An important Imperial green jade 'San Xi Tang' double-gourd seal Qianlong
Lot 58
An important Imperial green jade 'San Xi Tang' double-gourd seal Qianlong
Sold for £3,401,250 (US$ 5,337,715) inc. premium

Lot Details
An important Imperial green jade 'San Xi Tang' double-gourd seal, Qianlong A well-carved spinach jade double-gourd seal 18th/19th century A well-carved spinach jade double-gourd seal 18th/19th century A well-carved spinach jade double-gourd seal 18th/19th century
The Property of a Gentleman
An important Imperial green jade 'San Xi Tang' double-gourd seal
Qianlong
The jade of a remarkably vivid green tone with some attractive darker streaks, carved as a double gourd richly embellished on the rounded surface with three writhing intertwined chilong, the largest proudly rearing its head towards the point of the gourd where its long bifurcated tail curls elegantly, the two smaller chilong straddling the waist of the gourd and grasping at the leg and tail of the largest chilong, the underside recessed to leave a thin border containing the three crisply-carved seal-script characters San Xi Tang.
8.7cm (3 7/16in) long

Footnotes

  • 清乾隆 乾隆帝御寶碧玉雕三螭鈕葫蘆式「三希堂」璽

    Provenance: a European private collection

    Published (seal impression): Collections of the Palace Museum: Album of the Seal Impressions of Qing Emperors and Empresses, vol.5, Qianlong part I, Beijing, 2005, p.55 (Gugong Bowuyuan bian, Gugong Bowuyuan cang: Qingdai Dihou Xiyinpu. Di Wuce. Qianlong juan yi, Zijincheng chubanshe chuban, p.55).
    Album of Seals of the Emperor Qianlong, in the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet, ref. no.BG 31149, published by Marie-Catherine Rey in Les Très Riches Heures de la Cour de Chine: Chefs-d'oeuvre de la Peinture Impériale des Qing 1662-1796, Paris, 2006, pl.86.

    The San Xi Tang (三希堂), or Hall of the Three Rarities (fig.1), is located in the west chamber of the Yangxin Dian (養心殿), Hall of Mental Cultivation, which was used as the Imperial sleeping quarters and power centre in the Forbidden City, Beijing. It was so named by the Qianlong Emperor in 1746. As noted by C.Ho and B.Bronson in Splendours of China's Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of the Emperor Qianlong, London, 2004, pp.218-219 'In the Emperor's own eyes, his most precious single possession was a group of three actual ink-and-paper examples of writing by a trio of fourth-century artists named Wang, collectively the greatest calligraphers in Chinese history... Qianlong called them his Three Rarities, Sanxi, and housed them in his favourite studio in the Forbidden City, the Sanxi Tang.'

    These Eastern Jin models of calligraphies are Kuaixue Shiqing Tie, (Clear Sky After Pleasant Snow) by Wang Xizhi; Zhongqiu Tie, (Mid-Autumn) by Wang Xianzhi; and Boyuan Tie, (Letter to Boyuan), by Wang Xun. The former is in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, and the latter two are in the Palace Museum, Beijing. The San Xi Tang would have been a personal space, intimate in size, being only a few square meters, but elegantly decorated with a kang by the window and a throne facing west; with a board with the characters San Xi Tang written by the Qianlong Emperor hung on the east wall.

    The present seal embodies this highly important Imperial Hall and the three treasured paintings, first and foremost in the crisply-carved characters San Xi Tang; and secondly by the carving on top of the seal, sculpted with three coiled chi dragons graduating in age and size from the youngest and smallest chi dragon to the adult and largest chi dragon. Together they represent a homophone (or similar sound) of San Xi (三希 three rarities), San Chi (三螭 three dragons), and San Zi, (三子 three sons), thus representing the three treasured works as the three dragon sons, symbolising their importance to the Qianlong Emperor.

    This seal is recorded in two important manuscripts: the Imperial archives, as published in the Palace Museum's Collections of the Palace Museum: Album of the Seal Impressions of Qing Emperors and Empresses, vol.5, Qianlong part I, Beijing, 2005, p.55 (Gugong Bowuyuan bian, Gugong Bowuyuan cang: Qingdai Dihou Xiyinpu. Di Wuce. Qianlong juan yi, Zijincheng chubanshe chuban, p.55) (fig.2); and the Album of Seals of the Emperor Qianlong, attributed to the Qianlong period (fig.3), in the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet, ref. no.BG 31149, gifted to the Musée Guimet in 1911 by General Frey, and published by Marie-Catherine Rey in the Musée Guimet Exhibition Catalogue Les Très Riches Heures de la Cour de Chine: Chefs-d'oeuvre de la Peinture Impériale des Qing 1662-1796, Paris, 2006, pl.86.

    It is interesting to compare the two seal impressions recorded above and the impression of the seal taken most recently. The first, in the Imperial archives, would have been produced most likely closely following the approval of the seal by the Qianlong Emperor. The second, recorded in the album of seals from the Musée Guimet, would have been recorded at a later date but presumably prior to 1795. The seal impression recorded in the Imperial archives shows the edges of the seal face delicately carved in high relief to be in perfect condition. However, the seal impression in the album from the Musée Guimet and the recent seal impression show identical slight chips to the relief edges of the seal face. This would prove that the slight chips occurred whilst the seal was in use in the Forbidden City and importantly that it was still treasured and deemed prestigious to be recorded in the Album of Seals of the Qianlong Emperor.

    The present seal is carved in the form of a double gourd, hulu, symbolic of longevity, and homophonous with a word meaning 'protect, shield or guard' as well as blessing. Shoulao the God of Longevity as well as Li Tieguai, one of the Eight Immortals, are both typically depicted with a double gourd. Furthermore, since a gourd grows on a vine and has a large number of seeds, it is also associated with fertility and the wish for continuity.

    Compare a related small pale green jade seal, carved with a single chi dragon, from the Palace Museum, Beijing, inscribed San Xi Tang Jing Jian Xi (Refined Inspection Seal of the Hall of the Three Rarities), Qianlong, 4cm long by 2.2cm wide (fig.4), illustrated in Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing, 2006, pl.112. See also a small rectangular white jade San Xi Tang seal, Qianlong, 3.1cm by 1.8cm, carved with a single chi dragon, from the estate of Emile Guimet, removed from the Shouhuang dian, Hall of Imperial Longevity, sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong on 8 October 2008, lot 2001.
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