Pair of Qianlong Imperial Lapis Lazuli ‘Da Ji’ Plagues Sold for £743,250 at Christie’s London

At Christie’s autumn sale in London, a pair of imperial lapis lazuli ‘da ji’ double-gourd form plagues fetched £743,250, more than six times its estimate of £120,000-180,000, realising the highest price at the sale. Let us take a closer look at them and see what’s so special about them.

The pair of imperial lapis lazuli ‘da ji’ double-gourd form plagues were hammered down at £610,000

With an overall height at 48.2cm, the pair of plagues perfectly exemplify the craftsmanship of skilled workers in the Qing imperial court. Each of these large plaques is in the form of a double gourd carved from a single piece of lapis lazuli – both pieces being of unusually deep, even, slightly translucent blue. The two most likely sources for this lapis are north-eastern Afghanistan, and the area west of Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. In view of the depth of colour, it seems probable that the lapis came from the Lake Baikal region.

The front surface of each plaque bears a complex vine, also with curling tendrils, which bears jade leaves and rose quartz blossoms and small double gourds. Combined with the larger gourds (gua) carved on the plaques themselves, these smaller coral and ivory gourds (die) suggest the phrase guadie mianmian ‘May you have endless generations of sons and grandsons’.

Double gourds were popular motifs, which represented abundance and fertility because of their many seeds, and also longevity through their links with Daoism. One of the Eight Daoist Immortals, Li Tiegui (Iron-crutch Li) is often shown carrying a gourd containing magic potions, as well as the iron crutch which gives him his name.

The iridescent blue feathers of kingfisher birds were used as an inlay for art objects

The iridescent blue feathers of kingfisher birds were used as an inlay for art objects

Around the waist of each plaque is a delicately depicted blue ribbon, which owes its bright turquoise colour to precious, unusually well-preserved, kingfisher feathers. Tian-tsui is a style of Chinese art featuring Kingfisher feathers. The iridescent blue feathers of kingfisher birds were used as an inlay for fine art objects and adornment, from hairpins, headdresses, and fans to panels and screens.

Two white jade characters in the upper and lower circular panels on each plaque read daji (highly auspicious). The zitan stands are inset with jade, gilt-bronze and stained ivory.

The pair of plaques were acquired by Daniel Beale (1759-1842) and his brother Thomas in China in the 19th century. They were Scottish Merchants active in Mumbai, Guangdong and Macau, dealing in Indian cotton, sandalwood, tin, pepper, and Chinese tea. In 1797 they were described as the most prominent of the trading houses on the Chinese coast. The current lot is being offered for sale by a direct descendant of Daniel Beale.

The second top lot of the sale – a white jade marriage bowl, Qianlong, was hammered down at £260,000 and sold for £323,250, three times its estimate of £100,000-150,000.  Bowls of this type, known as 'marriage' bowls were often presented as wedding gifts, as their carefully chosen auspicious decoration symbolised the joyful union of husband and wife. The present marriage bowl is also notable for its thinly-carved lobed sides embellished with upright acanthus leaves and bud-form feet executed in the Mughal style, a style which is much admired by the Qianlong Emperor.

Also ranked in the second top spot was a longquan celadon brush washer, xi, Southern Song dynasty, which was hammered down at £260,000 and sold for £323,250, surpassing its estimate of £80,000-120,000. Kilns for the production of Longquan celadon ware were located in Longquan county in southwestern Zhejiang province in the south of China.

The production started in the early Northern Song period and reached its height in the Southern Song period to the early Ming dynasty. Overall a total of some 500 kilns have been discovered, making the Longquan celadon production area one of the largest historical ceramic producing areas in China.

The present washer is covered overall with an unctuous glaze of even bluish-green tone that is suffused with a few crackles to the interior. This washer has been kept in a private Japanese collection after its acquisition in Japan in the 1970s. There are several known comparable examples in Museum collections.

The cover lot of the sale, a Qianlong gilt-bronze bell from Yamanaka collection (est. £800,000-1.2m), and a Qianlong faux bronze moon flask (est. £600,000-800,000), failed to find a new owner. Yet, the sale was able to deliver a fair result with a sell-through rate of 70%, selling 159 of all 277 lots offered. The sale total was bolstered by numerous lots with their final prices surpassing the estimate.

A Qianlong gilt-bronze bell from Yamanaka collection failed to sell

Top three lots

A Very Rare and Magnificent Pair of Imperial Embellished Lapis Lazuli ‘da Ji’ Double-gourd-form Plaques
Qianlong Period (1736-1795)

Lot no.: 116
Height: 48.2cm

  • Collection of Daniel Beale (1759-1842), acquired in China in the 19th century.

Estimate: £120,000 - 180,000
Hammer price: £610,000
Price realised: £743,250

A Finely Carved White Jade Marriage Bowl
Qianlong Period (1736-1795)

Lot no.: 129
Width: 30.5cm

  • Property from a private English collection

Estimate: £100,000 - 150,000
Hammer price: £260,000
Price realised: £323,250

A Rare Longquan Celadon Brush Washer, Xi
Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279)

Lot no.: 19
Diameter: 17.2cm

  • Private Japanese Collection, acquired in Japan in the 1970s.

Estimate: £80,000 - 120,000
Hammer price: £260,000
Price realised: £323,250

Auction summary

Auction house: Christie’s London
Sale: Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art
Auction date: 5 November 2019
Lots offered: 277
Sold: 159
Unsold: 68
Sold by lots: 70%
Sale total: £5,986,000