MASTERPIECES OF THE ENAMELLER'S ART FROM THE MANDEL COLLECTION
ROSEMARY SCOTT, INTERNATIONAL ACADEMIC DIRECTOR ASIAN, ART
This remarkable group of exquisite cloisonne enamels was amassed by the American collectors Dr. Samuel and Annette Mandel of Palm Beach, Florida. In his youth Sam Mandel lived in Brooklyn, near the Brooklyn Museum, to which he was a regular visitor. In those days the museum had relatively few visitors, and Sam was able to revel in the opportunity to enjoy the exhibits unhindered by crowds. It did not occur to him that in later life he would own comparable pieces himself. After Sam and Annette married in 1963, they were able to pursue their love of art together and began collecting as a couple in the mid-1960s. In the early years they concentrated on modern and impressionist art, French furniture, Roman and Russian art. Their modern art collection, which included works by many of the most admired artists, such as Picasso, Joan Miro, Alexander Calder, Jean Dubuffet, Cezanne, Modigliani, Jackson Pollok, Willem de Kooning, and Andy Warhol, was sold in 1999. They did not begin collecting Chinese art until 1980, and Dr. Mandel recalls that initially the Chinese pieces were, to an extent, 'accessories' to the French furniture, although they also collected Chinese furniture - both Ming dynasty huanghuali and cinnabar lacquer furniture. As they grew knowledgeable about Chinese cloisonne, however, the Mandels became passionate collectors to the extent that they made seven trips to Hong Kong in a single year in order to purchase spectacular pieces. They undoubtedly succeeded in this, acquiring a range of rare and magnificent items - a striking number of which are in pairs.
Sam and Annette Mandel have also been generous donors to a number of international museums. They have donated both Chinese antiquities and contemporary art to institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. They have also donated Chinese art to the Norton Museum of Art, the Boca Raton Museum of Art and the Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art. In addition they have donated contemporary art to museums including The Museum of Modern Art, the Queens Museum of Art, the Studio Museum of Art in Harlem and the Nassau County Museum of Art.
The first piece of Chinese cloisonne enamel they acquired was the imposing imperial fangding rectangular square censer dating to the Qianlong reign (1736-95) Lot 3908. This was a remarkably astute first purchase, since the vessel represents not only imperial enamel work from an especially revered reign period, but an exceptionally successful blending of archaistic and contemporary decorative themes characteristic of fine decorative arts made for the Qianlong Emperor. The Emperor was an avid collector of both contemporary art and antiques, and many of the decorative arts made for his court took the inspiration for their form and decoration from antique objects - particularly ancient bronzes. This censer is unusually large and bears a four-character Qianlong reign mark in black enamel within a blue rectangle on its base. The form of this fangding is inspired by the ritual bronze vessels of the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BC), and it is recorded in the palace Archives that the Qianlong Emperor had great admiration for a fangding vessel believed to have been made for King Wen (1099-1050 BC), founder of the Zhou dynasty, which is illustrated in the second volume of Xuanhe bogutu - an illustrated catalogue of the antiques in the collection of the Northern Song Emperor Huizong (r. 1101-25), who may be regarded as the first of the great imperial antiquarians(1). A bronze fangding still preserved in the palace collections bears an inscription linking it to King Wen (2), and, although it is now believed to have been made in the 16th or 17th century, it appears to have inspired the form and decoration on vessels in a range of different materials - including bronze, porcelain, jade and cloisonne - in the late Ming and Qing dynasties(3). On four separate occasions - in AD 1738, 1750, 1775 and 1778 - the Qianlong Emperor commissioned imperial cloisonne vessels in this form, and it is probable that the Mandel fangding is one of those specially commissioned pieces. The vessel displays an unusually fine combination of archaistic and contemporary decoration. The body of the piece has well-adapted versions of taotie and kui dragon designs, while the lid is decorated with classically powerful five-clawed Qing dynasty imperial dragons writhing through clouds above waves.
