Press release (23 February 2017) from Gov.UK’s Department for Culture, Media & Sport:
A rare Georgian barometer is at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking price of £160,000. Culture Minister Matt Hancock has placed a temporary export bar on the George III mahogany wheel barometer to provide an opportunity to keep it in the country. The piece is one of a small number of its design known to have been made by the renowned Whitehurst family of clockmakers, from Derby. It is one of only nine of this type known to exist, none of which are known to be in a UK public collection.
During the reign of King George III natural philosophy had become increasingly popular, with scientific instruments finding their way into the homes of the elite classes. The ornate decoration of this instrument indicates that it was intended for this purpose. The possible association of the barometer with John Whitehurst makes this item of particular interest. As a clockmaker, instrument maker, and natural philosopher, he was a member of the Lunar Society, became Stamper of Money Weights at the Mint, was painted by Joseph Wright, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Minister of State for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock said: “This beautiful barometer is more than just an instrument: it also gives us a glimpse into the 18th-century home and the increased interest in natural philosophy at the time. As a rare and important item associated with a significant regional workshop, this fine piece offers an intriguing possibility for further study. I very much hope that we can keep it in the UK for this purpose.”
The decision to defer the export licence follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by The Arts Council.
RCEWA member Christopher Rowell said: “The scientifically sophisticated design of this rare Whitehurst barometer is matched by the high quality of the carved mahogany case. No other Whitehurst barometer of this model is in a British public collection, and its retention in this country is therefore highly desirable.”
The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds of the barometer’s outstanding significance to the study of the Whitehurst family’s work. The decision on the export licence application for the barometer will be deferred until 22 April 2017. This may be extended until 22 July 2017 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £160,000 (plus VAT of £2,000). Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the barometer should contact the RCEWA.
Diane KW, The Geldermalsen Triptych: The Harvest, The Catastrophe, The Politics, 2013; found Chinese porcelain shards with digital ceramic transfers (Groninger Museum). The large basin shards in this triptych work recount their history from the order and production of decorated porcelain pieces (The Harvest), to the shipwreck (The Catastrophe) and loss of the porcelain, to the storm of controversy after the sale of the salvaged pieces (The Politics). The triptych was part of the exhibition At World’s End—The Story of a Shipwreck: Works by Diane KW (Honolulu Museum of Art, January — April 2014).
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An upcoming auction in Atlanta recalls a 1752 shipwreck, a 1986 auction and monograph, a 1992 article, a 2014 exhibition, and lots of questions about looted artifacts. There’s a measure of wry tragedy in the fact that this week’s sale takes place at Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery. In a Borgesian universe, one might imagine a litany of items with similarly dubious histories on offer at the gallery. Please, someone write that story! It would make for a fabulous reading at a HECAA luncheon. Or maybe it would work as a theme for structuring a conference panel. Wanted: proposals with rapacious villains, international stakes, ethical quandaries, and plenty of misinformation (‘alternative facts’ to use the current jargon), all as reception history for material that is of genuine scholarly significance. –Craig Hanson
George L. Miller, “The Second Destruction of the Geldermalsen,” Historical Archaeology 26 (1992): 124–31.
Abstract: This review of C. J. A. Jörg’s book on the Chinese porcelain from the Dutch East India Company ship Geldermalsen, which sank in 1752 [The Geldermalsen: History and Porcelain (Groningen: Kemper Publisher, 1986)], addresses some broader questions involved in the destruction of shipwreck sites for commercial profit. These questions grew out of the issue of what relationship scholars should have with those who destroy sites and acquire objects from them. The first part of the article is a review of Jorg’s book, followed by a commentary on the problems that collecting from looted sites raise.
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Blue and white porcelain cups and saucers recovered from the shipwrecked Geldermalsen in 1985
(Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery, Atlanta)
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From the auction press release, via Art Daily (5 February 2017). . .
When the Geldermalsen ship crashed into a reef and sank in the South China Sea during its return journey to the Netherlands in January of 1752, it claimed the lives of eighty crew members who went down with the vessel’s precious cargo of tea, textiles, gold, silk, lacquer, and porcelain. As part of the fleet of the powerful Dutch East India Company commissioned for the Zeeland division, the loss of the mighty Geldermalsen hardly went unnoticed.
