Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory and tortoiseshell. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country.
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE ENGLISH COLLECTION
Daniel Beale (1759-1842) and his brother Thomas were Scottish Merchants active in Mumbai, Guangdong and Macau, dealing in Indian cotton, sandalwood, tin, pepper, and Chinese tea. In 1797 they were described as the most prominent of the trading houses on the Chinese coast. In order to subvert the East India Company's monopoly they became in succession the Prussian Consul in Canton. Partnerships at that time were fluid but latterly their partnership became Beale & Magniac from which Jardine Matheson originated.
After Daniel Beale had returned to England his brother Thomas was ruined by an unwise speculation in a joint venture with Judge Miguel de Arriaga, whose official position should have precluded commercial activity. Thomas lived on in his fine original Portuguese house, the garden of which boasted a splendid aviary, much admired by contemporary travellers. He was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Macau.
The current lot is being offered for sale by a direct descendant of Daniel Beale.
Post Lot Text
Luxurious Good Fortune
Rosemary Scott, Senior International Academic Consultant
When these sumptuous daji (highly auspicious) plaques were commissioned, it is clear that the patron for whom they were made stipulated that no expense should be spared in their production. The plaques are constructed of precious materials of the highest quality. Each of these large plaques is in the form of a double gourd carved from a single piece of lapis lazuli – both pieces being of unusually deep, even, slightly translucent blue. The two most likely sources for this lapis are north-eastern Afghanistan, and the area west of Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. In view of the depth of colour, it seems probable that the lapis came from the Lake Baikal region, interestingly, an area in which nephrite jade has also been found.
The relief carving on the lapis plaques depicts more double gourds – also known as bottle gourds – on their vines accompanied by well-defined leaves and tendrils. Double gourds were popular motifs, which represented abundance and fertility because of their many seeds, and also longevity through their links with Daoism. One of the Eight Daoist Immortals, Li Tiegui (Iron-crutch Li) is often shown carrying a gourd containing magic potions, as well as the iron crutch which gives him his name. Daoist fairies are also often depicted with double gourds from which fly five red bats – representing the Five Blessings. As a specific rebus, bottle gourds on a vine huluman and vines with tendrils mandai, suggest the phrase hulu wandai ‘May you have numerous descendants’.
The front surface of each plaque bears a complex vine, also with curling tendrils, which bears jade leaves and rose quartz blossoms and small double gourds. A further double gourd vine in stained ivory encircles the base of each plaque. Combined with the larger gourds (gua) carved on the plaques themselves, these smaller coral and ivory gourds (die) suggest the phrase guadie mianmian ‘May you have endless generations of sons and grandsons’. Flying around the vine are red bats carved from coral. In the Chinese arts bats (fu) provide a rebus for happiness (fu), while red, as well as being the most auspicious colour is pronounced (hong) the same as a word meaning vast or ample (hong), thus red bats symbolize vast happiness. There are five bats on the lower section of each plaque, which represent the Five Blessings, mentioned above, of longevity, health, wealth, love of virtue, and a peaceful death. In addition, there are three further bats on the upper section of each plaque, bringing the total number on each plaque to eight – the most auspicious number.
Around the waist of each plaque is a delicately depicted blue ribbon, the ends of which flutter down the sides to the base. These blue ribbons owe their colour to precious, unusually well-preserved, kingfisher feathers. The blue tied ribbons (shoudai) also provide another rebus - this time suggesting a wish for longevity (shou). The overall message of the plaques is made clear by the two white jade characters which appear in the upper and lower circular panels on each plaque. These read daji (highly auspicious). While double gourd shaped plaques bearing these two characters are known in a number of media, from porcelain to cloisonné enamel, it is extremely rare to find them rendered in such extravagant materials. This extravagance is particularly apparent in the panels themselves, which are made with kingfisher feathers used to highlight the 卍 wan (ten thousand) diaper ground, and rubies decorating the frame.
Each plaque appears to stand in a shallow dish or tray, which contains ornamental rocks made of lapis lazuli and flowers made of rose quartz and turquoise-tipped anthers. This arrangement is reminiscent of the penzai ‘tray planting’, which has been a feature of Chinese gardens and interior decoration for centuries. The name penzai is pronounced bonzai in Japanese, and in the West has come to be applied to miniature plants grown in trays. The other Chinese name for tray arrangements is penjing ‘tray landscape’, which better explains the inclusion of ornamental rocks alongside the miniature plants.
The luxurious nature of this pair of plaques continues in their stands, which are exquisitely made of stained ivory, jade and zitan. The exterior of the trays themselves are made of beautifully carved and pierced stained ivory, while between the trays and the upper part of the stands is a band of wood delicately inlaid with silver wire. The upper part of the stand suggests a Buddhist lotus throne and is decorated with descending lotus petals, filled with white jade lotus flowers framed by green jade foliage. The hexagonal horizontal surface on which these petal panels rest is framed by a miniature stained ivory balustrade, carved and pierced with archaistic scrolls. Below this, the six feet are joined by a stained ivory apron carved and pierced with vegetal scrolls. However, these feet do not support the plaques, which is just as well, since they would have been too fragile to survive intact over the years. Each plaque is, in fact, supported on a carved hardwood stand, while the ivory feet do not bear any weight.
These large plaques have been made by very skilled craftsmen using the most precious materials to create not only items of exceptional brilliance and presence, but also numerous auspicious messages – expressed not only in the daji characters, but in the careful choice of motifs in order to provide rebuses wishing the recipient abundance, numerous descendants, the Five Blessings, and longevity. It would seem likely that such extraordinary plaques would have been commissioned for the birthday of a very important personage. Indeed, this pair of lapis lazuli double gourd plaques would have been a fitting gift for the emperor.