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A MAGNIFICENT AND RARE PAIR OF IMPERIAL CLOISONNÉ ENAMEL AND PAINTED SILK LANTERNS
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A MAGNIFICENT AND RARE PAIR OF IMPERIAL CLOISONNÉ ENAMEL AND PAINTED SILK LANTERNS

18TH CENTURY

Details
A MAGNIFICENT AND RARE PAIR OF IMPERIAL CLOISONNÉ ENAMEL AND PAINTED SILK LANTERNS
18TH CENTURY
The detachable square top sections with canted corners and applied on each side with delicately painted silk panels, the openwork frame with a meandering lotus scroll and a fish on either side, all surmounted by a circular openwork section with further meandering lotus scrolls, the gently flaring stands with a swollen mid-section and supported on a base of crashing waves surrounded by openwork gilt-bronze borders, the gently splayed feet with large lotus blooms borne on leafy scrolls
21¼ in. (54 cm.) high (2)
Provenance
The Farrow Collection, Jersey, Channel Islands.
Special Notice

VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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Caroline Allen
Caroline Allen

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Lot Essay

An Exquisite Combination of the Arts of the Painter and Enameller
Rosemary Scott, International Academic Director, Asian Art

This pair of superb lanterns brings together the skills of the enameller creating delicately reticulated cloisonné stands, with those of the painter on silk creating eight elegant panels through which the flickering light would have shone.
Cloisonné items on which there is extensive reticulation are very rare. While a number of imperial cloisonné braziers have reticulated upper sections, these are usually made of gilded bronze rather than having cloisonné enamel decoration, and this is usually the case with other forms. However, smaller sections of pierced cloisonné can be seen on a selection of shapes. The 'endless knot' which is one of the Eight Buddhist Emblems is pierced on some cloisonné imperial Qianlong altar sets, such as that in the collection of the Phoenix Art Museum (illustrated by B. Quette (ed.) in Cloisonné - Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, New York, 2011, p. 271, no. 93). The upper extending flange of a Qianlong cloisonné elephant, vase and gourd group in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum (illustrated ibid., p. 274, no. 100) is also reticulated, as are the lingzhi sprouting from a pair of imperial Kangxi vases in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei (illustrated Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties, Taipei, 1999, p. 99, no. 28). The wheels on a number of eccentric cloisonné items made for the Qianlong emperor are reticulated, such as those on a censer in the form of a chariot in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum 43 Metal-bodied Enamel Ware, Hong Kong, 2002, p. 121, no. 117). Although on a significantly larger scale, the reticulated cloisonné work closest in approach to the current lanterns appears on the aprons of an 18th century table in the Palace Museum Beijing (illustrated ibid., p. 160, no. 152). It is also interesting to note the extensively reticulated cover on an imperial Qianlong perfumier with painted enamels in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei (illustrated Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties, op. cit., pp. 250-51).
A rare counterpart among court lanterns is a pair of three-storey cloisonné lanterns preserved in the emperor's private living quarters in the Yangxin dian in the Forbidden City, Beijing (illustrated Life in the Forbidden City of Qing Dynasty, Beijing, 2007, p. 115, nos. 176 and 177). These appear to have extensive reticulation, including on the main panels, which are in cloisonné rather than the silk seen on the current examples. Interestingly, although the main panels on the Beijing lanterns are essentially rectangular, rather than square like the current lanterns, they too have canted corners, rendering them more precisely octagonal.
The delicate painting of the silk panels on the current lanterns reflects court painting style of the 18th century, and, within their theme of bucolic idyll, the subject of each has been chosen to convey a particular message. Each lantern has painted panels which complement in subject, as well as in style, the panels on the other. Each of the lanterns has one panel in which a pair of white egrets is depicted in a natural setting - in one case the birds are wading and fishing in a river with rocks and bamboo at the water's edge; while on the other panel the birds stand on the river bank, again with rocks and bamboo. Egrets have long been a popular subject for Chinese artists, particularly painters and jade lapidaries. Egrets with their pristine white feathers and the patient way in which they wait for fish, are often seen as symbols of an incorruptible official. While the general word for egret in Chinese is lusi, the ancient name was duo, which also means 'plenty'. The word for' to eat' and the word for 'ten' sound the same - shi, while the word for 'fish' is yu, which sounds like the word for 'abundance'. Thus an egret eating a fish can suggest the phrase yiduo shiyu, meaning 'Plenty and ten abundances'.
Two of the panels on each lantern suggest a scholar-official in retreat from the cares of office, relaxing in the countryside and admiring blossoming lotus. Lotuses have long been admired by Chinese literary men and have appeared in both paintings and poetry for centuries. Perhaps the most famous admirer of lotuses was the Song dynasty Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhou Dunyi (AD 1017-73). In addition to his influential philosophical writings, Zhou was also the author of a short essay entitled Ai lian shuo 'On the Love of the Lotus, in which he comparers lotuses to chrysanthemums and peonies. His admiration for the flower is based upon the fact that it rises unsullied from the muddy waters, it has no distracting centre, it grows straight on a slim stem without extraneous creeping vines or branches, it has a mild fragrance, and is enjoyed at a distance - not too intimately. To Zhou Dunyi the chrysanthemum was like a recluse, the peony was like an important, wealthy person, while a lotus was like a gentleman. It is possible that one, or both of the scholars seated in pavilions overlooking lotus ponds on panels from the lanterns are supposed to depict Zhou Dunyi. However, this is not certain since this was a popular occupation amongst cultured gentlemen and, for example, there are several court 'life portraits' of the Yongzheng Emperor seated in a pavilion gazing over a lotus pond (see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum 14 Qing Dynasty Imperial Palace Paintings, Hong Kong, 1996, p. 91, no. 12.1; p. 108, no. 16.6; p. 114, no. 17.6; and p. 133, no. 20.6).
Of the two panels depicting lotus ponds without pavilions, one shows a scholar strolling across a bridge, accompanied by a young attendant, while the other depicts a fisherman punting his boat across the lotus pond. In the boat is a large vase containing lotus blossoms and leaves. It was a recurring dream of Chinese scholar-officials to see themselves as simple fisherman, spending their days at a leisurely pace on the river. While the large vase of lotuses suggests the elegant boating parties held on lotus ponds, during which lotuses would be collected and placed in just such large receptacles.
Lastly, each lantern has a panel painted with pale pink and white hibiscus - one depicting the plant alone, and the other showing a golden pheasant perched on a rock beside a flowering hibiscus. The inclusion of hibiscus amongst panels which have water as part of their theme is appropriate, since hibiscus naturally grows near water. The Chinese name for hibiscus is mufurong, which provides a rebus for 'wealth' fu and 'glory' rong. But it is also known as jushuang meaning 'resists frost'. Hibiscus is one of the nine autumn flowers. Chinese poets have also called the hibiscus zujiu furong or 'intoxicated hibiscus' because the flowers open in the morning as pale pinkish white blossoms, but become deep pink in the evening, resembling the flush that wine brought to the cheek of a beautiful woman. On the panel where the hibisicus is combined with a golden pheasant, the latter may suggest an increase in rank for the owner of the lanterns, since the golden pheasant appears on the rank badge of the second highest rank of civil official. The word for pheasant in Chinese is zhi, which sounds like the word for 'order'. Rocks in Chinese symbolism can stand for longevity. Thus this combination of elements could suggest longevity enjoyed with wealth and glory in a time of order or peace.

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