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.
I invite you to play the video shared by Christie's:
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.
Yongle - Doctor Buddha
2014 SOLD 5.5 M$ including premium
The gilt bronze Buddhist figures reach their supreme refinement during the reign of Yongle, the third Ming emperor, 600 years ago. The perfection of expressions and attitudes is worthy of the purity of Buddha. The thick double lotus base allows him to dominate his audience while retaining a seated pose.
On October 8, 2013, Sotheby's sold HK $ 236M including premium a serene Shakyamuni 55 cm high.
On March 20 in New York, Christie's sells a Bhaishajyaguru 28 cm high, also with the Yongle imperial mark, estimated $ 2M.
Smiling but a little stiff in his role as a teacher, this Medicine Buddha offers the myrobalan, an obsolete wording naming the dried fruit for pharmaceutical use. In one hand he carries a pot. To display his symbol, he takes with elegance a single fruit between thumb and index fingers of the other hand.
POST SALE COMMENT
This bronze deserved to be compared with the Shakyamuni sold last year but it is smaller. The result, $ 5.5 million including premium, is excellent.
Yongle - Meiping Vase
2021 SOLD for € 4.55M by Vassy et Jalenques
This blue and white vase is decorated with vegetal patterns, plus ten different fruit on their foliage in two registers on the baluster body below the shoulder. Below it, the upper register of the lower frieze displays petals within exquisite arched cartouches.
Previously unknown, it recently resurfaced in a French family near Clermont-Ferrand where it was auctioned.
Estimé à plus d'un million d'euros, un précieux vase en porcelaine daté du règne de Ming Yongle sera vendu aux enchères le 19 juin à Clermont-Ferrand par Bernard Vassy et Philippe Jalenques. ⚱️— Interencheres (@interencheres) June 18, 2021
Témoin des heures fastueuses de l’Empire chinois, l… https://t.co/KE7IJvfqTg pic.twitter.com/qmCStcfENk
1416 The Funerary Art of the Valois
2016 SOLD for € 5M including premium
The new king also wants to prepare for the future. He requires to simultaneously prepare his own monument and his gisant (recumbent) in white marble which are the masterpieces of André Beauneveu.
The descendants of St. Louis view this new funerary art installed in grand chapels as a way to maintain respect and even devotion from the people. The dukes of Burgundy and of Berry, sons of Charles V, amplify that tradition.
Philippe de Bourgogne approves in 1381 the drawing for his own monument. The recumbent figure is placed on a high base flanked by arches sheltering a procession of 41 pleurants (mourners) 40 cm high. There is no emergency. Most of these statuettes will be realized by Claus de Werwe, nephew of Claus Sluter, between 1406 and 1410. The duke had died in 1404.
Jean de Berry certainly wanted to imitate his brother because his monument has a very similar design. He defines his chapel at Bourges in 1391 from the model of the Sainte-Chapelle of St. Louis. At the death of the duke in 1416, Jean de Cambrai had made the recumbent and the canopy and started the arches. He had also completed five surface-mounted statuettes of mourners in marble from the 40 that had been scheduled.
Two of the mourners in marble remain in private hands. They will be sold together by Christie's in Paris on June 15, lot 24 estimated € 4.5 million.
The male heirs of Jean de Berry predeceased him and a tribute to the late duke was no longer appealing. The payment of the artists is suspended and the work is stopped. The 35 other mourners will be realized circa 1450 in alabaster, cheaper than the marble. The style has changed and the attitudes are more expressive. Two of these statuettes, from the same collection as the two marbles discussed above, were sold together for € 4M including premium by Christie's on November 8, 2013.
> 1417 Persian Manuscripts on Chinese Paper
2020 SOLD for £ 7M including premium
The Timurid empire broke out after his death. His son Shahrukh reigned over Persia and transferred the capital from Samarkand to Herat. He re-established relations with China through the silk road and became immensely wealthy. He did not seek conquests, took the title of sultan and protected Islam.
This political lull occured during the reign of Yongle of the Ming. A first Chinese embassy reaches Herat in 815 AH (1412 CE). China produces porcelain decorated in Muslim taste to serve as a diplomatic gift. The second embassy in 820 AH brought many gifts including porcelain but also silks, brocades, velvets and paper. This embassy is probably the terminus post quem of the Persian books on Chinese paper.
