A magnificent and extremely rare monumental gilt-bronze and cloisonné-enamelled incense burner and cover Beijing Palace Workshops, Qianlong
Lot 12
A magnificent and extremely rare monumental gilt-bronze and cloisonné-enamelled incense burner and cover Beijing Palace Workshops, Qianlong
Sold for HK$ 12,980,000 (US$ 1,674,256) inc. premium
Lot Details
A magnificent and extremely rare monumental gilt-bronze and cloisonné-enamelled incense burner and cover
Beijing Palace Workshops, Qianlong
The massively constructed vessel of rectangular section, rising towards a perpendicular flaring keyfret rim, all beneath a partially open-worked dome-shaped cover of reticulated auspicious 'shou' characters and dragons depicted chasing flaming pearls, surmounted by a Buddhist lion knop, the mythical beast's head turned upwards to the right with finely incised fur running down from its spine, all supported by a pair of foreigners, each depicted kneeling on one knee and adorning tall curved headdress and long robes, all decorated with elaborate lotus blossoms and brilliantly enamelled in various colours of red, blue, green, yellow, white, pink and black, all on a rich turquoise ground. 112cm wide. (2).

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh, 8th Bt. Later 1st Baron Hesketh (1881-1944)
    Sotheby's (at Easton Neston), 17-19 May 2005, lot 771

    Easton Neston is a Baroque style mansion near Towcester, Northamptonshire, England, the brainchild of the renowned architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, commissioned by the English connoisseur Sir William Fermor (1648-1711), 1st Baron Leominster.

    Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh (1881-1944) was educated at Eton College and graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge. He served at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Horse Guards, a Captain of the Lancashire Hussars Yeomanry and also an Honorary Major in the Territorial Army. He held office between 1922 and 1923 as a Conservative Member of the Parliament. Like his predecessors, Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh inherited the appreciation of collecting fine works of art, including the current lot, which was a great addition to the repertoire of the mansion.

    The only other known vessel of this rare form is the pair to the current lot, housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, accession no.255&A-1876 (fig.1), exhibited in the International Exhibition of Chinese Art in the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1935-1936, and illustrated in the catalogue p.189, no.2015. It is also illustrated in Victoria and Albert Museum. Chinese Art. Volume II, London, 1906, fig.92, where Stephen W. Bushell dates it as Qianlong period and describes it as a "strange-looking object... which looks at first sight like a sarcophagus, is an ice-chest from the Chinese Summer Palace". Sir Harry Garner also wrote about the same piece, "many large and important vessels were made in this period [Qianlong], but they are rarely marked... The large rectangular vessel with a perforated cover, supported by two kneeling figures, was formerly used in the Imperial Summer Palace, near Peking, to hold blocks of ice to keep the air cool in the hot season", where it was also illustrated, in Chinese and Japanese Cloisonne Enamels, London, 1962, pl.71. It is also illustrated in Chinese Cloisonne: The Pierre Uldry Collection, London, 1989, p.56, fig.33.

    Both Bushell and Garner believed the Victoria and Albert Museum example to be an ice cooler or ice chest and not an incense burner. However, further research suggests otherwise. Some scholars believe that the pierced cover of the pieces would have been too well-ventilated to function as an ice cooler or ice chest and that the ice would melt too quickly during the intense heat of the summer. Furthermore, the lining of the metallic body is too thin to hold blocks of ice, where most ice coolers or ice chests would have been reinforced with wooden lining to support the whole structure of the vessel and keep the ice from melting rapidly.

    For an example of a Qianlong reign-marked cloisonné-enamelled ice chest in the Palace Museum, Beijing, see Collections of the Palace Museum. Enamel Ware, Beijing, 2008, p.174, no.131; and another Qianlong reign-marked example in the Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum, illustrated in The Prime Cultural Relics Collected by Shenyang Imperial Palace Musem. The Enamel Volume, Shenyang, 2007, pp.172-173, no.VII-1. See also a cloisonné-enamelled ice chest from the Dr. Alfred Owre collection, exhibited in the inaugural exhibition of the Minneapolis Art Museum in 1915, and illustrated in Cloisonne. Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, New York, 2011, p.211, fig.10.28. It is argued that these pieces were used for storing food and keeping them cool, which further suggest that the elaborately decorated current lot is more likely to have functioned as an incense burner rather than an ice cooler.

