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Chinese art in the year of the dragon fires buyers imagination at Bonhams
Imperial jade seal. Estimate: £1m to £1.5m. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- The Year of the Dragon, the most auspicious year to be born in according to Chinese culture, has come around again and Bonhams next auction of Fine Chinese Art on May 17 in London includes a number of dragon-linked items.

Asaph Hyman, Department Director of Chinese Art at Bonhams, says: “The dragon is one of the most revered mythical animals in China since the Neolithic period to this day and was associated with Imperial authority and the Emperor.”

Among these fascinating dragon objects there are four that stand out.

1. The first is an Imperial Qianlong seal featuring three chi dragons.An important Imperial green jade double-gourd ‘San Xi Tang’ seal, of the revered Qianlong period (1736-1795), it is estimated to sell for over £1m. The seal is carved in an auspicious double-gourd form, associated with longevity as well as representing Heaven and Earth. The upper section is carved with three chi dragons (chilong), analogous to the hall name in the Forbidden City where it was housed, the Hall of the Three Rarities (San Xi Tang). Estimate £1m to £1.5m.

2. The second item is a very rare pair of gilt-decorated tripod libation cups, with iron-red Qianlong four-character seal marks and of the period (1736-1795). They feature pairs of five-clawed dragons, each one unusually clasping a flaming pearl in one of its front claws. Estimate £250,000-350,000.

These vessels known as Jue were used as ritual vessels for wine as early as the Shang dynasty, and the form was subsequently imitated, particularly in the Qing dynasty, in various media including later bronze and rhinoceros horn. However it is more unusual to find porcelain jue surviving intact, particularly given the fragile nature of the material, and to find a matching pair is yet more remarkable.

3.Thirdly, there is a very fine three-colour lacquer 'nine dragon' domed circular box and cover, Qianlong (1736-1795).The entire box is carved on the exterior through three thick layers of lacquer. The high-domed cover bears a full-faced five-clawed dragon grasping at a flaming pearl trapped within its coiling body. Estimate £70,000-90,000.

The Qianlong period saw active guidance from the Emperor himself over the production of court lacquerware. The style developed under his direction is recognisable for its opulence combined with precision knifework. The present box and cover illustrates this with its full, pillowing shape, enhanced by the three layers of colours, together with sharply precise and vigorous carving of the nine dragons.

4. The fourthdragon-bearing item is a superb and very rare pair of pale green jade vases from the 18th century carved with supreme skill and simplicity from pale green stone of astonishing lustre and even tone. Each vase boasts one large and one small chilong dragon of remarkable definition and character, with long coiling split tails swirling elegantly around the vase neck. The pair of jade vases is a remarkable achievement of the finest of Qing Dynasty jade craftsmanship and would almost certainly have been made for the Imperial court. Estimate £120,000-180,000

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