The Buddhist Legitimacy of the Yongle Emperor
2014 SOLD for HK$ 350M including premium
The Prince took power in a coup four years later, 1402 in our calendar. His nephew, who perished in the fire of the imperial palace after having revived the feudal war, was scholar minded and supported by the Confucians. The new emperor erased from the annals the reign of his predecessor of whom he massacred the followers, took the name Yongle meaning Perpetual Happiness and immediately began to prepare for the transfer of the capital from Nanking to Beijing.
The ambitious Yongle could not appear as a usurper : he offered to himself a Buddhist legitimacy. He invited the Karmapa, who was one of the most important sages of Tibetan Buddhism and got his power through reincarnation.
The trip of the Karmapa from Tibet to Nanking lasted four years, during which Yongle organized the Buddhist tribute to his deceased parents and prepared lavish gifts. The stories of miracles performed by the Karmapa were propagated and contributed effectively to assure the power of Yongle, now firmly established as Hongwu's heir.
On November 26 in Hong Kong, Christie's sells a wonderful silk thangka embroidered with silk and gold threads, lot 3001. This monumental piece 3.35 x 2.13 m is in perfect condition with bright colors of great beauty.
According to the concerns of Yongle, its theme is the victory over death. The central character with a bright red head is Raktayamari, the Conqueror of Death, who embraces his wife and mercilessly tramples the blue body of Yama the Lord of Death lying on the back of a buffalo. The top and bottom of the image display some deities inviting to Buddhist devotion.
This piece includes the presentation mark of Yongle. The existence of two thangkas of same quality in a monastery in Lhasa along with the fact that the thangka for sale was in Sikkim in the 1940s reinforces the assumption that it had actually accompanied the Karmapa in his return trip.
The Yongle Mark on a Buddhist Figure
2013 SOLD 236 MHK$ including premium
At the beginning of his reign, 600 years ago, his sympathy for Buddhism is clearly stated. Relying on a meeting with an important Tibetan scholar, it is accompanied by the announcement of miracles.
Nothing is simple with the Yongle emperor. His personal preference went certainly to Confucianism, and such a pro-Buddhist movement could be a strategy to reduce the influence of the Yuan.
During his reign, the massive gilded bronze statues reach a perfection of form, proportions and beauty of attitudes. This peak of Chinese Buddhist art will continue into the reign of Xuande.
On October 8 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells a statue 55 cm high with the mark of Yongle. The absence of color traces goes against the Tibetan tradition and suggests that this Buddha was designed for the use of the imperial court.
Seated on a double lotus, Shakyamuni Buddha displays an attitude of complete serenity. His eyelids are closed despite the temptation from the demons in the last events preceding his enlightenment. A hand towards the ground shows that he does not forget the realities.
Here is the link to the catalog. The estimate beyond HK$ 50M has been indicated in the press release of August 28.
POST SALE COMMENT
Buddha had all the qualities, and it is the same for this statue: beauty of carving and gilding, perfect expression, important period. It was sold for HK $ 236M including premium.
Yongle - A Masculine Yongle Meiping
2011 SOLD 168 MHK$ including premium
Porcelain is an art that invites the touch, and the curves of the Meiping with their bulging under the collar have a sensual intent. The large vase, 36 cm high, for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 5, is more masculine in its massive form. Its fine decoration is classic : branches bearing fruit.
It is the star lot of the second sale of the prestigious Meiyintang collection. It is estimated HK $ 80M, and illustrated at the top of the left column in the article shared by ARTINFO.
The first Meiyintang sale, on April 7, included some very beautiful pieces, but buyers were confused by the process for guarantee of payment requested by the auction house. The two top lot, the Qianlong vase with pheasants and a bowl with melon vines from Chenghua time, had to wait the post-sale for finding a buyer, at 200 and 90 MHK$ respectively.
The next sale will be a good test for this exciting market.
POST SALE COMMENT
It is a glorious day for the Ming porcelain. This large size vase was sold HK$ 168M including premium.
1430 Imperial Wisdom
2018 SOLD for HK$ 240M including premium
A gold ink on dark blue paper is sumptuous. A Lotus Sutra handwritten in 1345 CE for the education of a child emperor of Korea was sold for HK $ 31.6M including premium by Sotheby's on May 30, 2016. The lot consisted of seven big albums.
