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RARE ET IMPORTANTE PAIRE IMPERIALE DE PERSONNAGES ETRANGERS EN BRONZE DORE, EMAUX CLOISONNES ET CHAMPLEVES\nCHINE, DYNASTIE QING, EPOQUE QIANLONG (1736-1795)\nReprésentés dans une posture symétrique, un genoux à terre, l'autre replié, un bras levé, l'autre supportant la base de l'emblème ou du présent tenu à l'origine, portant des bottes aux pieds, vêtus d'une longue jupe ceinturée à la taille, ornée de fleurs harmonieusement disposées en émaux champlevés, d'une tunique souple boutonnée sur le devant et décorée de rinceaux feuillagés et lotus sur fond bleu, les manches courtes laissant apparaître une sous-tunique plissée en émaux champlevés multicolores, terminée par des bracelets dorés à décor ciselé de volutes fleuries, une courte cape nouée autour du cou et retombant sur les épaules, à motifs de dragons archaïsants sur fond vert et entrelacs géométriques, le visage tourné sur le côté, les cheveux retombant sur le front, les oreilles et la nuque en belles boucles souples, la bouche fine rehaussée d'une moustache raide pour l'un et bouclée pour l'autre, le nez légèrement busqué, les yeux rapprochés, parés tous deux d'un bonnet ouvragé amovible en cuivre repoussé et émaux champlevés, terminé par une tête de dragon, orné de bandes multicolores et ceint d'une frise de perles et dragons, deux rubans pendant à l'arrière de la coiffe, les socles d'origine en bois sculptés à l'imitation d'une base rocailleuse agrémentée de fleurs et fruits ; petits accidents mineurs\nHauteurs sans les socles: 63 cm. (24¾ in.) et 63,5 cm. (25 in.)\nHauteurs avec les socles: 68,5 cm. (27 in.) et 69 cm. (27 1/8 in.) (2)


This pair of large cloisonné figures is of superb quality that indicates imperial manufacture. The two richly-dressed figures, which are positioned in mirror-image of each other, kneel on one knee with the foot of the other leg placed flat on the ground. Their heads are turned slightly towards each other, their arms outstretched, and their hands are positioned in such a way as to suggest that they held some precious item, such as a vase - indeed small holes in the palms of their hands confirm that they each held something. It is possible that they were intended to represent foreign tribute bearers offering gifts to the emperor. The curling hair descending from the front, back and sides of their distinctive caps, as well as the curling moustaches and slightly protuberant eyes all suggest that these figures were intended to portray foreigners from west of China's borders.

The figures' dress is very detailed and beautifully rendered. Their caps are of particular interest, since there are of a very distinctive form. They appear to be an even more elaborate version of the striped cap worn by the Emperor Yongzheng in one of the leaves of the Album of the Yongzheng Emperor in Costumes in the Palace Museum Beijing, illustrated in Paintings by the Court artists of the Qing Court - The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong 1996, p.118, pl.18-2 (see fig.1). Both the emperor's striped cap and those worn by the current figures are essentially horn-shaped, with a finial at the point and a kind of coronet holding it in place around the head. The emperor's coronet appears to be gold with a single pearl at the front, while those of the figures are made up of multi-coloured discs the inner disc being white, possibly to indicate a pearl.

On the album leaf the Yongzheng Emperor is shown wearing a matching striped robe and red boots. He appears to be hurrying and his left hand holds up the skirt of his robe to facilitate rapid movement. In his right hand he holds a large peach, which he may have received from a monkey, which swings down from a tree branch above him. It is the peach that has led to the identification of the historical character, being impersonated by the emperor, as Dongfang Shuo. Dongfang Shuo was a court official during the reign of the Han Emperor Wudi (r. 140-87 BC), and also served the Han emperors Zhaodi (r. 86-74 BC) and Xuandi (r. 73-49 BC). Although Sima Qian's Shiji states that Dongfang Shuo died, Liu Xiang in the late Western Han wrote in his Biographies of Immortals that Dongfang Shuo became a Daoist immortal. He evolved into an important figure in Daoism, and one of the stories that circulated about him was that he stole peaches of immortality from the garden of the Queen Mother of the West. The costume adopted by the Yongzheng Emperor in the album leaf seems to suggest a Daoist magician, while incorporating exotic elements such as the horn-shaped hat, which probably had its origins among non-Chinese people of Central Asia. The Daoist theme is reinforced on the two cloisonné figures by the red lingzhi fungi (fungi of immortality) surrounding each of the multi-coloured discs of the coronets.

