News & Insights

A Rare Qianlong Jade Boulder

7th February 2024.

This Spring, Tennants Auctioneers is delighted to be offering for sale a fine and rare Chinese Celadon Jade Inscribed ‘Luohan’ Boulder from the Qianlong reign with its original hardwood stand. It will be sold as part of a Private Collection of Asian Art and European Antiques in the Spring Fine Art Sale on 16th March. The boulder, which is offered with an estimate of £70,000-100,000 plus buyer’s premium, depicts Luohan Ańgaja sitting cross-legged in a rocky grotto, holding sutra (writings), walking stick and prayer beads. Inscribed on the boulder are the Imperial seal marks and the Imperial eulogy to Ańgaja, which can be translated as:

“Wearing a hundred-patch robe and leaning on a proper bamboo staff, his Vedic ritual texts in a bookcase, he stares at his akshamalika straight across his chest. What he has remembered is not nothing, although there are no words for it”.

Luohan (or arhat in Sanskrit) were a group of enlightened Buddhist sages and personal disciples of Buddha, worshipped in China and frequently depicted in paintings and the decorative arts. The iconography of the present example was derived from a 9th century portrait series of the sixteen Luohans painted by Tang dynasty painter-poet-monk Guanxiu for the Shengyinsi or ‘Temple of Sage Reason’. Guanxiu depicted the disciples with grotesque bodies, hunched backs, bushy eyebrows and pronounced foreheads as they had allegedly appeared to him in a dream.

The Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795), a devout Buddhist, travelled to the Shengyin Temple in 1757 where he saw images of the Luohan created by Guanxiu. Such was the impression they left on him, he was inspired to write a eulogy for each painting. He subsequently commissioned court painter Ding Guanpeng to copy the paintings including the new eulogies, which are today held in the National Palace Museum, Taipei and which were subsequently replicated in numerous different media, including jade.  Jade boulders similar to the present example are held in the collections of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and a further example was recorded in the collection of the Wou Lien-Pai Museum.

The Boulder was purchased on 25th November 1955 from Trollope & Sons, London Ltd of West Halkin Street, Belgravia.

Further highlights from the collection include a Set of Four Chinese Pale Celadon Jade Bowls, Qing Dynasty, probably Qianlong, on carved and pierced hardwood stands (estimate: £8,000-12,000 plus buyer’s premium). Purchased from John Sparks, a leading Asian Art dealer, in London on 3rd March 1955, the bowls measure 12.5cm in diameter and similar examples can be seen in the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Notable, too, is a Pair of Chinese Porcelain ‘Nodding Head’ Figures, Qianlong (estimate: £4,000-6,000 plus buyer’s premium). Each figure has a detachable weighted porcelain head that nods when touched, and the pair were purchased from Spink & Son Ltd. in London on 31st January 1956.

The collectors lived in London from the 1950s and acquired the fine collection predominantly from the leading Asian art and antiques dealers in the city. Many of the pieces in the collection will be sold with original purchase receipts. In addition to the nearly thirty lots of Asian art on offer, a selection of fine European antiques and silver from the same collection will also be included in the sale.

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