Over two hundred years later, a successful salvage expert named Captain Michael Hatcher would excavate the ship and its contents, giving new understanding of eighteenth-century trade demands and the rise of porcelain’s availability. Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery will offer fourteen lots of blue and white porcelain from this incredible salvage from the personal collection of one of the expedition’s private backers. The auction is slated for February 10, 11, and 12, with 11am start times all three days, online and in the firm’s Atlanta gallery at 5180 Peachtree Boulevard.
Hatcher, along with his partner Max de Rham, a marine geophysicist, led a successful team of divers who unearthed the precious bounty that would catapult its already famous hunter into superstardom. ‘The Nanking Cargo’, as it became known by its sale at Christie’s Amsterdam in April of 1985 [sic], contained a massive trove of the aforementioned blue and white porcelain, which was originally potted in China’s Jiangzi province bound for European markets. The sheer scope of this find shed light on the true nature of the market’s demands, as traditional experts had always believed the records kept by the DEIC [Dutch East India Company, or VOC] had exaggerated their shipments of porcelain. Safely protected underwater by the tea loosely packed in wooden crates, the porcelain in the Nanking Cargo represented the range of influence eastern artisans had over western tastes during the eighteen century.
Hatcher and his team had the untouched archives of the DEIC in Holland to thank for locating the whereabouts of this famous—and suspicious wreck. Due to the nature of the disaster—in well chartered waters by one of the world’s most esteemed shipping companies—the DEIC spent weeks interrogating the survivors who had made it to present-day Jakarta on two open boats. Not only was an entire cargo worth of precious porcelain and trade goods missing, but so was the gold, at first believed to be hidden by the survivors. With such detailed records on hand, Hatcher would embark on months of searching, believing his efforts to be worthless until they unearthed the treasure from a three foot layer of silt and coral.
The excitement generated by the find was evident during the first frenzied days of the cargo’s namesake auction at Christie’s Amsterdam. International interest—both financial and historical—had taken hold and this caught the attention of the Chinese government, who tried unsuccessfully to bring the porcelain back to its country of origin. Maritime salvage laws permitted the cargo to go across the auction block, where it broke numerous records and raised a staggering $20 million USD.
Silver huqqa set made up of five separate parts: 1) globular base, ht. 16.9 cm; 2) tobacco bowl, ht. 9 cm and 3) its cover, ht. 7 cm; 4) ring, ht. 5 cm; 5) mouthpiece, ht. 6.5 cm, North India, ca. 1750.
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Press release (18 January 2017) from Gov.UK’s Department for Culture, Media & Sport:
Culture Minister Matt Hancock has placed a temporary export bar on Clive of India’s huqqa set and flask to provide an opportunity to keep them in the country. The Mughal ruby and emerald flask and the sapphire and ruby huqqa set are both at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking price of £6,000,000 for the flask or £240,000 for the huqqa set.
It is believed that Robert Clive, also known as Clive of India, was presented with the flask as a gift following the Battle of Plassey. Clive was governor and commander-in-chief of India and became famous for his victory over the Nawab of Bengal during the battle in 1757. The flask itself is incredibly rare and there is no other object like it anywhere in the world, let alone in Britain. It has a silver interior and a gold exterior decorated in jade, emeralds and rubies. Clive of India also brought the huqqa set back to the UK from India. Set with white sapphires and rubies, it was part of an original collection at the imperial court in Delhi. The huqqa set is considered to be an extremely rare survival as such lavish courtly objects were often broken down for their component parts. It isn’t known how Clive of India acquired the set, but smoking was widespread in India at the time and had become popular amongst the British living there as well. In fact, the British often had themselves portrayed in paintings reclining against brocade-covered bolsters on a terrace, peacefully smoking.
Minister of State for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock said: “These treasures are not only exquisite, they provide us with a glimpse into the fascinating lifestyle and traditions of the Mughal Court and the British presence in India at the time. I hope that we are able to keep these unique artefacts in the country to learn more about this extraordinary history.”