A horn-shaped cap can be seen on a Tang dynasty earthenware sancai-glazed figure in Central Asia dress, seated on a kneeling camel. This figure, now in the Museum of Chinese History, Beijing, was excavated in 1955 from a tomb in Xi'an city (illustrated in Zhongguo taoci 7 Tang sancai, Shanghai renmin meishu chubanshe, 1983, no. 34). Although the camel and figure are sancai-glazed, the figure's face and cap are cold-painted and the cap is painted red. Both the figure and the cap are much simpler than the current cloisonné examples, but the earthenware figure serves to illustrate that such Central Asian horn-shaped caps were seen in China as early as the Tang dynasty. Horn-shaped caps, although still simpler than those of the current figures, can be seen being worn by the two cloisonné figures that carry the famous Qianlong cloisonné ice-chest in the Victoria and Albert Museum (illustrated by Sir Harry Garner in Chinese and Japanese Cloisonné Enamels, Faber and Faber, London, second edition, 1970, pl. 71). The two figures carrying the ice-chest do not have curly hair and are wearing normal Chinese robes.

There is, however, a further Qianlong cloisonné figure wearing a horn-shaped cap and dressed in a style quite similar to that of the current large figures. This figure is depicted seated like a mahout on an elaborate saddle on top of a cloisonné elephant (illustrated in Buddhist Art from Rehol, the Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1999, p. 164, no. 71). The elephant, which is in the collection of the Qing dynasty Summer Palace at Chengde (Rehol), wears a richly-pattered saddle cloth bearing a five-clawed dragon, confirming its imperial provenance. Although the mahout's cap is not held in place by a coronet, he does have curly hair descending from it at both the front and the back. Like the current figures, the mahout wears an elaborate collar or short cape, tied under the chin, a jacket with three-quarter length sleeves, revealing differently patterned tight sleeve below, patterned breeches and boots. Interestingly, although his upper hand it not held so high, the mahout's hands, like those of the current figures, are also placed in such a way as to suggest that he might be holding some precious object.

Even more interesting is a pair of 18th century cloisonné figures from the Palmer Collection (see fig.2). While these figures are smaller than the current examples, their stance is very similar, even to the positioning of the arms and hands, which, as on the current examples, look as they held some precious item, such as a vase. The Palmer figures also share with the current figures curly hair and moustaches, striped horn-shaped hats, striped sleeves and elaborate collars.

The current pair of large figures is by far the most richly adorned of the examples mentioned. They have what appear to be gold bracelets or cuffs at their wrists. At the back of their caps are elaborate pendant archaistic dragons, and the finials on their caps are gilt dragon heads. The textile details of the figures robes are exceedingly well reproduced. The collars have archaistic dragons against a wan background. The jackets have delicately depicted floral scrolls. The sleeves of the inner robe are multi-coloured and striped in a manner similar to the sleeves of the robe worn by the Yongzheng Emperor in the album leaf, discussed above. The lower under-robe and breeches are predominantly gilt, but have finely worked scattered flowers.

As previously mentionned, both figures were originally holding something. See a pair of mixed-media figures of Westerners, kneel on one knee, holding auspicious emblems, from the collection of Mildred R. and Rafi Y. Mottahedeh, sold at Sotheby's New York, 29 October 2000, lot 460. About these figures, D. Howard and J. Ayers in China for the West, vol.2, London and New York 1978, pp.663-665, nos.688 and 688a, 688b and 688c note that they were originally part of a set of eight bearing the 'Eight Precious Emblems of Buddhism' and probably made for the Chinese Court for the furnishing of 'pavilions such as those of the Summer Palace...'. Another single figure from this set is illustrated in M. Beurdeley, L'Amateur Chinois des Han au XXe siècle, Fribourg 1966, p.193, pl.104.

These two magnificent figures are extremely rare, and are wonderful examples of the finest quality of Imperial craftsmanship. They are also a testament to the Qianlong Emperor's enduring fascination with exotic foreigners.









Hauteurs sans les socles: 63 cm. (24¾ in.) et 63,5 cm. (25 in.) Hauteurs avec les socles: 68,5 cm. (27 in.) et 69 cm. (27 1/8 in.) (2)


Collection T. B. Kitson.

Sotheby & Co. London, The T.B. Kitson Collections - Catalogue of the Well Known Collection of Important Jade Carvings and Fine Cloisonné, Amber and Lacquer - Third and Final Part, 30 May 1961, lot 426.

Spink & Son Ltd., London, 17 February 1984.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.