Rare Chinese vase created for the Qianlong Emperor discovered in a kitchen in England

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Rare Chinese vase created for the Qianlong Emperor discovered in a kitchen in England
A rare imperial Qianlong porcelain vase. Estimate £100,000-£150,000.

LONDON.- Dreweatts announced the discovery of an exceptionally rare Chinese vase created in the 18th century for the court of the Qianlong Emperor. It was purchased by a surgeon in the 1980s for a few hundred pounds and passed from the original owner to his son, who also, not realising its true value positioned it in his kitchen. It was only when a visiting antiques specialist spotted it, that its true value and history was revealed.

The colossal vase is two feet tall and bears the distinctive six-character mark of the Qianlong period (1736-1795) on its base. It is believed that its Imperial past and exceptional quality and craftsmanship, will attract a lot of attention both here and abroad when it is offered in Dreweatts upcoming auction of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art (Part 1) on May 18th, 2022.

Commenting on the vase, Mark Newstead, Specialist Consultant at Dreweatts for Asian Ceramics and Works of Art, said: “We are delighted to be able to offer this important vase to the market which, since I first saw it in the 1990’s has passed through two generations of the same family.”

The vase is an extraordinary example of imperial Qianlong porcelain and is significant for its highly unusual enamelling techniques, with a striking palette of gold and silver against a vivid blue ground. The rich cobalt blue is often referred to as 'sacrificial blue', deriving from the use of vessels in this colour glaze being used during sacrifices at the Imperial Altar of Heaven. It is extremely rare to see blue vases painted in both gilding and slightly raised silver, thought to be due to the medium being difficult to control.

This vase therefore, is a testament to the skills and creativity of craftsmen working during the Qianlong period in exploring and perfecting enamelling techniques, to cater to the Emperor’s taste for the innovative and exotic. Such a vase would require at least three times of firing in the kiln, of the three different glazes and enamels. First at over 1200℃ for the cobalt blue, then at a lower temperature for the turquoise green on the interior of the vase, finally the gold and silver enamels in a special kiln designed for enamels.

The name of this shape of vase in Chinese is ‘Tianqiuping’, meaning ‘heavenly globe vase’, which alludes to Chinese iconography, where heaven is represented as a sphere. This explains the large globular shape of the vase, which references heaven.

The exceptional quality, monumental size, and imposing presence of this vase, as well as its fine and auspicious decoration, would have rendered it suitable for prominent display in one of the halls of the Qing palace. Thrillingly no other porcelain decorated with the same subject in gold and silver appears to have ever been documented.

As a devout Buddhist the Qianlong Emperor was also a follower of Daoism with a wish for longevity. This desire is expressed in the sliver cranes on the vase, which hold an emblem for each of the eight immortals associated with Daoism including: a flower basket, flute, fan and castanets on the vase’s body. The flying cranes and bat also carry auspicious messages for longevity and prosperity. This spectacular vase bears a six-character mark of the Qianlong period (1736-1795) and carries an estimate of £100,000-£150,000.

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