The decision to defer the export licence follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by The Arts Council. The RCEWA made its recommendation on the flask on the grounds of its close connection with our history and national life, its aesthetic importance and its outstanding significance for the study of Mughal political and technical history, the consumption of wine and gift-giving in Mughal India, Clive of India and the British expansion in India. The RCEWA made its recommendation on the huqqa set on the grounds of its close connection with our history and national life and on the grounds of its outstanding significance for the study of Mughal court arts, gold and silver-smithing, jewel-setting, enamelling, and the place of tobacco in the social etiquette of early modern India and its adoption by British administrators in the later 18th century.
Sir Hayden Phillips, Chairman of the RCEWA said: “Apart from the intrinsic quality of these objects, and their outstanding importance for scholarship, the Reviewing Committee was unanimous in its recognition of their emblematic significance for our history and national life. Robert Clive was an outstanding and, indeed, controversial figure, but absolutely central to the creation of British rule in India. His statue, gazing out towards St James’s Park, stands guard at Clive Steps as they lead to the Foreign Office and The Treasury; a tellingly symbolic location for what he contributed to our history.”
The decision on the export licence application for the flask will be deferred until 17 May 2017. This may be extended until 17 November 2017 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £6,000,000 (plus VAT of £1,200,000). The decision on the export licence application for the huqqa set will be deferred until 17 April 2017. This may be extended until 17 July 2017 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £240,000 (plus VAT of £48,000). Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the flask or huqqa set should contact the RCEWA.
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Note (added 24 February 2017) — This ban comes thirteen years after “an earlier attempt to send” the objects “from the UK to Qatar,” as reported by The Art Newspaper (February 2017), p. 10. “After the Qataris withdrew the export licence applications in 2005, they were required to keep the objects in the UK and so lent the flask and huqqa to the V&A. Last year, the museum learned that the loan agreement would not be renewed. Qatar Museums wants to display them in Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art.”
The Americana Collection of George S. Parker II from the Caxambas Foundation, Sale N09605
Sotheby’s New York, 19 January 2017
The Collection of George S. Parker II from the Caxambas Foundation, previously on loan at the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will be offered on Thursday, 19 January 2017. The notable collection includes American and English furniture, silver, paintings and prints, with examples from some of the most distinguished artisans. Furniture highlights include a pair of Philadelphia side chairs attributed to Martin Jugiez; a rare Rhode Island Queen Anne shell-carved, block-front dressing table; an exceptional Philadelphia high chest of drawers attributed to John Pollard; and an important armchair by the same maker once owned by Charles Thomson. Great American portrait painters represented in the collection include John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Sully, and John Trumbull among others. Finally, Mr. Parker’s silver collection comprises several examples from London silversmith Paul Storr and other English makers, including Ebenezer Coker and David Willaume.
Loan exhibition at the 2017 Works on Paper Fair:
18th- and 19th-Century British Watercolours from the Eton College Collections
Works on Paper Fair, Royal Geographical Society, London, 9–12 February 2017
Eton College have kindly agreed to loan 38 watercolours from their impressive College Collection. This exceptional selection contains some of the finest works from the classic period of English watercolour painting that can be seen anywhere in Britain. It represents an opportunity to see watercolours which are rarely on view to the public, and shines a spotlight on the best collection of early watercolours to belong to any school in Britain. Some of the pictures have never been publicly displayed by the school before.
Most of the famous names are represented, and the selection includes work by Alexander and John Robert Cozens (Alexander taught drawing at Eton in the 1760s), Gainsborough, Francis Towne, Thomas Girtin, and J.M.W. Turner. The last is represented by a small watercolour of Chateau d’Arques, near Dieppe, which was published as an engraving in 1836, and a much earlier view from the mid-1790s of Skiddaw and Derwentwater in the Lake District, drawn before the artist visited the Lake District and very much in the manner of the influential Edward Dayes.
Other highlights include works by Edward Lear (The Forest of Valdoniello, Corsica), a large watercolour by Julius Caesar Ibbetson of figures skating (and falling over) on the Serpentine, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1796 with the title Hyde Park—Winter, a Paul Sandby watercolour of Windsor Bridge (with animated figures and a runaway horse), and a large watercolour of Donnybrook Fair outside Dublin by Francis Wheatley dating from circa 1780 and packed with characterful figures, all drawn with the artist’s sublime skill, which belies the improvidence of his personal life.
