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photographer New Owner.
Water, Pine and Stone Retreat. Qianlong  Large picture | Small picture
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 8 October 2009: Lot 1818 
 

1818
AN IMPERIAL IVORY SEAL
PALACE WORKSHOPS
QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD
the cream coloured tusk with a warm golden patina of rectangular section and rounded vertical corners, carved on top with two chi dragons clambering on top of the loop handle, the finely carved larger dragon perched atop with his sinuous body wrapped around the loop, the smaller dragon emerging from under the loop and looking up at the larger beast, their eyes inlaid in brown horn, the seal face carved in positive seal script reading Yi shanshui wenji  ziyu ('To enjoy oneself with landscape and books') (fitted box)
5.9 CM.

PROVENANCE
Christie's London, 15th April 1983, lot 268.
Sydney L. Moss, Ltd., 1983.
EXHIBITED
Arts from the Scholar's Studio, Fung Ping Shan Museum, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1986, cat. no. 97.

This seal is a fine example of xianzhang, a fanciful seal which might be used on a painting or a piece of calligraphy in addition to a personal name or studio. The strength of the carving is shown by the toned musculature and expressiveness of the two qilong, especially the larger one, as well as the soft, dynamic flow of their postures which masterly captures the spirit of the animal. High quality ivory seals, such as the present piece, were products of the Ivory Workshop belonging to the Imperial Palace Workshops (Zaobanchu) located in the Forbidden City. Known pieces from the Ivory Workshop display a high level of technical capacity, however, the masterly feel for sculpture elevates the object from merely a technical tour de force into the realm of art.

The qilong, a popular motif on Han decoration, was likely to have been revived under the archaistic fervour of the Song dynasty, and became popular again from the Yuan dynasty onwards. The two qilong on this seal are reminiscent of Ming dragons carved on ivory seals. For example see a Yongle period seal finely carved with a single muscular qilong, its body sharply turned back on itself as if chasing its long bifurcated tail, from Eskenazi, Ltd., London, sold in these rooms, 10th April 2006, lot 1638; and another Ming seal included in the Fung Ping Shan Museum exhibition, op. cit., cat. no. 198, with a single qilong coiled around itself. 

See also a seal attributed to the late Ming and early Qing periods, sold in our New York rooms, 3rd June 1992, lot 109, and later in the collection of Mary and George Bloch and sold again in these rooms, 23rd October 2005, lot 46, finely carved with a dragon with its head sharply turned to meet the eye of a young dragon on its back.

Gerard Tsang and Hugh Moss in Arts from the Scholar's Studio, Hong Kong, 1986, p. 128, note that the subject of the qilong entwined around a circular form may have been derived from jade bi symbolism of the Warring States period where plain bi were embellished with dragons around their rims.

 

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Hugh Moss |