SOLD! The Qianlong Chinese Vase Decorated in Europe Commanded More Than $224,000 at Christie’s


Update: The vase sold for £173,000, or about $224,300.

What you see: A Regency ormolu-mounted Chinese flambe-glazed vase and cover. The porcelain vase has a Qianlong incised seal mark of the period (1736-1795). The ormolu mounts are attributed to Vulliamy & Son, circa 1806. Christie’s estimates it at £120,000 to £180,000, or $153,000 to about $229,000.

Is flambe glaze a Qianlong-era Chinese invention? Was it difficult to make a flambe-glazed vase? Yes and yes. “It was a development of the late 18th century and it was desirable almost from the moment it was developed. It must have been very experimental at the time. This is probably one of the rarer types of glazes,” says Marcus Rädecke, director and head of the department of European furniture and works of art at Christie’s, explaining that the viscous glaze slowly ran down the curving body of the vase during the firing process, and the heat of the kiln caused a chemical change that created the multi-color effect.

The lot notes say the vase has a “Qianlong incised seal mark and of the period (1736-1795).” Could you explain that aspect in more detail? “The six-character reign mark identifies it as an Imperial piece,” he says. “In three rows, from right to left it gives the dynasty, the emperor, and the reign. It lets us date it precisely, and it gives the vase extra value.”

How many flambe-glazed vases managed to leave China in the 18th century? “Few made it over to Europe at that time,” Rädecke says. “They must already have been incredibly valued then. When they [the European artisans, known as bronziers, who added the ormolu] mounted it, they took great care not to damage the porcelain or pierce it. You cannot lift the vase by the handles. They’re purely decorative. They’re not attached to the vase.”

The mounts are attributed to Vulliamy & Son, an elite British clockmaker that would have had an ormolu workshop. Why would this have been a challenging commission for them? “It must have been quite complicated to construct this without drilling holes in the porcelain to hold the bottom ends of the handles,” he says. “If you carefully pull and turn the lid, it comes off with no marks on the porcelain. The stopper [not visible in the picture] comes out completely and you can look into the mount. The handles are attached to the neck and sit loosely on it. The mounts are so precisely made. The neck fits without any gaps anywhere. It reflects the quality and precision you’d only find with a clockmaker.”

This vase was made in China and has European decorations that were added later, perhaps decades later. Does it appeal equally to Asian and European bidders? Oh gosh yes. “We sold it five years ago when it came from Harewood [House] and there was great interest at that time,” Rädecke says. “The winner and the underbidder were Chinese clients, but we had bids from English and American clients. It appealed to an incredibly wide audience.”

What else makes this vase special? “To me, as a specialist, there are items I like because they’re beautiful and items I like because they’re incredibly well-made. Sometimes it all works together. I’d love to take this vase home,” he says. “The porcelain is fantastic and enriched in Europe, but not too much. Both cultures do their bit. The harmonies are perfect, I feel.”

How to bid: The vase is lot 8 in The Exceptional Sale, scheduled at Christie’s London for July 6, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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Tick, Tick, Tick, Wow! A Monumental Replica of Venice’s Piazza San Marco Clock Tower Could Fetch $1 Million at Sotheby’s

Lot 26 torre Dell'Orologio_£600,000 - 800,000 (low)

What you see: A painted and gilt copper model of the clock tower in Piazza San Marco, Venice. It stands nine feet, eight inches tall. The movement appears to date to the 18th century, and the case to the early 19th century. Sotheby’s estimates the model clock tower at £600,000 to £800,000, which is between $776,000 and $1 million.

Ok, there’s not much we can definitively say about how this clock came to be, but what’s your best guess? “The best theory I can come up with is the movement [the clock works] was made first and probably made about the same time the movement of the original was revamped by Bartolomeo Ferracina,” says Jonathan Hills, senior specialist for clocks at Sotheby’s. “I’ve got a feeling, nothing more than that, that it was made by someone involved with work [on the Venetian original]. It copies it almost exactly. It’s complicated. There are four individual weight-driven trains of wheels, each at a 90 degree angle to the other. That’s virtually unheard of. Usually they’re in a line, or are one behind the other.”

Is it a pain in the neck to arrange the movement’s wheel trains at 90 degree angles to each other? “It is. You have to wind it in four different directions,” he says, adding that the clock probably needs to be wound every day. At the time of the interview, it wasn’t operating, but Hills confirmed that it does indeed run.

The lot notes and your earlier answer mention that Bartolomeo Ferracina revamped the movement of the Venetian original in the 1750s. Do we have any evidence that the replica movement was built by him or someone on his team? “It’s very tempting to tie the two together, but there’s no proof,” Hills says. “Attention was very much focused on [the original] during the 1750s. It seems like a logical time for the replica movement to be done. Whoever made it had to have access to the real thing and had to have clock-making skills.”

Refurbishing the clock tower in the Piazza San Marco is a big job. Is there any chance Ferracina had the replica movement built as a test or a proof-of-concept? “The original was in such poor condition, they were effectively redesigning it. It’s possible they made a working model, but that tends to be done on the drawing board. You can calculate a movement a lot more easily than you can make one,” he says. “This was probably done for someone’s amusement or self-interest rather than a technical exercise, but we’ll never know, unfortunately.”

If it wasn’t placed outdoors, where would someone have put this clock? It’s nearly 10 feet tall! “It would have to be a large house, but Italian homes are known for their tall ceilings,” Hills says. “I can see it gracing the piano nobile of a Venetian home, or somebody who had a large home elsewhere, but was of Venetian origin. What better reminder could there be of home?”

Again, we have no records from the people who made the movement, nor do we have records from the people who made the case. But give us a notion–how much work does this clock represent? “To make the clock movement, on its own, we’re talking about hundreds of hours of work,” he says. “The case–I can’t fully appreciate or understand the techniques involved in creating that case. It appears to be rolled and pressed sheet copper. Where you’d go to find someone who does that today . . . I don’t know how it could be done. This clock is a huge amount of work, hundreds of hours at different times by different groups of people.”

What else makes this clock special? “I first saw it assembled in the photo studio,  and it took my breath away. The scale is so impressive, and the proportions are so impressive–it all just works,” Hills says, adding that he’s been with Sotheby’s for 25 years and represents the sixth generation of a clock-making family. “I am a clock person. What I really appreciate is what’s going on inside, seeing the beautiful four-sided movement. It’s so multi-faceted. There’s so much to look at, and so much to appreciate. I’ve never handled anything like it before. To see this scale replica–it’s not something I’ll ever forget.”

How to bid: The Piazza San Marco model clock tower is lot 26 in the Treasures auction at Sotheby’s London on July 5, 2017.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.