Since the upsurge of enthusiasm for landscape drawing and watercolour painting in Britain during the final decades of the 18th century, Eton College has been associated with topographical artists and watercolourists. Views of the college from the River Thames, or of Windsor Castle from the Eton side of the river, soon became favourite subjects. Meanwhile Alexander Cozens rented rooms on the High Street in Eton, from where he offered drawing lessons to boys. These first unofficial art lessons, first led by Cozens and then from 1765 by Richard Cooper, began a tradition of professional artists being employed as Drawing Masters at the school, which continues today.
As the Eton College Drawing Schools developed, so too did the college’s collection of Fine & Decorative Art, which now includes some 1,500 drawings and watercolours. The college strives to make this rich resource available to a wide public and hence a selection will be lent for display at the Works on Paper Fair in February 2017. Although exhibitions drawn from the collection have been held at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York (1990); Christie’s, King Street, London (2003), and W.S Fine Art / Andrew Wyld, London (2010), and individual works are at times lent to public exhibitions, many of the works loaned to the fair will be exhibited in public for the first time.
At the core of Eton College’s collection of works on paper are the examples of leaving portraits, which show boys soon after leaving the school, executed in pastel, chalk and watercolour, rather than the more usual media of oil-on-canvas. To these, generous Old Etonian collectors have added impressive assemblages of drawings and watercolours and their donations reflect the particular expertise and passion of the individual benefactors. Alan Pilkington (1879–1973), who worked for his family company of glass manufacturers, started collecting watercolours in about 1920 and presented some 270 mainly 18th- and some 19th-century works in the 1960s and ‘70s. Martin Whiteley (1931–1984), who left Eton in 1948 and returned to become a House Master, began collecting in the 1950s and later gave or bequeathed over 40 works. These two considerable donations inspired others to follow suit. In addition, the college has commissioned or purchased Eton-related landscapes and portrait drawings and Drawing Masters have presented examples of their own work, further enhancing the collection.
Lot 53: Hanukah Lamp, Polish or German, late 18th or early 19th century, bronze, 85 cm. With baluster stem and scroll and bud branches, pricket sconces linked by a brass plate. Sale price (with buyer’s premium): $3,250 (estimate $4,000–6,000).
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Important Judaica Including Property from the Estate of Shlomo Moussaieff Sale N09589 (286 lots)
Sotheby’s, New York, 15 December 2016
The Important Judaica sale began with a significant selection of property from the estate of Shlomo Moussaieff. The group was led by Simeon Solomon’s Carrying the Scrolls of Law, which set a new world auction record for the artist selling for $492,500—nearly double its high estimate of $250,000. Other highlights included a copy of the first English translation of the Jewish liturgy issued for a Jewish audience (1761), which sold—to applause—for $468,500, a record for a work of American Judaica at auction.
The late Shlomo Moussaieff was a renowned collector whose home was a meeting place for connoisseurs from all over the world. Mr. Moussaieff delighted in sharing his treasures with others, and he gave generously of his time and knowledge. Highlights from his collection include a remarkable selection of Kabbalistic manuscripts and a magnificent array of menorahs and Hanukah lamps—mostly of substantial size—featuring examples from Europe and the Middle East. The second part of the auction presented silver and books from various owners. Highlights include two outstanding 18th-century silver Sabbath lamps, a magnificent Italian silver-gilt Torah crown, and important American Judaica, including the earliest Jewish prayer book printed in America (New York, 1761), as well as splendid textiles and paintings.
Lot 270: Large Torah Crown, Venice, early 18th century, parcel-gilt silver, 23 × 22 cm.
Boldly embossed with baroque foliage, fruit and flowers, applied with five urns of flowers within recesses with cut-sheet petals, between cartouches and emblems of the Ark of the Covenant, Priest’s hat, hands of Cohen, priestly garment, and flaming altar, base band with cartouches, all on matted grounds, marked near base with Venice city mark twice and assay master’s mark ZC with tower between twice, the interior fitted with a later bar centered by a ring. Sale price (with buyer’s premium): $225,000 (estimate $180,000–220,000).
Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi, Ganymede and the Eagle,
ca. 1714, bronze, 31.5cm high, 38.5cm wide.