Buddhism is essential for the consolidation of the Ming dynasty. After the death of the warrior emperor Yongle, his Buddhist advisers organize a period of peace. The very short reign of the Hongxi emperor initiates the necessary reforms. His son the Xuande emperor can satisfy his artistic talents and grant to Buddhism a preference devoid from political intents.
During the fifth year of his reign, 1430 CE, Xuande commissioned an Elder of the State named Huijin to calligraphy four great Sutras. The paper is covered with dark indigo ink mixed with goat brain. This thick, brilliant and strong layer allows the gold to stay on the surface without diffusing into the paper fibers. This biological constituent is an emulsifier similar to egg white in the tempera paint.
All the four Sutras are realized. Two are kept at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. The third was probably early lost in a fire after being presented to a monastery founded with Xuande's sponsorship.
Two cases containing five consecutive albums each from the Sutra of transcendent wisdom or prajnaparamita have survived. In addition to the calligraphy, the work includes illustrations in thin gold lines of Buddhist, imperial and esoteric figures including Buddhas, dragons and demons. This set will be sold by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 3, lot 101. The rest of this very long Sutra is lost.
Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's.
Xuande - The Blue Fishes
2017 SOLD for HK$ 230M including premium
The red is still difficult to achieve and its drawing remains limited to massive silhouettes of fish or fruit. At the same time the cobalt blue is obtained in a series of tones which enable subtle contrasts. The quality of the Xuande blue and white will never be surpassed.
The sharpness of the blue drawing becomes exceptional but the iconography remains traditional. The wall of a bowl is read like a paper ink drawing being gradually unrolled. The theme of fishes moving at mid-depth amidst the aquatic weeds of a pond is well suited to such achievements.
On April 5 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells at lot 101 a bell-shaped bowl on that theme, 23 cm in diameter, with a ultimate refinement : it is lobed in ten sections down to the base which is also lobed in the extension. The goal is an unprecedented visual effect : the unfolding of the image before the eyes gives the impression of a gentle movement of the fish.
The lobes are not new in Chinese porcelain : washers or saucers lobed for imitating a flower had been a specialty of the fabulous Ru kilns at the end of the Northern Song dynasty.
A piece as deep as that lobed fish bowl is a technical feat : no other specimen of this form and visual effect has surfaced in such a large size. Two smaller bowls were identified in an ancient inventory of the Taipei Museum. Waste from an even smaller discarded piece was found in Jingdezhen.
It is difficult to estimate the price of such a rarity that reaches the extreme limits of the technologies known under the early Ming. The press release of March 8 hopes a result beyond HK $ 100M.
1470-1475 Descent into Limbo, by Mantegna
2003 SOLD for $ 28.6M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
On January 23, 2003, Sotheby's sold for $ 28.6M including premium a Descent of Christ into Limbo, tempera and gold on canvas 39 x 42 cm painted circa 1470-1475. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
This theme is rare because it is only told in apocryphal scriptures. Between the Passion and the Resurrection, Christ makes a visit to Limbo where the virtuous patriarchs wait for the Messiah to open to them the gates of Paradise, closed since the fault of Adam.
The figures are standing on two floors as if by an ingenious theater machinery. Christ is seen from the back, bent over to comfort a patriarch who comes out at mid length from the abyss. At the same level as Christ in this world of the dead, five characters pray, four on the left and one on the right. They are naked except for a modest cloth around the belt.
The composition is designed with a remarkable balance divided in its center by the stick of Christ, creating a strong narrative tension although the main character, Christ, is not recognizable. Mantegna was possibly influenced by Donatello's formal studies for the interaction between the characters. Once again his independence from the traditional Christian iconography is extraordinary for his time.
1480 The Image Holder
2021 SOLD for $ 92M including premium
The earliest is a 58 x 44 cm tempera painted around 1474, kept in the Uffizi Gallery. The added element is a gilded gesso medal bearing the effigy of Cosimo de Medici. The second, 58 x 39 cm tempera painted around 1480, will be sold by Sotheby's in New York on January 28, lot 15. Its added element is an icon of an elderly bearded saint painted on a gold background.
In both cases, there is no doubt that Botticelli designed and made the recess in the wood to place the insert. The position of the fingers around the added object is very precise. However, we can legitimately question if the currently inserted piece is original.
