Imperial Qianlong Jade Seal
Qianlong (1711-1799) was the 6th emperor of the Qing dynasty in China, between 1735 and 1796.
Known for his “unrelentingly conservative attitude”, he had the “the longest reign period in Chinese history and also enjoyed one of the longest life spans.”
He abdicated after 60 years as emperor, at the age of 85.
Described by Sotheby’s as “important and superb”, the seal has a small, circular form and is made from white jade. It is 4.5cm high.
The jade is described as being of a “translucent fine white colour with an area of russet skin on the top skilfully utilised to enhance the carving.”
The sides are “deftly incised with a poem ending with the date Qianlong Bingchen chun yubi”, which corresponds to 1796.
The poem was written by Qianlong and inscribed upon the seal to mark his abdication. The carving “is naturalistic and refined and closely follows the emperor's writing style.”
The seal face is “deeply and crisply carved with the characters ‘tai shang huang di’ in zhuanshu, meaning ‘treasure of the emperor emeritus’.
The seal is regarded as having “great significance” because it was commissioned to commemorate the abdication of one of longest serving Chinese emperors.
It is recorded in “the Collection of Qianlong's Treasures”. The “quality of the jade, its size and the carving” provides conclusive evidence that it is “the genuine Qianlong treasure seal.”
Considering the importance and unique nature of the event it marked, the seal is one of only a few made, thought to be “over twenty”. It is also “unusual for its circular form”; the majority of the commemorative seals were “square or rectangular in shape, and this is the only circular seal.”
The seal “had been looted from the Hall of Imperial Longevity (Shouhuangdian) in Beijing in 1900 by a French soldier, General de Gercey.”
On 9th October 2007, the seal was sold for $5.92million at Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, to a Chinese collector.
At the time, this set a new record for white jade at auction.
However, on April 8th 2010, the seal was sold for more than double that amount ($12,289,744) at Sotheby’s, Hong Kong.
This set a new world record price at auction for both a jade item and any imperial seal.
The bidding for the items was described as “furious” and after 16 bids in total, the seal was sold to a room bidder - an anonymous Asian man in his thirties.