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Important European Sculpture from Tomasso Brothers Fine Art
Carlton Hobbs LLC, New York, 19–28 January 2017
Tomasso Brothers Fine Art returns to Manhattan soon after their participation in the inaugural TEFAF New York Fall to present their now well-established and much-anticipated annual catalogued exhibition of Important European Sculpture, at Carlton Hobbs LLC on the Upper East Side from 19th to 28th January 2017. The gallery will bring together examples of the finest antique sculptural works in terracotta, marble, and bronze—many of them rarities and new discoveries—from the Renaissance to the Neoclassical periods. Highlights include a pair of terracotta relief panels depicting Bacchanalian scenes from Pompeii created by the great English sculptor John Bacon the Elder, circa 1770; a rare bronze mythological group by Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi; a newly-discovered portrait bust by the prominent Roman Neoclassical sculptor Domenico Cardelli; and a superb and previously unpublished bronze by Gian Francesco Susini of The Borghese Satyr.
A series of frescoes were uncovered at the so-called Villa of Cicero at Pompeii in January 1749 illustrating, among other subjects, the revelries of Centaurs and Bacchantes, followers of the god Bacchus. Josiah Wedgwood (1730–1795) had access to the Pompeiian models through the Marquess of Lansdowne (1737–1805). It would seem Wedgwood had the present terracotta roundels faithfully produced after the ancient prototypes around 1770 by John Bacon the Elder, one of the most prominent English sculptors of the period, who collaborated on a number of other occasions with Wedgwood. Highly finished, the roundels are the models from which Wedgwood’s white stoneware and black basalt versions of the Centaur reliefs were derived. They display a confident handling of anatomies and a sense of movement that fully does justice to the lithe dynamism of the original Pompeiian frescoes. The roundels constitute a rare and beautiful example of the early resonance of Pompeii’s influence. Formerly in the collection of Dr. Terry Friedman (b. Terence Friedman in Detroit, Michigan), a leading art historian and authority on 18th-century architecture, keeper of decorative arts at Temple Newsam historic house (1969–93), and later principal keeper at Leeds City Art Gallery.
Another mythological subject, Ganymede and the Eagle, circa 1714, by Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi (1656–1740) is a wonderful example of the dramatic and pictorial style of Soldani’s compositions and a rare model by the artist. The only other known version is held by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Soldani-Benzi became the finest bronze caster in late 17th- and early 18th-century Europe and, along with Giovanni Battista Foggini, is considered the most significant proponent of the Florentine late Baroque style in sculpture. In 1682 Soldani-Benzi became Director of the Grand-Ducal Mint, and his large workshop in the Galleria degli Uffizi enjoyed the patronage of kings, princes, and dukes. The present work is probably one of the four bronzes ordered by the Earl of Burlington (1694–1753) after seeing terracotta models at Soldani’s studio on his Grand Tour.
A rediscovered portrait bust by Domenico Cardelli (1767–1797) of Prince Francis Xavier of Saxony (1730–1806) is a highlight among works in marble to be presented. Cardelli displayed remarkable talent from a young age, enjoying early patronage from members of the Polish court and Grand Tourists in Rome. By 1793 his work was compared to that of Canova by the art historian Georg Zoega. In 1797 Cardelli was summoned to Naples to complete a commission for the Riario-Sforza family but fell gravely ill during the journey and died, at only 30 years of age. This untimely death shortened a most brilliant career and makes the present marble portrait bust—a recent rediscovery by Tomasso Brothers Fine Art—a major addition to Cardelli’s oeuvre.
An unpublished and newly-discovered bronze statuette of The Borghese Satyr by Gian Francesco Susini (1585–1653) is a beautifully finished reduction of one of the most impressive and admired ancient marble statues in the Borghese Collection, Rome—currently displayed in the Entrance Hall of the Villa Borghese. The statuette, immaculately modelled after its ancient prototype, displays the characteristic traits of Susini’s oeuvre. These include the remarkably high and detailed quality of the casting, the silky-smooth polished texture of the surface, the use of a warm cherry red lacquer, and the size of the bronze.
Works to be offered at the exhibition range in price from $50,000 to $1,500,000 US, and a fully-illustrated catalogue will be available.
William Hogarth, The Christening, ca. 1728.