The Chinese luxury paper is thick, and designed to be extremely soft and silky to the touch. The Chinese workshops prepare the folio on a monochrome background in various hues of blue, pink, lavender, yellow and green. They then add an illustration in gold, with speckled patterns and sometimes figurative drawings, without human representation in conformance with the iconographic principles of Islam. The Persian workshops add their text on this preparation.
A dozen Persian manuscripts on Chinese paper are known, including four Qur'ans. One of these Qur'ans, recently discovered, consists of 534 folios 23 x 16 cm, 29 of which have been replaced. The text in Naskh script is written on each page in a 14 x 9.4 cm frame. The binding is Safavid. This book is estimated £ 600K for sale by Christie's in London on April 2 (postponed to June 25), lot 29.
1420 Blue and White from Jingdezhen to Shah Jahan
2015 SOLD for $ 5.1M including premium
Yongle was the irreconcilable enemy of the Yuan and the Mongols, whom he circumvented by a communication effort toward all other foreigners. He used the outstanding productions from Jingdezhen for diplomatic gifts.
On March 18 in New York, Sotheby's sells a Ming dish estimated $ 2.5M, lot 264. With no imperial mark, it is however a masterpiece of the blue and white porcelain with its large diameter, 43 cm, the elegance of its waved rim and its figurative theme. It was probably made around 1420, shortly before the end of the Yongle period.
Its naturalistic central theme of grapes on foliated branches of vine, along with a circular frieze of various flowers with their leaves, matched the Muslim taste and anticipates by one century the Iznik dishes. This dish belonged later to a Safavid princess and afterward to Shah Jahan, the fifth emperor of the Mughal dynasty in North India.
It was exhibited in 2000 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art as a major piece from the Cabinet of wonders of the Guennol collection.
I invite you to play the video shared by Sotheby's :
Yongle - The Bottomless Vase
2019 SOLD for HK$ 23.6M including premium
Objects are exchanged. The potters in Jingdezhen add to their know-how the creation of shapes and styles previously unknown in China. Since the Song, porcelain is used in the imperial court for vessels, chargers, plates or flower vases. Unusable objects are extremely rare.
The Mamluks used brass tray stands, built in two truncated cones in opposition around a cylindrical cavity. A horizontal rib at half height allows a better handling. The flat top and bottom are identical at both ends of the cylinder.
This form, comparable to lacquered stands for tea bowls, is however too high and too narrow. Its ceramic reproduction is useless because it cannot offer the steadiness of Mamluk pieces in heavy metal.
Three centuries later, the Qianlong emperor considers a porcelain stand. The quality of workmanship and the very fine decoration imitating Arabic patterns and script indicate that it was produced at the beginning of the Ming period.
A 17 cm high stand almost identical to the piece in the imperial collection is estimated HK $ 20M for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 3, lot 102. It is supposed to be from Yongle time when the imperial mark was still often omitted. Similar fragments were found in the Yongle and Xuande strata of the Jingdezhen rubble.
The long inspection poem prepared by Qianlong is translated in Sotheby's catalog.
The most learned of the emperors is so much astonished at the uselessness of this item that he devotes a poem to it despite the absence of an imperial mark. He attributes it reasonably to the Xuande period and inscribes that name on the zitan stand which he commissions for it.
The Son of Heaven is the holder of the continuity of the Chinese dynasties. He does not authorize himself to criticize his Ming predecessor who let made this crazy vase that does not hold water. He opportunely finds an antique fable in which the leak of water from a bottomless goblet is compared to the loss of a good word.
1424 In the Memory of the Empress
2021 SOLD for HK$ 43M including premium
The very able Zhu Di usurps the empire in 1402 by a coup. His reign name will be Yongle. His wife participates in the court by honoring the virtues. She is also a visionary and certainly contributes to rallying Buddhists to Yongle.
The new empress died five years later. She was given the posthumous name Renxiao Huanghou, evoking her benevolence. Yongle died in 1424. Their son succeeded him with the reign name of Hongxi. He wanted to carry out great reforms and began by piously changing the name of his mother, who posthumously became Empress Wen. He died after eight months of reign.
The survival of a memorial seal of Empress Wen is extraordinary. All other similar jade seals from the Ming dynasty were either transformed or burned by the Qing. This specimen is fragmentary, with traces of calcification created by fire. Half of the square base and an entire side of the dragon's body are missing. Fortunately the fierce head is complete and the identification of the Empress is preserved.
This 10 cm high imperial green jade seal was sold for HK $ 43M from a lower estimate of HK $ 25M by Sotheby's on April 22, 2021, lot 3601.