Another magnificent imperial cloisonne enamel censer subsequently acquired by the Mandels is a massive globular tripod censer supported by three cranes Lot 3915. The decoration of this censer contains a wealth of auspicious wishes. The solid areas of the pierced lid are in the form of ruyi, suggesting 'everything as you wish'. The three cranes, which support the body of the vessel are symbols of longevity and also harmony. The Chinese word for crane is he, which is a homophone for the word for harmony, and thus cranes represent peace. Their long legs were described as resonating with the harmonies of nature and Heaven. Cranes are also known to live for many years and thus have become associated with long life, and are often depicted amongst the familiars of the Star God of Longevity, Shoulao. Folk tales tell of cranes which lived for more than 600 years, and they are credited with carrying souls to Paradise. Xiwangmu, the Queen Mother of the West, is supposed to have ridden on the back of a crane when she travelled across the sea. In repose the crane appears to be contemplating, and so it has also become a symbol of wisdom, and because it responds to the calls of its parents it is also regarded as a symbol of filial piety.
The importance of cranes as auspicious symbols to the ruling house was demonstrated as early as the reign of Emperor Huizong of the Northern Song dynasty, who personally painted a flock of cranes, which were seen flying above the palace in AD 1112, since he felt that such an auspicious event should be recorded(4). In the 18th century court artists were frequently required to paint cranes by their imperial patrons, both in informal portraits of the imperial family, and in court paintings focusing solely on cranes. Among those paintings preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing, are Shen Quan's (1682-1760) hanging scroll, Pine, Plum and Cranes, dated by inscription to AD 1759(5). While, reminiscent of Huizong's 12th century work, Yu Xing's (1692-after 1767) hanging scroll, Cranes against Sky and Waters, c.1747, bears an inscription by the Qianlong Emperor and twelve Qianlong seals(6). Even the famous Jesuit artist Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), known in China as Lang Shining, who served the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Emperors, painted a number of representations of cranes. Among these are the hanging scroll, Cranes and Flowers, which included two cranes chicks(7), as well as the impressive Pines and Cranes(8).
The theme of cranes is continued in the two-dimensional decoration on the censer, where they are combined with spotted deer. The latter are also considered auspicious since they, like cranes, are familiars of Shoulao, the Star God of Longevity. They are also symbolic of the emolument commensurate with career advancement. The theme of deer provides the major decoration on a pair of spectacular vases Lot 3911 in the Mandel collection. Vases of this type are better known in porcelain and decorated in famille rose enamels, and it is significant that the handles on these vases are of similar shape to those seen on their porcelain counterparts. However, while the porcelain handles are usually painted with a combination of iron red enamel and gold, the handles on these cloisonne vases are glittering gilt bronze, which provides an effective contrast to the richly coloured cloisonne enamels. Interestingly, while the porcelain vases usually concentrate on the depiction of deer, these Mandel cloisonne deer vases also include auspicious cranes interspersed with the deer. The landscape also includes lingzhi fungi - the fungus of immortality, and pine trees, which provide an additional wish for long life.
As on the porcelain vessels, the deer on the current vases are depicted in a landscape with rocks and trees, which is perhaps intended to suggest one of the imperial parks. The Qing imperial parks were usually well stocked with deer, and it appears that the Qianlong emperor took a personal interest in them. On the one hand hunting was an important activity to the Qing emperors and there are a number of surviving paintings showing the Qianlong emperor engaged in deer hunts, such as Troating for Deer, by Giuseppe Castiglione, dated AD 1741 (9). On the other hand a poem by the Qianlong emperor inscribed on the back of a cloisonne enamel plaque decorated with deer in a river landscape from the collection of S. Soames, notes that the deer with their young in the royal park are free from fear of attack by archers' arrows because they are protected by imperial decree(10). It seems probable that the emperor sought to protect the deer at the time of year when they were vulnerable and raising their young.
