals, lai jiang pan shi lian zhen cang, nan yai zhen cang, lu he liu shi zhen shang, zhao xiang; ink on silk, hanging scroll, 128.7 by 71 cm. 50 3/4 by 28 in.  1743. Estimate 180,000-250,000 USD


Label inscription:

An exquisite work of ink landscape painting by Dong Dongshan of the Qing dynasty. Inscribed by Tuiweng

Artist’s inscription:

Wild rivers paired with the sky, clear and crisp,

Autumnal woods, tinted with the yellow glow of daylight;

The hermit wonders who is to keep him company,

The gull and heron are unaware of each other’s presence.

In the year of guihai (1743), ten days after the summer solstice, [I] imitated the brushwork of Dachi Daoren (Huang Gongwang) and made this piece. [I then] asked the venerated grand senior Mr. Xingweng to review and comment on it. Your brotherly junior Dongshan Dong Bangda.

Collector’s inscription:

Mr. Jimen and I are from the same hometown and associated with the same societies, and like me, he also resides in the old capital city, where we have remained friendly with each other for over thirty years. [He] is skilled in calligraphy and painting and possesses remarkable ability in collecting. I myself am also fond of acquiring the art works left by the past scholar artists in our Zhejiang region. On one occasion, I showed him the landscape painting of Dong Wenque from Fuyang. We unrolled the scroll, together admiring it, which received high praise [from him]. Any object’s best destiny is to find its befitting place and the bestowed owner as a keepsake. I therefore bring over this piece and make it a present in order to commemorate our mutual appreciation in all art works of ink and brush.

On the third day of the third lunar month in the year dinghai (1947).

Remarked after returning from viewing the blooming flowers in the mountains

Tuigu, [your brotherly junior] Zhou Zhaoxiang.

LITERATURE: Yilin yuekan, no. 72 (Beijing: Art World Monthly Journal, December 1935), p 2.

Yilin yuekan (Art World Monthly) was launched in 1930. It was originally published three times a month and was therefore called Yilin xunkan. It was sponsored and managed by The Chinese Artists’ Association, with the aim of promoting art and presenting materials of artistic significance and value. Due to its professional editorial work and the quality of the selection process for its publication, the journal was well received. The last issue was printed in 1942, with a total of 118 volumes.

The painter of Seated Portrait of a Prince in Casual Wear remains unknown, but there is no doubt that the extremely finely and gracefully portrayed gentleman was from the imperial lineage (lot 40, est. $90/120,000). The painting is particularly notable for the level of detail with which the artist has depicted the rug and lacquered throne in the painting.


Anonymous (17th-18th century), Seated Portrait of a Prince in Casual Wear. Photo: Sotheby’s

ink and color on silk, hanging scroll; 185.5 by 109.3 cm. 73 by 43 in. Estimate 90,000-120,000 USD

NOTE: Imperial portraits constitute a major category of court paintings. They can be sub-categorized into formal commemorative portraits and informal portraits, based on the costumes worn by the sitter. Most portraits are unsigned. Despite the difference in the degree of formality, imperial portraits are all painted in fine detail and rely on costumes, accessories, and background setting to indicate the sitter’s status within the imperial family. The portraitists used light ink to outline the bone structure and features of their subjects, followed by layers of light brownish color to render skin color. The early Qing court portraits were clearly influenced by the Bochen School, epitomized by the late-Ming figure painter Zeng Jing (1568-1650). In the mid-Qing, Western oil painting techniques were introduced into the court by European artists, including Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), Jean Denis Attirent (1702 -1768), and their followers. Beginning at this time, a hybrid style developed, characterized by an increased emphasis on chiaroscuro, and a decrease in relying primarily on ink contour lines to render the faces.

Based on this assessment, the present painting probably dates from the early Qing dynasty, that is, the 17th or early 18th century. The subject, who appears to be around seventy years old, is seated in a graceful pose, and exudes a self-absorbed, scholarly elegance–kind, yet stately. Sitting squarely on the gold-decorated lacquer throne, he wears an informal fur-trimmed winter robe of reddish brown satin with swastika pattern, tied with a yellow-gold colored belt. From the belt hang embroidered pouches, a knife, an ivory incense holder, and other accouterments. Based on the Illustrations to the Ceremonial Objects of the Qing, only the emperor’s sons, princes of first rank, and imperial family members could wear yellow-gold belts, whereas distant relatives of imperial family wore red belts. The sitter’s gold belt thus confirms his princely status.

The black-lacquered throne is inlaid in gold with interlocking branches of flowers and running dragons. It sits on a carpet decorated with twin dragons chasing a pearl design. The throne cover and cushion are tailored from yardage of a gold yellow semi-formal court robe and formal surcoat for an imperial prince of first rank. According to the Collected Regulations & Precedents of the Qing, the emperor’s sons are to wear yellow robes decorated with nine mang dragons, bordered by flat gold leaf. The robes for imperial princes of the first and second ranks are governed by the same regulation, except that the color of the ground fabric can only be blue or blue-black. In addition to the large roundels of front-facing five-clawed and side-facing mang dragons, the throne cover and cushion are also decorated with bats, auspicious clouds, a shou character in seal script, and a shallow border of lishui (standing water pattern), all finely woven. The overall design, together with the swastika pattern on the sitter’s robe, emblematic of longevity, suggests that the work was intended to be used in a birthday celebration befitting the status of an imperial prince of the first rank.

Although the collections of the Palace Museum in Beijing and the Freer-Sackler Museum in Washington D.C. include many Imperial portraits, depictions of interior scenes with dragon carpets are extremely rare. In the Palace Museum there is one hanging scroll, Portrait of the Emperor Kangxi Writing Calligraphy that depicts a dragon carpet.