Cosimo's medal probably meets the artist's original intention. The Quattrocento portraits are painted with great care in the physiognomy, but also with elements that symbolize the social position, character or life of the model. The Lady with an Ermine painted by Leonardo in 1489 is a perfect example. The medal inserted in Botticelli's painting is a tribute of the model to the founder of the political power of the Medici.
The image of the bearded saint is an authentic fragment of a Sienese painting from the Trecento. The absence of an attribute to identify the saint is an anomaly if we consider the importance given to it by its holder. It may have been inserted later to replace another detached or damaged image.
Beyond these doubts, both paintings are direct witnesses of the iconographic inventiveness of one of the greatest masters of the Quattrocento.
The portrait of the young man holding the icon is in an exceptional state of conservation. This unidentified prince is sympathetic by his desire to have his medallion admired. His attitude is straight. The dark mauve pigment of the tunic is luxurious and rare. The December 4 press release reveals an estimate in excess of $ 80M. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
Madonna of the Magnificat by BOTTICELLI
Tondi were a fashion of the time for a private devotion and contemplation above eye level. Botticelli managed to have the lines modified to match a perfect view in that position.
The Madonna and Child are surrounded by five angels, two of them holding a crown over Mary's head. The Child raises his head to look at the crown and puts his hand on an illuminated book. The text of the book is identified as two canticles from the Gospel of Luke.
The Madonna holds a quill to write the left page which is the opening of the Magnificat also referred as the Song of Mary. The left hands of Mother and Child join to hold a pomegranate, the heart shaped symbol of the Passion. That co-ordinated movement of the two hands of the two leading characters is beautiful.
later 1480s Replica
2022 SOLD for $ 48M by Christie's
This tempera, oil and gold on a 63 cm tondo panel is largely autograph as evidenced by underdrawings and pentimenti revealed by infrared and x-ray inspection. The style of the lines argues for a date in the later 1480s.
The composition is simplified to match with the smaller format. The two angels and the crown have been removed, making more mystical the raised gaze of the Child. The three remaining angels are now winged.
A selection of works from the collection of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen—including a work by Cézanne with an estimate in excess of $120m—are on show at @ChristiesInc London this weekend prior to their sale in New York next month. https://t.co/jcI3Jaz2n9— The Art Newspaper (@TheArtNewspaper) October 15, 2022
Chenghua - Imperial Chickens
2014 SOLD 280 MHK$ including premium
The best period of Chenghua porcelains is the second decade of his reign. Improvements are made to the choice of materials, enabling a higher temperature. The apex of any ceramic art is then achieved with a dense paste, a transparent and robust glaze and an extraordinary tactile effect.
The doucai color, started under Xuande, also gets some dramatic progress under Chenghua. Mixing enameled colors over the glaze allows a wide range of shades.
The figures of Chenghua ceramics are simple and naive. However, his chicken wine cups had an almost mystical reputation. The rooster is the emperor, and the hen protecting her chicks is his favorite concubine. It is an opportunity fir the historian to remind that Wan Guifei herself intervened to improve the quality of imperial porcelains.
One of these wonders is in perfect condition, on a pristine white background, without any crack or scratch. This piece 8.2 cm in diameter is decorated underglaze in cobalt blue and multicolored on its surface.
It was sold for HK $ 29M including premium on April 27, 1999 by Sotheby's, purchased at that sale by Eskenazi. It is estimated HK $ 200M, for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 8.
POST SALE COMMENT
The absolute pinnacle of the art of porcelain was achieved by the Chinese Imperial pieces of the second part of the reign of Chenghua. This cup was sold for HK $ 280M including premium.
I invite you to play the video shared by Sotheby's :
1490s Michelangelo after Masaccio
2022 SOLD for € 23M by Christie's
Previously attributed to a later minor artist or to the school of Michelangelo, a drawing 33 x 20 cm in pen, two shades of brown ink and brown wash was attributed for the first time in 2019 to the master by an expert at Christie's. Its availability on the international art market had been delayed by a French export ban which is now lifted.
The main character is a full length fleshy young nude in a shivering position that copies the man in the right in Masaccio's Carmine Baptism. Two lesser figures comfort him from behind in a softer hue. Some relief effect is added by skilled hatchings. Remorses have been made with a dark ink, confirming that this piece was a study for a painting by the young master.
This drawing was sold for € 23M by Christie's on May 18, 2022, lot 1. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.