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Press release (16 November 2016) from Gov.UK’s Department for Culture, Media & Sport:
Culture Minister Matt Hancock has placed a temporary export bar on a satirical painting by William Hogarth to provide an opportunity to keep it in the country. The Christening by William Hogarth is at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking price of £1,223,100.
William Hogarth is considered to be one of the most important figures in eighteenth-century British art and culture. He was known for his satirical artwork, and The Christening was his first painted comical scene. It shows a christening taking place in a wealthy but disorderly home. From the little girl about to knock over the christening bowl, to the dog about to rip apart the hat on the ground, the painting is a satirical scene of contemporary life in the eighteenth century. The painting marks Hogarth’s beginning as a satirical artist and demonstrates his development into comical artwork.
Culture Minister Matt Hancock said: “Hogarth is known as one of our greatest ever satirists, and this is a significant early example of his work. The painting provides a valuable insight into eighteenth-century life. Satire is an important part of our cultural heritage, and as a fan of Hogarth’s work I hope it can remain in the UK for the public to enjoy.”
The decision to defer the export licence follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by The Arts Council. The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds of its outstanding significance for the study of William Hogarth, as well as for the study of the cultural, literary, and historical life of the eighteenth century.
RCEWA member Lowell Libson said: “Hogarth’s importance in imbuing art and artists with a sense of a national character at a time when England was consolidating its international position as the dominant economic and political power cannot be underestimated. This important painting demonstrates Hogarth’s concern with the effects that this new affluence had on all sectors of society. Hogarth himself noted that “my picture was my stage,” and The Christening, a small, beautifully executed painting, is a deceptively charming and significant early precursor of the great cycles of modern moral paintings and their related engravings. Its retention in this country would considerably add to the story we can tell of a painter who helped define our national identity.”
The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred until February 15, 2017. This may be extended until May 15, 2017, if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £1,223,100. Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements, where appropriate, may also be considered by Matt Hancock. Such purchases frequently offer substantial financial benefit to a public institution wishing to acquire the item.
Imperial matchlock musket, made for the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–1795), Qing Dynasty. The gun bears the imperial reign mark on top of the barrel, and incised on the breech of the barrel are four Chinese characters that denote the gun’s ranking: te deng di yi (‘Supreme Grade, Number One’).
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‘Supreme Grade, Number One’ Imperial Matchlock Musket
Sotheby’s, London, 9 November 2016
At Sotheby’s in London, the first Chinese firearm with an imperial reign mark ever to be offered at auction sold for £1,985,000 (US$2,461,400 / HK$19,198,920). The gun—a brilliantly designed and exquisitely crafted musket, produced in the imperial workshops—was created for the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty (r. 1736–1795), arguably the greatest collector and patron of the arts in Chinese history. Estimated at £1–1.5 million, the firearm ignited a ten-minute bidding battle, finally selling to an Asian private collector.
Robert Bradlow, Senior Director, Chinese Works of Art, Sotheby’s London, said: “This gun ranks as one of the most significant Chinese treasures ever to come to auction. Today’s result will be remembered alongside landmark sales of other extraordinary objects that epitomise the pinnacle of imperial craftsmanship during the Qing dynasty. Over the last 10 years we’ve seen the market for historical Chinese works of art go from strength to strength, with collectors drawn from across the globe and exceptional prices achieved whether the sale is staged in London, Hong Kong, or New York.”
The musket bears not only the imperial reign mark on top of the barrel, but in addition, incised on the breech of the barrel, are four Chinese characters that denote the gun’s peerless ranking—the exceptional grading te deng di yi, ‘Supreme Grade, Number One’. This grading makes it unique among the known extant guns from the imperial workshops and asserts its status as one of the most important firearms produced for the Qianlong Emperor.
The advent of Western firearm technology sparked the production of muskets in the imperial workshops, and this modern mode of weaponry had unquestionable advantages over the traditional bow and arrow for hunting. Using only the most luxurious materials, imperial muskets were created in very small numbers for the Qianlong Emperor. While the Emperor is unlikely ever to have held a gun in battle, he would regularly hunt with a musket.
The Supreme Number One is closely related to six celebrated, named imperial Qianlong muskets in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, which appear to correspond with seven muskets listed in the Qing work Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty with Illustrations. These guns were probably graded in the same way as the Supreme Number One, but of lower grade and/or number (‘Supreme Grade, Number Two’, ‘Top Grade, Number 2’).
