An outstanding Imperial Chinese twelve-leaf screen comprising 64 magnificent porcelain panels depicting tales from Chinese mythology, which may well have graced an Imperial throne room, will be sold at Bonhams Fine Chinese Art sale in London on May 15.
Bonhams estimate it to sell for £800,000 to £1.2m. The immortals are characters from Chinese mythology who symbolize, amongst other things, good fortune and longevity.
In the Imperial halls, such screens were often used as backdrops to thrones, reinforcing the Imperial eminence and stature behind the throne. No cost was spared in their production, using precious materials generously, such as zitan and huanghuali woods, cinnabar lacquer, gilt on black lacquer and embellishments with porcelain panels, hardstones, and cloisonné and painted enamels.
This particular Imperial famille rose and huanghuali twelve-leaf screen is dated to the Jiaqing reign period (1796-1820).
The Qianlong Emperor abdicated his throne in 1796 out of filial respect to his grandfather the Kangxi Emperor, but continued ruling in effect until his death in 1799. Therefore, it is generally recognised that the Imperial taste and demand, as well as the zenith of craftsmanship achieved during the Qianlong period (1736-1795), continued well into the subsequent Jiaqing period (1796-1820). The present screen can be ascribed to this group with its peerless quality combining two mediums, huanghuali wood and porcelain panels, attaining an imposing and opulent effect imbued with symbolism.
Each of the twelve leaves is finely carved from huanghuali, framing the porcelain plaques and set within the massive tiered huanghuali dais. Huanghuali wood, one of the most luxurious close-grained sub-tropical hardwood timbers used from the Ming dynasty onwards, was, and still is, highly sought after for its rich yellow-hued grain.
The twelve leaves of the screen are resplendently inset with 64 famille rose porcelain plaques. These are superbly enamelled with mythical imagery of Daoist Immortals, auspicious flowers and birds, laden with puns, rebuses and symbolic significance.
Asaph Hyman, Director of Chinese Art, commented: “The rare screen is a statement of Chinese Imperial art at its zenith demonstrating Qing dynasty master-craftsmanship. As it was made for a Qing Palace, no cost was spared in its production making use of the finest materials and artisan skills”.