The Emperor of China received a Mandate from Heaven. In the case of a usurpation, the situation is complicated. By appreciating the usefulness of relying on Tibetan Buddhism, the Yongle usurper had ensured for more than three decades the stability of the Ming dynasty.
After the untimely death of the Xuande emperor, his eldest son and successor the Zhentong emperor is a child. His capture by the Mongols in 1449 CE after a severe military defeat opens a dynastic crisis.
On May 17 in London, Bonhams sells as lot 150 a Ming butter lamp unique by its colossal size entirely in gilt bronze. It is made of two main segments linked together by a cylindrical stem, a bowl and a bell-shaped base. It stands at 103 cm high and its diameters are 102 cm for the bowl and 88 cm for the foot. Its weight is estimated at 335 Kg. Other big lamps are known but with a stone base.
This lamp bears inserted into its bronze an imperial mark of the Jingtai emperor. Raised to the throne during the brief Mongol captivity of his half-brother Zhentong, he had restituted to him neither the title nor the freedom.
Jingtai absolutely needed to prove his legitimacy because a series of setbacks resembled a heavenly disavowal. The famine was persistent. His son, named crown prince at the expense of Zhentong's son, died at the age of five.
The inscription of the lamp includes a mystery. Three of the imperial characters among which the identification of the emperor were not cast into the bronze bulk but framed in overload. Nevertheless the gilding thickness is perhaps homogeneous. The Jingtai emperor probably recovered this piece for his personal rite before it was finished. If so, he erased the name of the emperor who had commissioned the lamp.
A late or apocryphal re-inscription in the name of Jingtai would not make sense from the historical point of view. His short reign was not glorious. He was overthrown by his half-brother when he was dying and was posthumously downgraded to the rank of prince. Few art objects bear his mark and these are mostly cloisonné enamels.
SOLD for £ 1.33M including premium