The auspicious combination of deer, cranes and pine trees can also be seen around the exterior sides of an impressive fish basin Lot 3910 in the Mandel collection. On the exterior base of the vessel is a design of prunus blossom on a background of cracked ice. This design was also a favoured one, especially at New Year, since the combination of prunus blossom - usually the first of the blossoms - and cracked ice was seen as the harbinger of spring. The interior of the basin is decorated with fish, other water creatures and aquatic plants. Fish have remained a popular theme in the Chinese decorative arts and can convey a range of auspicious messages, most of them based upon the sound of the word. The word for fish itself yu sounds like the word for abundance or surplus. Thus two or more fish represent multiplied abundance and gold fish jinyu suggest an abundance of gold or gold and jade, suggesting great wealth. Fish in water provided a rebus for yushui hexie 'may you be as harmonious as fish and water'. Two of the fish in the Mandel basin appear to be carp, and the word for carp is pronounced li, which sounds like the word for profit, and thus two carp would represent doubled profit, although li is also a homophone for the Confucian concept of moral uprightness.
Two fish basins of similar size to the current piece, and decorated with similar deer in landscapes scenes on the exterior and fish on the interior, are in the collections of Pierre Uldry, and the Avery Brundage collection in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. In their catalogue to the Uldry Collection Brinker and Lutz suggest the probability that the Uldry and Brundage basins were a pair(11). The existence of the current basin suggests that there may originally have been two pairs of these basins. The fourth basin, making up the two pairs, is probably the one from the Love Collection sold by Christie's New York on 20 October 2004, lot 611. Brinker and Lutz, writing in the Uldry catalogue, also note in relation to the Uldry basin and an incense burner from the same collection that: 'that an almost simultaneous origin in the second half of the eighteenth century, and in one and the same workshop, presumably the palace workshop in Beijing, can be unreservedly claimed for both pieces'(12).
A particularly rare vessel in the Mandel Collection is the large ewer decorated all in white enamel Lot 3903. All white vessels are rare amongst cloisonne enamels, but are appropriate for Buddhist use, and this ewer is of the type used in Tibetan or Lamaist Buddhist ritual, known either as a liangmu or, more usually, as a duomuhu. The term duomu literally means 'vessel for butter' in Tibetan. Such vessels are associated with the serving of Tibetan buttered tea, but were also used to contain butter, wine or milk(13). These ewers were made during the Qing dynasty in a variety of materials, including gold, gilded copper, silver, and ceramics. This form was probably originally made of strips of wood or bone, which were held together with leather or metal straps. A rather modest early version of the form made of qingbai glazed porcelain was found in a Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) tomb at the Yuan capital, Dadu. Although this is somewhat less cylindrical in form than the Qing dynasty version, it bears porcelain reproductions of the strapping and studs from the form's origins in another material - probably wood or bone(14). Interestingly all the Qing dynasty examples have retained vestiges of this strapping - in the case of the white cloisonne ewer four relief bands, including one at the base. The Kangxi Emperor (1662-1722) was the first of the Qing dynasty emperors to fully embrace Tibetan Buddhism, but the Qianlong Emperor followed his grandfather's lead and within the Forbidden City itself he commissioned the construction of the Pavilion of the Rain of Flowers, which was specifically intended for the practice of Lamaist Buddhism. The elaborate cloisonne enamel altar within a circular stone and wood structure in the Pavilion of the Rain of Flowers, has on each side a large tiered and stepped arrangement with a large double vajra. On one side this is made of white cloisonne enamel with lotus scrolls and Buddhist emblems similar to those on the Mandel ewer (15).
Amongst the most magnificent pieces in the collection are the superb, and unusually large, caparisoned elephants Lot 3907. This pair of 18th century elephants represent the finest quality of Qing cloisonne enamel. Interestingly, when the Mandels bought these elephants they were unaware of their prestigious provenance - simply appreciating them as exceptional works of art. However, when the English art dealer Michael Gillingham, formerly of Spink & Son, came to their home and saw the elephants he immediately recognised them as the ones that had been purchased from the estate of the British politician and statesman Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), who served as Prime Minister from 1940-45 and from 1951-55. They were subsequently bought by the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis (1906-75), who in turn gave them to the famous soprano Maria Callas (1923-77).
