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A Chinese Seal, Treasure of Emperor Qianlong

Published on , by Anne Doridou-Heim
Auction on 15 April 2022 - 14:00 (CEST) - Salle 4 - Hôtel Drouot - 75009

This green nephrite seal from the Qianlong period is a mark of China’s multi-millennial culture.

China, Qianlong Period (1736–1795), square spinach-green nephrite seal surmounted... A Chinese Seal, Treasure of Emperor Qianlong

China, Qianlong Period (1736–1795), square spinach-green nephrite seal surmounted by a lion, the left front paw resting on the wrapped ball, on the reverse, the inscription qin xian zhi bao (“Treasure of the Qianlong emperor, appreciative of talented people”), 7.2 x 8.8 x 8.8 cm/ 2.84 x 3.46 x 3.46 in.
Estimate: €300,000/400,000

Although often recalled, it bears repeating: Qianlong (1736–1795) is believed to have owned 1,800 seals, a thousand of which are in the Forbidden City Museum in Beijing —which means that about 800 are circulating freely. Each of their appearances at auction is met with extraordinary bids, which are reported on these pages. This striking example features a seated lion playing with a beribboned ball. The seal was discovered during an inventory of a private French collection owned by René Georgi (c. 1871–1961), where it slumbered for nearly a century along with some 20 utilitarian objects, all in hard stones.

The choice of nephrite is classic: since the Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE), only imperial seals could be carved in this intensely colored, spinach-green stone. Ministers were not allowed to use it for theirs, a detail allowing us to date this seal to the second part of the reign of one of the two greatest sovereigns of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912), when the empire crushed the revolt of the Altishahr Khojas in 1759 and regained control of the rich nephrite mines in that vast area of Western China.

The stone tells the tale of a cultured “master of the known world” with many victories to his name, who used seals in his palaces to put the stamp of his sovereign approval on official documents, paintings and calligraphies. He always sought to walk in the footsteps of his glorious and respected forbears and to be a guardian of traditions, including the culture of the seal. Each had a specific meaning and a precise purpose. All of them, including this one, feature in the Manual of Emperor Qianlong’s Seals by Qian Weicheng (1720–1772), which is in the Musée Guimet in Paris. The calligraphy on the reverse side says, “Treasure of Emperor Qianlong, appreciative of talented people”. A lion resting its paw on a ball was chosen as ornamentation; it can also be seen as a beast dominating the globe with its might. In any case, the lion was a strong symbol, being the guardian of the empire’s unity and representing power and protection, benefits hoped for in the celestial heights.

Friday 15 April 2022 - 14:00 (CEST) - Live
Salle 4 - Hôtel Drouot - 75009
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