A fine and rare Imperial 'Zitan' 'Dahlia' table (Tiaozhuo). Qing dynasty, Qianlong period. photo courtesy Sotheby's
of long rectangular form constructed of well-figured, tightly-grained zitan wood members, supported by straight legs of square section terminating in stylised inverted scroll feet, the sides joined by elaborate aprons, each finely carved in relief with an intricate flower scoll centering on a large dahlia bloom, all below a waisted frieze similarly decorated with a finely carved stylised leafy scroll, the underside with transverse braces; 63 1/4 by 35 1/2 by 19 in., 160.7 by 90.2 by 48.3 cm. Estimate 300,000—500,000 USD. Lot Sold 392,500 USD
PROVENANCE: Frank Caro, New York, 2nd October 1967 (according to invoice).
NOTE: The present table illustrates the influence that the European Baroque style had on the decorative repertoire of 18th century Chinese art. The Qianlong period is generally considered the zenith of Chinese artistic and cultural production. It was also an era when the confrontation with and reception of European art introduced to the Imperial Qing court by Jesuit missionaries, brought to fruition elaborate projects such as the Yuanming Yuan complex in Beijing. Fascination with the decorative repertory and iconography of Western decorative arts manifested itself in smaller objects as well, and this table is such an example.
Carved from the rare and expensive zitan wood, the intricate 'dahlia' scroll embellishing the apron and spandrels is related to the 'rocaille' motif found in the architectural elements of the Yuanming Yuan complex. Compare, for example, the border at the grounds of the fountain on the Western Facade of the Palace of the Tranquil Sea as depicted in an etching of Yuanming Yuan, illustrated in From Beijing to Versailles: Artistic Relations between China and France, Hong Kong, 1997, pp. 260-261, pl. 100. The fountain is anchored by a large conch shell sculpture nestled in the center. This composition is echoed in the carving on the present table, where the dahlia's sumptuous bloom anchors the scrolling border.
The table is rare, as only one comparable table has been published, illustrated in Tian Jiaqing, Zitan Yuan (The Essence of Zitan), Beijing, 2007, no. 4, pp. 22-29. The 'dahlia' motif appears in the decoration of other zitan furniture in the Qing court collection, compare, for instance a table of similar size, also embellished with an apron featuring the 'dahila' scroll, illustrated in The Complete of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Furniture of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (II), Hong Kong, 2002, p. 134, no. 119 (Fig. 1); for other examples compare ibid., p. 66, no. 55, and p. 143, no. 127.
Sotheby's. Fine Ceramics and works of Art. 15 Sept 2010. New York www.sothebys.com