The word for elephant in Chinese is xiang, which can also mean 'sign', and which additionally sounds like a word meaning happiness. Elephants also provide other messages when combined, for example, with precious vases. The word for vase in Chinese is ping, which sounds the same as the word for peace. The combination of an elephant with a vase on its back thus suggests the phrase taiping youxiang, 'when there is peace there are signs'. As in the case of these elephants from the Mandel collection, that message is re-emphasised by the inclusion of a saddle cloth, the name for which is an, sounding like another word for peace. Because of their symbolic significance, elephants with vases on their backs - usually in gilt bronze and cloisonne - were frequently placed on either side of the imperial throne. Today similarly large cloisonne elephants can still be seen flanking the throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City (16). This is the most important of the imperial halls, where the Qing emperors ascended the throne, where they attended the three major annual festivals, and where they granted audiences. A pair of smaller cloisonne elephants can still be seen flanking the throne in the Eastern Warm Chamber in the Hall of Mental Cultivation in the Forbidden City (17). This chamber was where Empress Dowager Cixi held audiences with ministers during the reigns of the Tongzhi and Guangxu Emperors.
The Mandel collection also includes a pair of mythical beast censers Lot 3920, of the type that stood in front of the throne, on either side of the throne dais. These large cloisonne and champleve creatures are luduan, a mythical animal with a single horn and scaly body, that was believed to be capable of distinguishing between good and evil. Censers of this form thus protected the emperor and ensured that he was both virtuous and wise. A pair of these censers can still be seen today on the throne dais in the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City (18). Amongst the figural pieces in the Mandel collection are several pairs of mythical beasts of various types. In addition to the luduan, there is a rare pair of recumbent animals with fierce expressions and bared fangs Lot 3913, which have Qianlong marks. Their fierce demeanour is lessened, however, by the fact that their bodies are decorated with multicoloured flowers.
The collection also includes two pairs of qilin Lots 3918 and 3914. The first pair depicts the creatures standing four-square and facing forward. The second pair are censers, and the animals turn their heads towards each other, while each carries a seated boy on its back. The qilin is one of the most important mythological animals in China. It is regarded as an entirely benevolent creature, and although it is horned, the horn is believed to be soft and thus unable to inflict harm. Tradition also suggests that the qilin only appears during the reign of a wise and just monarch, thus qilin were favourite subjects for court artists and craftsmen. It is symbolic of longevity, happiness, wise governance, and illustrious sons. Indeed, one of its most important roles is associated with the phrase qilin songzi, or the qilin will bring sons, which is why boys ride the qilin in Lot 3914. This promise of an heir was important for every family, but especially for an emperor. Specifically the desire was for an illustrious son, and it is significant that the mother of Confucius is supposed to have seen a qilin spitting out a jade book shortly before his birth.
Particularly beautiful is a rare pair of peacock censers Lot 3909 in the Mandel collection. In China, as early as the Han dynasty peacocks are found in literature, such as the well-known yuefu called 'A Pair of Peacocks Southeast Fly, which tells a tale of the unwavering devotion between a couple torn apart by their families. By the Tang dynasty peacocks were well known in China, and indeed some districts paid tribute in peacocks, their feathers being used both for imperial decoration, and for the designation of official rank(19). Later, in the Ming dynasty, the peacock became established as the insignia of civil officials of the third rank. However, as early as the Tang dynasty peacock feathers were apparently bestowed on both civil and military officials as marks of imperial favour, rewarding faithful service. In the Qing dynasty imperial fans were made of peacock feathers.
In Buddhism, the peacock is particularly associated with the Bodhisattva Avolokitesvara (Guanyin). One of the stories relating to the Chinese Guanyin tells of Guanyin summoning a large bird with dull plumage, sweeping her hands across her own face and then over the feathers of the bird. The bird was suffused with brilliant lights and colours, to the extent that other creatures had to look away. When they looked back they saw that each of the bird's 100 tail feathers contained an eye. Guanyin explained this by saying that, as she was unable to be omnipresent in watching over them, the eyes in the peacock's tail would keep watch for her and remind them of her constant care(20).
