Last week, Poly Auction Beijing staged their Spring Sales.
Throughout five consecutive days, all departments combined achieved a sale total of RMB 1,754 million (around US$259 million). The most expensive lot was from Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art department, going to a huanghuali incense table with drawer board, which fetched RMB 41.9 million (around US$6.2 million).
In their Chinese Works of Art Sale, a pair of imperial zitan cabinets from Qianlong period (1736 - 1795) and a 17th century gilt bronze Vajradhara Buddha from Mongolia realised more than RMB 20 million (around US$2.9 million).
Lot 5563 | Xiang Yuanbian-style Huanghuali Inlaid Marble Incense Table with Drawer Board
Created during late Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
54 x 42 x 70 cm
- Important private collection in Suzhou
Estimate: RMB 8,000,000 – 12,000,000
Sold: RMB 41,975,000 (around US$6.2 million)
Starting at RMB 7.6 million, the lot attracted 49 bids and achieved a hammer price of RMB 36.5 million, higher than its pre-sale low estimate of RMB 8 million by more than 5 times. In the end, it fetched RMB 41.9 million (around US$6.2 million).
Apart from its material huanghuali wood, another thing that makes the table stands out is the marble, which appears to be a landscape painting made of natural stone. The dark green pattern mimics the undulating mountains against a cloudy haze. Inlaid with marble accompanied by a drawer board, there is no other extant published huanghuali example similar to the present lot.
The inlaid marble
Furniture with seal marks is rare. On the present incense table, five seals can be found – one unrecognized, possibly of its collector; four of its owner, Xiang Yuanbian (1525 – 1590), a distinguished connoisseur and collector of the late Ming Dynasty – making it even more coveted among collectors.
Coming from a wealthy family, Xiang Yuanbian formed a grand collection of paintings, calligraphy, jade and playthings – which was desribed as second to none at the time.
Nowadays, his seals are still on many of the surviving top scrolls and some of his collections have been passed down to the present day. However, for his furniture, there are only three examples that are known to exist – a marble drawing board, where its whereabouts is unknown; a huanghuali desk with lacquer coating, now kept by a Chinese collector; and the present lot.
One of the four seals
One of the four seals
Lot 5562 | Pair of Red Sandalwood High Relief Top Cabinets
Created during Qianlong period (1736-1795)
210.5 x 101 x 55.8 cm
- Ledongping Collection of Tongrentang
- Old collection of Beijing Cultural Relics Company
- Old collections of important private collectors
- Hanhai Auction Beijing, 26 June 2006, Ancient Curiosities, Lot 2501
- Poly Auction Beijing, 3 December 2014, Lot 5623
Estimate: RMB 12,000,000 – 22,000,000
Sold: RMB 20,700,000 (around US$3 million)
The lot was last auctioned at Poly Auction Beijing in 2014, when it sold for RMB 22.4 million (around US$3.3 million). This time, its performance went slightly sluggish, having fetched RMB 20.7 million (around US$3 million).
Massive in size, the present pair represent a luxurious use of zitan, one of the rarest and most precious woods in the world. Zitan wood is distinguished by its rhinoceros-horn-like colour, and turns purplish-black after prolonged exposure to air. It was used as a material for household objects and furniture during the Ming and Qing dynasties, but this practice gradually faded by the late-Qing period due to its scarcity.
Zitan woods are slow growing and require centuries to fully mature into usable material. Historically, zitan was primarily grown in India and southeast Asia, with a limited quantity available in China.
With a jade-like silky texture, fine grain and subtle aroma, zitan became Emperor Qianlong’s most favoured wood type and he spared no expense in acquiring it. As an imported commodity, its use was scrupulously monitored and carefully restricted, only available by imperial decree to the master craftsmen at the Imperial workshops.
Cabinets of this type were commonly constructed in pairs and could be placed on opposing walls, flush with each other, or separated by a smaller piece of furniture. Due to their impressive size, compound cabinets were intended to serve as a central focal point of the interior space.
The density of zitan wood makes this material especially suitable for fine and intricate carving. An imperial furniture, the present pair showcase the high standard of workmanship achieved at court – exquisitely carved with Chinese auspicious motifs including dragon and double fish.
Lot 5661 | Gilt Bronze Vajradhara Buddha with Consort | Mongolia
Created during 17th century
Height: 36.5 cm
- Important Asian private collection
Estimate: RMB 10,000,000 – 15,000,000
Sold: RMB 20,125,000 (around US$2.9 million)
This sculpture was created in Mongolia – during the 17th century under Zanabazar’s tutelage – who was one of the most influential figures in Mongolia’s Buddhist history. He was the first Bogd Gegeen, a 17th-century Head of State and Faith. As an intellectual leader, he was renowned for having ushered the nation into a cultural renaissance and as the founder of the Mongolian sculptural style.
This main Buddha sculpture wears a five-leaf crown, a gourd-shaped high bun on the top of the head, a large conch-shaped pearl on the top of the bun, and the rest of the hair is braided and drapes down on both shoulders. With a solemn and benevolent demeanour, its face is round, while the eyes are looking down. Looking further down, the Buddha has broad shoulders and waist, as well as a strong body and limbs. Clad in a monk’s shawl, the upper body is decorated with a beaded necklace and the shoulders are covered with silk.
This current Buddha is depicted in a tight embrace with his consort
Vajrasattva Shakri, late 17th-early 18th century, gilt copper alloy with painted details, Height: 25 cm | Rossi & Rossi
Facing the Buddha, the consort crosses her legs around the enlightened being’s waist and her hands are behind his neck. Adorned with earrings, bracelets and drapery – similar to the main sculpture – the consort’s upper body is bare and her breasts are shaped into a squeezed state. The main Buddha sculpture and his consort are tightly embraced by the technique of integral casting and completely integrated into a whole, which is rare in twin sculptures in other regions and styles.
Several other Mongolian-style double statues are known – such as the bronze and gold-plated Vajradhara sculpture that Zanabazar hand-made in 1683 and enshrined in the Tengyeling Monastery in Mongolia; and the gilt copper alloy sculpture of Vajrasattva Shakti collected by prominent British art dealer, Rossi & Rossi.
Zanabanzar self-portrait, late 17th or early 18th century, mineral pigments on cotton, 64 x 47 cm | Museum of Fine Arts, Ulaanbaatar
Auction House: Poly Auction Beijing
Sale: Spring Sales
Date: 25 - 29 July 2022
Sale Total: RMB 1,754 million (around US$259 million)