Revered as one of the most powerful ‘Sons of Heaven’, the Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799) was the longest-lived and de-facto longest-reigning emperor in Chinese history (r. 1736–1795). In the 60th year of his reign (1795), the eighty-five year old Qianlong Emperor declared his abdication, lest he surpassed the 60-year reign of his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662–1722). In a grand coronation ceremony the following year, his fifteenth son took position of emperor, though the Qianlong Emperor continued to rule China as the Qing dynasty’s only, and China’s last, Emperor Supreme.
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Note (added 11 November 2016) — The original version of this posting included a view looking down the barrel of the gun. Once the posting was published, I was struck by how threatening the photo could appear to some (myself included). The point of the posting was to highlight something of the collection (and market interest in the collection) of the Qianlong Emperor. I didn’t mean to make the world a more hostile place. It’s been a tough enough week without more guns pointed at anyone. It was a mistake, and I’m sorry. –CH
Bolognese School, after engravings produced by Jan Wandelaar, Front and Back Views of a Skeleton with Clara the Rhinoceros,
ca. 1750, oil on slate.
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Now on view at Colnaghi’s new London gallery:
Colnaghi, London, 6 October — 4 November 2016
Vanitas is the term given to artworks on the theme of the fragility of man and his desires in the face death, which itself could be understood simply as the end to life or, by believers, as the passage from the material world to the hereafter. The genre became particularly popular with the production of still-lifes featuring skulls and other human remains in the seventeenth century, but obsession with death and decay was already widespread in the fifteenth century, as it was in Roman times. It continued well into the eighteenth century and beyond and has been forcefully expressed by contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst and Guido da Pascale (who produced one of the terracotta sculptures in the show).
The word vanitas itself is Latin for ’empty’. In the medieval and early modern periods, it was associated above all with Ecclesiastes 12:8 (which many people knew from the Latin Vulgate Bible), “Vanitas vanitatum dixit Ecclesiastes omnia vanitas” (“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”). Skulls and skeletons expressed most directly the concept of memento mori or “remember you must die,” an expression reminding victorious Roman generals that they too were mortal. They also cast bronze skeletal Larva Convivialis, giving them to revelers at feasts and banquets. Other common vanitas subjects were rotten fruit, withering flowers, bubbles, and candles (all reminders of the fragility and brevity of life), hourglasses (marking time), and musical instruments and expensive trinkets (symbols of the futility of sensuous pleasure). These appeared in dozens of late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century paintings by artists such as such as Jacques de Gheyn (1565–1629), Jan Vermeulen (active 1638–1674), and Antonio de Pereda (ca. 1611–1678). For early modern Christians, these reminders of mortality warned against the worldly excesses of the present, inviting the beholder to turn to God and prepare the soul for the hereafter.
In Italy—from where many of the pieces originate—meditation on vanitas preoccupied Baroque artists and writers so greatly that death seemed everywhere. It was as if—according to Pierrobert Scaramella and Alberto Tenenti—life were lived over a gigantic cemetery, reflected in the building of innumerable churches as ossuaries and the rediscovery of practices and cults of Purgatory. Alfonso Maria de Liguori’s L’Appareccho all morte, published in 1758, became the most widely read Italian manual about preparing for death. Now, however, the theme of vanitas became increasingly sardonic and satirical. A Remondini engraving from the second half of the eighteenth century depicts a ‘double macabre portrait’: a gentlewoman, encircled by the classic vanitas objects, is portrayed with full breasts and rich clothes but in the place of her face is a skull; the same woman shows the spectator a male portrait, probably her husband, another skull but this time wearing a fashionable powdered wig. The illustration is entitled Omnia vana and written beneath it is “Così ti convin dir come diss’io, anni fugaci età caduca a Dio [“So you should say as I say, fleeting years, age is immaterial to God”].
• Pierroberto Scaramella and Alberto Tenenti, Humana Fragilitas: The Themes of Death in Europe from the 13th Century to the 18th Century (Bergamo: Ferrari Editrice, 2002).
• Alberto Veca, Vanitas: Il Simbolismo del Tempo (Bergamo, 1981), p. 164.