The green peafowl Pavo muticus is found today in Southeast Asia and north-eastern India, Tibet, and the south-western Chinese province of Yunnan. Indeed the city of Jinghong, which is the capital of the Xishuangbanna Dai Nationality Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan province used to be known as Jingyong, the 'City of Peacocks'. From there peacock feathers were sent to the court as tribute, and men of this area were famous for their peacock dances. This tribute in peacocks, as well as his pleasure in watching the birds when he was at leisure, was noted by the Qianlong Emperor in his inscription on an anonymous scroll painting in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, entitled Emperor Qianlong watching the Peacock in its Pride, although he specifies that these birds were sent as tribute by foreign envoys(21). This painting shows the emperor observing two male peacocks in the gardens of the imperial garden.
The Qianlong Emperor's fascination with the exotic is well illustrated by the peacocks, and the Chinese court of the 18th century was also fascinated by exotic foreigners. This occidentalism found an outlet in a number of ways, including the depiction of foreigners from the west in the decorative arts. A pair of very rare pricket candle holders in the Mandel collection perfectly represent this interest in foreigners Lot 3906. As is often the case, the human figures supporting these candle holders are almost caricatures, but although they are obviously a pair and wear identical clothing and head-bands, they appear to be intended to represent men from different regions. While both have similar musculature, bulbous eyes and large noses, one has thick straight hair, moustache and beard, while the other has curly moustache, beard and even curly eyebrows.
This collection has a number of pairs of vessels, as well as figures. Usually the pairs are made up of two separate vessels, but in a small number of cases the vessels are joined together, as in the extremely fine 'champion vase' Lot 3904. The 'champion vase', a shape also seen in bronze and jade, gets its name from its iconography, since the two cylindrical vessels are held together by a gilt bronze eagle standing on a gilt bronze bear. The combination of the Chinese words for eagle ying and bear xiong provides a homophone for a term meaning hero or champion. The Mandel vessel is very rare in having retained its cover. Such vessels are also sometimes referred to as hejingbei or 'marriage cups', as during the Ming dynasty the two joined containers would be filled with wine, which would be drunk by the bride and groom as part of the wedding ceremony.
Amongst the pairs of vessels, which are separate, a pair of large moon flasks are of particular note Lot 3905, both for their size and the quality of their decoration. On one side of the flasks quails are depicted accompanied by peaches and chrysanthemums. The peaches represent long life. The quails are homophones for peace, while the word for chrysanthemum in Chinese sounds like the verb 'to dwell'. Taken together these motifs suggest a wish for a long life lived in peace. On the other side of the flasks cranes are depicted amongst pine trees and peach trees. All three - cranes, pine and peaches - are symbols of longevity. In view of the themes of the decoration, it seems probable that these flasks were made as an important birthday gift.
On an even larger scale is the magnificent imperial censer or brazier Lot 3912. Such braziers are decorative art objects of the highest quality, but they were also functional. Beijing is very cold in winter and the limited under-floor heating, few stoves and heated kang were not sufficient to keep the inhabitants of the Forbidden City even moderately warm. It was quite usual to have to breath on an inkstone in order to unfreeze the water so as to be able to grind ink for writing, and in the winter of AD 1723 the weather was so cold that Emperor Yongzheng ordered the chief eunuch to put more braziers in the Hall of Supreme Harmony where the palace examinations were in progress, to prevent the brushes and inks from freezing and thus allow the candidates to write.
The halls of the Inner Court also had additional heating in the form of charcoal-burning braziers. These braziers ranged from large multi-tiered cloisonne enamel vessels, like the current example, to simple cages the size of a water melon. Most palace braziers stood on three of four feet. Some were completely plain and utilitarian, while others were decorated to different degrees. Heating in the Palace was supposed to commence on 'Stove Lighting Day' - the first day of the eleventh lunar month, and each person in the Imperial Household was allowed a certain amount of fuel depending on their rank. In the Qianlong reign, for example, the empress and the dowager empress were allowed 55 kg., imperial concubines of the first rank were allowed 45 kg., imperial concubines of the second rank received 37.5 kg, while sons of the emperor were granted 10 kg and grandsons of the emperor were allowed 5 kg. Overall the different types of heating in the palace consumed a huge amount of fuel. In fact 25 kg each of normal charcoal and best quality charcoal were used every day just to maintain the temperature of the water in which fish were kept in the Palace of Eternal Harmony. Octagonal braziers similar to that in the Mandel collection, but with elephant feet rather than mask feet, still stand either side of the steps leading onto the throne dais in the Palace of Heavenly Purity in the Forbidden City(22).
