Sunday, January 11, 2015

Puzzling Evidence - Rare Chinese Cloisonne Pieces from the Days of the Hongxian 洪宪皇帝 Emperor, Yuan Shikai

eBay vendor cgc66 has on offer what seem to be some astoundingly rare pieces of Chinese cloisonne.  The characters on the bases translate as "Hong Xian Nian Zhi," or, "Hongxian Year Made."
Nice shape to this small vase, with a small narrow rim that, unlike later vases, doesn't detract by being thick and clunky.

Note that the enamel has not been ground and polished - for example, the dragon's blue scales.

Note the raised 3-D appearance of the characters

Why is this so unusual?  "Hongxian" was the name that Yuan Shikai chose for his dynasty when he attempted to consolidate rule with himself as Emperor, following the abdication of the Qing Dynasty in 1912.  Wikipedia will fill you in on the history, such as this tidbit:

Soon after becoming emperor, Yuan placed an order with the former imperial potters for a 40,000-piece porcelain set costing 1.4 million yuan, a large jade seal, and two imperial robes costing 400,000 yuan each.

Alas, his reign lasted merely 83 days, from December 12, 1915 to March 22, 1916.  He died on June 5, 1916 at age 56.

Were these cloisonne pieces commissioned along with the porcelain, jade, and robes?  Or were they speculative creations for sale as memorabilia or souvenirs?  They show a very distinctive characteristic - the final enamel firing has not been ground down.  Inspection reveals the rounded surfaces of the enamels filling the cloisons. Grinding and polishing cloisonne is a very labor- and skill-intensive and time consuming task.  Perhaps the unfinished pieces were sold for what they could get when the short-lived dynasty abruptly ended?

Note the resemblance of the style of the energetic dragon to those by Lao Tian Li, as well as the neat and tidy cloud spirals. The lotus pattern on the jar is also of above-average design and workmanship.  Could the workshop responsible have been Lao Tian Li's? 
[Later: I did not mean to imply these pieces were of a quality typical of Lao Tian Li himself - in any workshop, there are always apprentices to be trained and workers whose task is turning out the less expensive bread-and-butter pieces.]

Puzzling evidence!

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