Archaeological Objects and Imperial Porcelain from China: the offering at the 37th Special Auction of Asian Art

A focal point of the 37th Special Auction of Asian Art, which will be held on May 8 and 9, 2009 at Nagel Auktionen in Stuttgart, will be a wide range of Imperial porcelain and other art objects from ancient China. Art from Japan and the countries of the Himalaya will also come under the hammer.

Among the remarkable private consignments in the upcoming spring Auction of Asian Art is an old collection of a Franconian industrial family. It includes, for instance, a brown-glazed stoneware pitcher made in the Lushan kilns at the time of the Tang dynasty. This jug is covered with a phosphate glaze in blue and violet tones. It was acquired in 1930 at an auction of the Rudolph Lepke art auction house in Berlin and comes from the collection of Privy Councillor Hermann Dobrikow, who lived from 1900 to 1928 in Beijing (Lot 19, estimate € 3 000).

Being aware of this old collection is of especially decisive importance to potential buyers from the U.S.A. A new law there forbids imports of archaeological objects, among other things, from the paleontological period (75 000 B.C.E.) up to the end of the Tang Dynasty (907 C.E.) if they cannot be shown to have been exported legally out of China. Objects from the Dobrikow collection obviously fulfil this criterion. The auction at Nagel includes more objects from this collection, which focuses on stoneware and porcelain.

The Chinese Porcelain section is very well stocked. It offers a selection of various types of vases, plates and containers, monochrome or colourfully decorated, with a variety of glazes or different patterns. Among the highlights is an unusually large, underglaze blue painted ‘meiping’ type vase (Lot 43, 15th century, height 40.8 cm, estimate € 50 000), and a round container with three-colour ‘sancai’ glaze from the first half of the Tang period (618-907 C.E.), which was presumably made in the Gongxian kilns in Henan province. The dedication to a “heavenly luohan”, a follower of the Buddha, is striking (Lot 28, diameter 14.5 cm, estimate € 16 000).

A large plate from the Yongle period is painted in radiant cobalt blue. The decoration consists of blossoms and floral vine patterns and is bound to have suited the tastes of the import regions of India or the Mid-East (Lot 45, diameter 40.8 cm, estimate € 40 000). The predilection of Emperor Qianlong, by contrast, is reflected in a large round plate, whose English style decoration is often described as ‘egg and spinach’. Actually, it is a green and aubergine purple glaze on a yellow base. The decoration consists of a central ‘shou’ symbol, bats, lotus blossoms, peach nosegays and other things. Plates of this kind were made for special occasions, in recent centuries only three such items have turned up on the world market (Lot 68, estimate € 180 000).

Brush pots, vessels for an altar in the archaic style, ‘dou’ type imperial lidded vessels for an altar to the four cardinal points are also on offer, as well as a rare ‘doucai’ vase decorated with bands of clouds, Yongzheng six-character mark and of the period. Although we searched thoroughly, we could not find another vase with this decoration. The only blemishes are the shortened neck and a hole drilled in the neck – the vase was used as a lamp (Lot 278, height 22.8 cm, estimate € 25 000). Just as rare is a ‘scraffito’ lidded bowl made of porcelain with dragon decoration, a Qianlong six-character seal mark and of the period (Lot 281, diameter 11.1 cm, estimate € 25 000).

Among the Buddha figures, the lacquer gilt bronze of Manjushri (Chinese: Wenshu) particularly stands out. This statue from the Ming period shows the bodhisattva of wisdom seated on his steed, the lion (Lot 205, height 67.5 cm, estimate € 65 000). Most of the other Buddha figures are distinctly smaller. Among the large number of interesting consignments is a private Bavarian collection of Tibetan art featuring many Buddha figures, among other things.

Several Thangkas from Tibet are also on offer, including a representation of Vajrapani, the bodhisattva of power, of high artistic quality and craftsmanship (Lot 136, dimensions 61 x 44, estimate € 3 000). Another specimen visualizes Panchen Lama Losang Palden Yeshe (1737-1780), who was born in Trashi-tse and had already mastered the exoteric and esoteric teachings of Buddhism by the age of 15, thus gaining renown as a scholar (Lot 155, dimensions 63 x 39 cm, estimate € 1,500).

Resplendent cloisonné ware also augments the offering. Along with bottles and vases, there is a most remarkable cloisonné clock of the Jiaqing period. It is decorated with dragon medallions in fire-gilded repoussé, exhibits fine cloisonné decorations of bats, clouds and blossoms and bears a Chinese face (Lot 179, height 49 cm, estimate € 20 000). A censer of the Qianlong period convinces owing to its outstanding workmanship and its unusual feet, which are designed as elephants’ heads (Lot 180, width 40 cm, estimate € 40 000).

The more unusual objects include two figures of Taoist saints made of turquoise in the eighteenth century (Lot 200, height 18/20 cm, estimate € 15 000). Further figures made of ivory, bamboo and jade add to the palette. Most notable is a fine jade sceptre of the Qianlong era from the collection of Princess Wilhelmina Borghese (Lot 248, length 41.3 cm, estimate € 18 000).

Chinese furniture of the eighteenth century made of ‘huali’ or hardwood rounds off the spectrum. One highlight is a pair of gorgeous Qing-dynasty cabinets made of zitan wood. The cabinets are divided up into several compartments and the finely carved dragon decoration on the winged doors is quite striking. Cloisonné fittings make for a lovely detail of the decoration (Lot 368, dimensions 188 x 100 x 40 cm, estimate € 40 000).

In the Japan section of the auction, there are porcelain items, sculptures, paintings, folding screens and other small handicraft objects, including a lidded container in the form of a temple bell by Higashiyama Motonobu of the Meji era (Lot 1131, in a wooden box with “Sentoku dôshô” written on it, estimate € 12 000).

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