The sale also includes two exquisite paintings of Daoist and Buddhist subject matter: Portraits of Jade Emperor and the Heavenly Kings (lot 70, est. $60/80,000), and Heavenly Deities of Land and Water (lot 71, est. $5/7,000). Besides the extremely vibrant and vivid brushstrokes and coloring, each painting celebrates its rarity with an inscription and a specific date, the former being commissioned by one of Jiajing emperor’s concubines in 1545, and the latter dedicated to Longshu Temple on Putuo Mountain in 1617, the forty-fifth year of Wanli reign.


Anonymous, Portraits of Jade Emperor and the Heavenly Kings.  Photo: Sotheby’s

ated the twenty-fourth year of the Jiajing reign (1545), first lunar month and inscribed, ‘Princess Jing of the Great Ming dynasty made a vow to paint this piece, on an auspicious day of the first month in the twenty-fourth reign year of Jiajing (1545).’ ink and color on silk, framed; 122 by 87.4 cm. 48 by 34 3/4 in.  Estimate 60,000-80,000 USD

PROVENANCE:Purchased at Yonghe Gong, Beijing, in 1949 (see original shipping document)

California private collection

NOTE:The inscription on the present painting reads and may be translated as follows:

Jing fei Wen shi faxin hui shi

Jiajing ershisi nian zhengyue jiri

Concubine Jing with the surname Wen sincerely bestowed this painting on the third day of the first lunar month of the 24th year of the Jiajing reign (equivalent to 1545)

This painting presents an image of the Daoist deity Yu Huang (Jade Emperor) with his celestial court. In Daoism, Yu Huang is the ruler of heaven and all the lower realms, including earth and hell. However, in popular belief, Yu Huang was very much seen as the key figure in the pantheon.

For an early depiction of Yu Huang see a stele dated to 527, in the National Museum of Chinese History, Beijing, included in the exhibition Taoism and the Arts of China, the Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, cat. no. 33. He also appears, with his entourage of deities, on a robe in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, included ibid., p. 197, fig.47, with a similar robe in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, mentioned.

The Jiajing emperor was a devout follower and patron of Daoism. During his reign Daoism gained importance with the number of images of the numerous Daoist gods increasing significantly. See a hanging scroll dated to 1542 commissioned by one of Jiajing’s concubine’s called Shen depicting the deified Daoist hero Marshal Wang, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, published ibid., pl. 88. This suggests that it was a common practice for the emperor’s concubines to commission works of this kind with the knowledge that it would meet his approval.

While little is known of Concubine Jing, records show that she was promoted to Guifei before the 60th birthday of Jiajing in 1566, and that she died during Wanli’s reign (1573-1619).

Yonghe Gong, where the present painting was purchased, is one of the most important and largest Tibetan Buddhist lamaseries in China, located in the north-east district of Beijing. Built in 1694, during the reign of the Kangxi emperor, it served as the residence for Prince Yinzhen for nearly thirty years before he took the throne as Emperor Yongzheng.

It was made into an imperial lamasery in the ninth year of the Qianlong reign (1744).


 Anonymous, Heavenly Deities of Land and Water.  Photo: Sotheby’s

dated the forty-fifth year of the Wanli reign (1617), titled, and inscribed, ‘Dhtarara, Virupaka, Mahabrahman, Lakshmi. In the forty-fifth year of Wanli reign (1617), Monk Jiren accepted this contribution from the devotee Ni Xing. He delivered it to Mount Putuo where the work will enter the permanent collection of Longshu Temple and forever be revered and worshipped.’ ink and color on silk, hanging scroll; 188 by 93.9 cm. 74 by 37 in. Estimate 5,000-7,000 USD

NOTE: The inscription on the present painting reads and may be translated as follows:

Wanli sishiwu nian, muyuanseng Jiren

zhuzi xinshi Ni Xing, song Putuo Shan Longshu An

changzhu yongyuan gongfeng.

This painting was dedicated by Monk Jiren, using believer Ni Xing’s funds, to Longshu Temple on Putuo Mountain, shing it to be worshipped forever.

The inscription on the top left corner lists the names of four Buddhist deities: the Guardian God of the East, the God of Brahma (Fan Wang), the Guardian God of the West and the God of Virtue.

The present hanging scroll belongs to a special group of Buddhist images that were made for use in the Water-and-Land Ritual (Shuilu zhai), a rite developed for the salvation of all the deceased. This ritual, commonly practiced by Buddhist worshippers, intended to establish merit (gong) for both the living and the souls of the dead in the netherworld so that they can eventually reach incarnation and ascend to the celestial realms. While a number of important Ming period hanging scrolls of this type are known, those bearing a date and a dedicatory inscription are extremely rare to find in private hands.

Compare an earlier hanging scroll painted with the Masters of Professions and Arts, one of a set of 130 images created for the Water-and-Land rite, in the collection of the Shanxi Provincial Museum, Taiyuan, illustrated in New History of World Art, Toyo hen, vol. 8, Tokyo, 1999, pl. 16; and another painting made for the same ritual, attributed to the Wanli period (c. 1600), depicting the Lady of the Highest Primordial (Shangyuan furen) and the Empress of Earth (Houtu) in the collection of Musee Guimet, Paris, included in the exhibition Taoism and the Arts of China


6 responses to “The Chinese Imperial Artwork Collections Exhibition part One

  1. Highly descriptive post, I liked that bit. Will there be
    a part 2?

  2. Hello There. I discovered your weblog using msn.
    That is an extremely well written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and come back to learn extra of your useful info. Thank you for the post. I will definitely return.

  3. Thanks to my father who told me concerning this blog, this weblog is actually amazing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s