    The two figures represent foreigners offering tribute. Both figures have distinctive strong facial complexions, bulging eyes and perforated earlobes. One of them is depicted with a curling beard, which all suggest that they were intended to be portrayed as foreigners from outside of China's borders. The figures are also depicted with unique caps and footwear, comparable to the depiction of the Yongzheng emperor on one of the leaves of the Album of the Yongzheng Emperor in Costumes in the Palace Museum, Beijing, exhibited in the Royal Academy of Arts, London, between 12 November 2005 – 17 April 2006, illustrated in China. The Three Emperors 1662-1795, London, 2005, pp.249-250. The Yongzheng Emperor is seen wearing a waisted long robe, red boots with curled ends and a pointed cap with a swirling design, very much similar to the garments worn by the foreign figures of the current lot.

    See also an early Qing gilt-bronze and cloisonné-enamelled incense burner featuring a pair of foreign figures carrying a chest of tributes, illustrated in Collections of the Palace Museum. Enamel Ware, Beijing, 2008, p.137, no.97; and a pair of gilt-bronze and champlevé-enamelled figures of kneeling foreigners from the Juan Jose Amezaga collection, sold at Christie's Paris, 13 June 2007, lot 27.

    清乾隆 御製銅胎掐絲珐琅雙人托長方形爐

    長方形大箱體,板沿狀口沿,口沿外壁鏨刻鎏金回紋一圈,長方形蓋高隆,一銅鎏金幼獅作鈕,幼獅四爪伏於蓋頂,回首仰望,其雙目圓瞪,竪尾處毛髮向下墜散,蓋壁及蓋頂獅鈕下方及左右對稱的兩個區域均以藍色珐琅釉爲地,並飾銅胎掐絲纏枝花卉紋,而其爐蓋餘部分則飾以鏤空纏枝雲龍紋。爐身亦以藍色珐琅釉爲地色,並以掐絲填彩飾纏枝蓮紋,兩側各一人呈半蹲狀背對香爐並以雙手托拖著爐底,兩托爐人面部、手掌及雙足飾鎏金,均頭戴螺旋狀尖帽,其身著中式官服以銅胎掐絲飾纏枝蓮紋,一人領口系一單節,另一人則以饕餮紋作領,兩人表情各異,雖都雙瞪圓目,但一人雙唇緊閉,表情嚴肅,另一人則留捲腮鬍,張口吐舌,氣宇軒昂。

    該香爐曾由托馬斯•弗莫爾-赫斯基思男爵(Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh,1881-1944)收藏。托馬斯男爵曾就讀於伊頓學院,畢業於劍橋大學三一學院,優越的教育造就了他後來在皇家軍校以及皇家陸軍的卓越成就。托馬斯深受其叔父影響,對古董藝術品收藏有濃厚的興趣。他繼承其叔父的伊斯頓莊園後,無疑同時也繼承了莊園中的稀世珍寶。

    類似形製較大的銅胎掐絲琺瑯器通常都是成對製作,英國國立維多利亞與艾爾伯特博物館中藏有一件清乾隆銅胎掐絲琺瑯香爐,是現存已知唯一一件與本拍品相同的器物(圖一)。參看Chinese Cloisonné: The Pierre Uldry Collection,倫敦,1989年,頁56,圖版33,並在1935年至1936年在倫敦皇家藝術學院舉辦的國際中國藝術展中展出,參看Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Chinese Art 1935-6,倫敦,1936年,頁189,圖版2015。英國學者Stephen W. Bushell曾在博物館出版的論文中將這件大型乾隆銅胎掐絲器物稱爲「冰箱」,隨後一些西方學者都認為它應該是當時陳列於圓明園起到冷卻空氣作用的冰箱,而非香爐。參見《Victoria & Albert Museum. Chinese Art. Volume II》,倫敦,1906年,圖版92。

    與北京故宮博物院和瀋陽故宮博物院所藏的乾隆銅胎掐絲琺瑯冰箱不同,該件拍品雖然同樣箱體碩大,但其獅鈕方蓋上雕鏤空雲龍紋,看似並不符合用於存儲冰塊。清宮曾使用的冰箱通常配有木座,而箱蓋通常以雙圓錢形孔以散發冷氣同時保持冰塊不被瞬間融化。參見故宮博物院編《故宮收藏琺瑯器》,2008年,頁174,圖版131;另《瀋陽故宮博物院藏文物精粹•珐琅卷》,2007年,頁172-173,圖版VII-1。其他類似的銅胎掐絲冰箱還可見於1915年美國明尼阿波利斯博物館展出Alfred Owre博士藏品展中。

    手托香爐人物的服飾及面部長相均為西域人長相,故宮博物院藏一件清初掐絲琺瑯雙人提長方形爐,雖身著坎肩式對襟長衫,但面部卷腮鬍與本香爐上人物形象相似。另見巴黎佳士得2007年拍出一對清乾隆銅胎掐絲珐琅胡人跪像,其人物服飾與此兩人相類。
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