The last of the cloisonne pieces bought by Dr. and Mrs. Mandel was the Wanli (1573-1619) dragon plaque Lot 3901. It would appear that they were admiring the slightly larger example in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, when a gentleman came up to them and imparted the information that he had a slightly smaller one. This was the plaque they eventually bought. It is interesting that while they had largely concentrated their attention on cloisonne enamels from the Qing dynasty, the final example that they acquired should be from the preceding Ming dynasty, although it continued the imperial theme - depicting two five-clawed dragons amongst multicoloured clouds with a 'flaming pearl' between them.
This is an exceptional collection of cloisonne enamelled wares carefully assembled by collectors with a genuine passion for this branch of the Chinese decorative arts.
(1) National Palace Museum, Taipei, Through the Prism of the Past: Antiquarian Trends in Chinese Art of the 16th to 18th Century, Taipei, 2003, p. 302, fig. 2.
(2) ibid., p. 95, no. II-08.
(3) ibid,. pp. 176-9, nos. III-45-III-47.
(4) Illustrated by Richard M. Barnhart in Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting, New Haven and London, 1997, p. 123, pl. 114.
(5) E. S. Rawski and J. Rawson eds., China - The Three Emperors 1662-1795, London, 2005, p. 362, no. 268.
(6) E. S. Rawski and J. Rawson , op. cit., p. 363, no. 269.
(7) The Selected Painting of Lang Shih-ning (Josephus Castiglione) Volume I, Hong Kong, 1971, no. 13.
(8) Collection of Paintings of Giuseppe Castiglione, Tianjin, 1998, p.114-115, no. 91.
(9) Illustrated The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum 14 Paintings by the Court Artists of the Qing Court, Hong Kong, 1996, p. 155, no. 33.
(10) Sir Harry Garner, Chinese and Japanese Cloisonne Enamels, London, 1962, p. 93, pl. 77.
(11) H. Brinker and A. Lutz, Chinese Cloisonne - The Pierre Uldry Collection, New York, 1989, no. 322 and p. 141, Fig. 71.
(12) ibid., p. 141.
(13) Shanghai Museum, Treasures from Snow Mountains - Gems of Tibetan Cultural Relics, Shanghai, 2001, pp. 195-7, nos. 105-7.
(14) Christie's Education, Treasures from Ancient Beijing, New York, 2000, no. 8.
(15) Illustrated by Yu Zhuoyun (chief compiler), in Palaces of the Forbidden City, New York and London, 1984, p. 190-1, pls. 211-2.
(16) Illustrated by Yu Zhuoyun (chief compiler), in Palaces of the Forbidden City, New York and London, 1984, p. 66-7, pl. 41.
(17) Illustrated by Wan Yi, et al. in Daily Life in the Forbidden City, Harmondsworth and New York, 1988, p. 64, pl. 86.
(18) Illustrated by Yu Zhuoyun (chief compiler), in Palaces of the Forbidden City, New York and London, 1984, p. 66-7, pl. 41.
(19) Katherine M. Ball, Decorative Motives of Oriental Art, John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd., London, 1926, p. 222..
(20) M. Palmer, J. Ramsay and Man-ho Kwok, Kuan Yin - Myths and Prophecies of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion, HarperCollins, London, 1995.
(21) Illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum 14 Paintings by the Court Artists of the Qing Court, Hong Kong, 1996, pp. 192-5, no. 42.
(22) Illustrated by Wan Yi, et al. in Daily Life in the Forbidden City, Harmondsworth and New York, 1988, p. 193, pl. 277.