Vase to break records

Nicolas Chow and the glass vase; a highly important Beijing enamelled, pouch-shaped, glass vase, blue enamel mark and period Qianlong. Expected to fetch in excess of US$ 25 million.

A SURVIVOR from the Great Qing Dynasty 1636-1911 is an exquisite glass vase which is ‘going under the hammer’ at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on October 8.

The pouch shaped vase was designed and made in the Winter Palace of Beijing, usually described as the Forbidden City. It is said to have been created to the direct order and supervision of the Emperor himself. This dimimutive treasure is unique in almost every respect; in terms of shape, design execution and size.

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The rarity of this enamelled glass treasure is reflected in the difficulty of its production. The vase is a vessel that evokes a bottle, wrapped in a cloth pouch tied with a ribbon withal brilliantly enamelled design of phoenixes soaring amid clouds and peonies.

Its production would have required the cooperation of several palace workshops as well as the highest level of skill from both the imperial artisans in the glass house and the imperial painters in the enamelling workshops.

Nicholas Chow, chairman of Sotheby’s Asia , said: “This season we are particularly honoured to have been entrusted with arguably one of the finest objects ever made in the Forbidden City and one of the greatest examples of Qing dynasty held in private hands.

Ravishingly beautiful and superbly achieved, the importance of the Qianlong enamelled glass vase, for the history both of Chinese glass and enamelling, cannot be overstated. This is the finest, largest and most complex piece of imperial glass to survive.”

The bottle or vase, and its companion piece of the same scheme yet of a different designs, though complimentary were not necessarily meant as a pair.

These vases may be the only large pieces of their kind in existence and the only ones of such a complex shape.

The imperial craftsmen had no thermometers; relying on experience to gauge temperature; each enamel forged at a different temperature, the craftsmen of the Imperial Household’s workshops began with the enamel with the highest temperature, ending with the lowest.

The larger the size the greater the difficulty, the bulk of surviving Qing enamelled glassware are snuff bottles and far smaller than this vase. An impeccable provenance; according to an imperial order listing of 1738 this vase was created during the early years of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign.

Just two pieces resulted from this order; the present bottle and a companion piece of the same form and colour scheme, though to a different design and now in the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

Created for the Qianlong Emperor, the bottle and its companion piece remained in the Imperial Household until the end of the Qing Dynasty before entering the collection of Prince Gong, later passing into the hands of AW Bahr and then Paul and Helen Bernat before being acquired by the current owner in 2000 for US$2.1 million, becoming part of the Le Cong Tang Collection.


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