Simply put, they had a million dollar vase fit for an emperor tucked away in the family kitchen. And its history and value would not be revealed until the late 1990s. It was then that Mark Newstead, a scholar of Asian ceramics and artwork, first saw the worthy object. ‘a museum. Here is the incredible story of a kitchen souvenir that became an international treasure.
Dreweatts is delighted to present an exceptionally rare Chinese vase created in the 18th century for the court of Emperor Qianlong, which will be offered on Wednesday May 18 in our Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art auction.
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A million dollar vase
The vase is striking even to the untrained eye, and that’s probably what helped preserve it for decades away from its original location. It stands about two feet tall and contains a collection of symbols related to the sixth emperor of the Qing dynasty, the country’s last imperial dynasty. The Qianlong Emperor ruled China from 1735 to 1795, and the vase was intended for much more than interior decoration.
It features the color “sacrificial blue”, which alludes to its function in imperial animal sacrifice rituals. The hope was that these sacrifices would ensure a good harvest each year. The intense blue of the vase can still be seen today in Beijing, decorating parts of the Temple of Heaven.
For the intricate designs of the vase, the artist used a mixture of silver and gold, painting a variety of animals, objects and subjects from nature, including flutes, fans, bats, cranes and clouds. These symbols linked to the Taoist beliefs of the time, meant a long and well-lived life for the emperor.
A rare and amazing find
Along with the vase’s historical heritage, it features decorations that Newstead says are “technically very difficult to achieve and that’s what makes it so special and unusual” (via Live Science). The combination of silver and gold required extraordinary skill in porcelain painting, and the creation of the vase is said to have been supervised by Tang Ying (1682-1756). Tang Ying headed the Imperial Porcelain Factory located in Jingdezhen, and he developed the necessary technique for the intricate silver and gold ornaments on the vase.
Moreover, the vase would have remained close to the emperor. Newstead believes he probably resided in the iconic Forbidden Palace or another of the Emperor’s palaces. Of course, this leads to a somewhat confusing question about provenance. After all, how did a prized object from one of China’s imperial palaces end up in a humble kitchen in the UK? While the masterpiece’s background story remains sketchy, the story suggests a few possible answers.
The Qianlong Emperor reigns over a China torn apart by numerous rebellions. Although political and social upheaval marked the period, so too did a thriving art scene. The juxtaposition of these two disparate climates likely led to the relocation of the vase miles away in England. That’s a nice way to put it. Spelled, the vase is believed to have ended up in the hands of foreign troops in the 19th or 20th century, plundered from the nation.
At least it’s a theory. Some add a nicer twist to it, saying it could have been a gift from one of the Emperor’s court officials to a British diplomat. Unfortunately, no documents have been discovered to support this claim. The mystery of the vase’s origins may never be solved. As Justin Jacobs, professor of history at American University in Washington, DC, notes, “We just don’t know [how the vase left China] and we probably never will.
While we may never have the full story of how the Qing Dynasty sacrificial blue vase ended up in a UK kitchen, the mystery of its value has been solved. The vase was recently auctioned, fetching £1.2 million (about US$1.5 million). That has to make it one of the most expensive home decor items in recent memory!
By Engrid Barnett, contributor for Ripleys.com
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Source: Qing Dynasty vase used as kitchen decor sells for £1.2million