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Of square section, the upper face finely carved with three sinuous qilong, the largest qilong above and facing the two smaller as if in conversation, all elegantly entwined among cloud scrolls, the seal face carved in high relief with six characters in seal script: "Tai Shang Huang Di Zhi Bao", the stone of a very luminous and even pale celadon-white tone, with a very fine polish.
Thence by descent
In 1772, the Qianlong Emperor of China announced he had made a vow to voluntarily abdicate the throne to his heir in 1795 if he was blessed with a reign of 60 years. Remarkably, he reached this milestone, fulfilled his vow and announced that he would designate his fifteenth son, prince Jia, as his successor, and the following year would be the first of the new Emperor’s reign.
After his retirement, the “Emperor Emeritus”, commissioned approximately 20 “Taishang Huangdi” seals. These seals were executed in a variety of sizes, forms, and materials. Freeman’s is honored to present a jade seal from this select group, consigned by descendants of the original collector.
A larger white jade seal from this group, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, November 26, 2007, lot 1861, was accompanied by a lengthy essay by Guo Fuxiang, Associate Researcher, Department of Palace History, Palace Museum, Beijing, discussing the seals commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor to reflect his new title of “Taishang Huangdi”, and this title's wider context in Chinese history. Guo discusses the origins of “Taishang Huang”, loosely translated as “…the noblest man in the world who is more virtuous than the Emperor”. Guo further notes this title was conferred posthumously by the first Emperor of unified China, Qin Shihuangdi, on his father as a mark of filial respect. The title was also conferred on the father of Liu Bang, first Emperor of the Han dynasty. The Qianlong emperor was the only ruler of the Qing dynasty to bear this title.
An impression of the present seal is recorded in Gugong Bowuyuan cang, “Qing dai di hou xi yinpu” (“The Seals of the Qing Dynasty Emperors and Empresses”), vol. 6, Qianlong II, p. 178. In addition, the fine, luminous pale celadon-white jade accords perfectly with the material known to have been utilized for that seal: “qingbai yu” or pale greenish-white jade. The carving and polish are exceedingly fine, as would be expected of a work commissioned by the Qianlong emperor, a connoisseur of jades. It is an exemplary example of Chinese jade carving from this period.
The upper face is gracefully sculpted with a sinuous qilong and two smaller qilong among scrolling waves or clouds, likely referring to the Chinese saying "Canlong jiaozi", which may be translated as "The Eastern [blue] dragon teaching his son[s]", implying not only the importance of instructing the young, but also bringing up one's descendants to succeed in court or higher office. This expression would certainly hold relevance for a powerful retired Emperor benevolently extending influence over his son, a reigning Emperor. For similar Imperial seals portraying sinuous qilong among scrolled waves or clouds, compare the three examples sold at Sotheby’s, Hong Kong: a seal with the face carved for the Yongzheng Emperor, sold April 7, 2015, lot 102; a seal for the Qianlong Emperor, also sold April, 2015, lot 3647; and another seal for the Qianlong Emperor, sold October 9, 2012, lot 3006.
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