Kojima Kazuo (1865-1952), acquired in the early 20th century (by repute)
AN IMPERIAL FURONGDONG QIANLONG YUBI SEAL
The current seal is carved from a large block of furong soapstone with a landscape scene inhabited by horses and their herdsman in shallow relief. Each side can be viewed individually as a vignette, while joined together they form a continuous scene like a landscape hand scroll. The layered rocks form large mountain formations, contrasting with the leafy trees carved with slender trunks. The horses are depicted trotting, frolicking, standing or playing, each with endearing details. The herdsman is carved sitting relaxed and content. It is a lively scene and the verdant spring is enhanced by the lustrous quality of the stone. The seal face is carved with seal-script characters Qianlong yubi in relief. The impression of this seal is recorded in Qianlong Emperor’s Baosou (compendium of seal impressions), and the size and material recorded in the compendium match the current seal. Both the seal and the seal face has been carved masterfully, showing the carver’s consummate skills.
Seals are important utensils in the scholar’s studio, and are indispensable in the Emperors or Empreses’ daily lives in the imperial palace. The calligraphy and paintings in the imperial collection are impressed with these personal seals, showing the collecting history and adding to the viewers’ pleasure when viewing these works of art. The numerous plaques and couplets hanging around the place buildings also bear these seal marks, which become part of the architectural and interior elements. These seal marks also aid the identification and research of many pieces of his calligraphy. The Qianlong Emperor, in particular, made a large number of imperial seals in his lifetime to be used either on his own writings or paintings, or as collector’s seals on the books and paintings/calligraphy in his collection.
Connoisseurs often praise tianhuang as the king of soap stones; furong, in a sense, could be called the queen. However, in the old days tianhuang and furong were prized equally and their values fairly similar to each other. Only in recent years has tianhuang increased in value significantly on the market. The jade-like material of the current seal is pure and even, and appears much denser than regular furong stones. This could indicate that itwas mined from Jiangjundong (General Cave). Jiangjundong is situated at the top of Jialiang mountain in Fujian. This is an old mine dated to the early Qing period, and produced some of the best furong ever recorded. Stones from this mine were selected to be tribute to the court as early as the Kangxi period, and the imperial seal given by Kangxi to Yongzheng, yuci langyin ge bao, was made from the furong of this mine. (fig. 1) In Qianlong’s seal compendium, it is recorded that this seal is made of ‘dongshi’ (cave stone), further proof of its fine pedigree. Unfortunately, this cave collapsed during the Qianlong period and mining ceased at this site, only reopening in recent years. Not only is the quality of the material of the current seal excellent, its exceptionally large size makes it very rare amongst stones from the Jiangjundong mine. The combination of this exceptional material and its use as Qianlong’s personal seal makes it a rare treasure for collectors of imperial works of art.
Impressions of the current seal can be seen on: Illustrated Edition of the Books of Odes, Qianlong Emperor, collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei; published in Shiqu Baoji chubian, juan 20, no. 7; The All Complete Qianlong: the Aesthetic Tastes of the Qing Emperor Gaozong, Taipei, 2013, pl. II-3.56 (fig. 2); Nine Pearly Peaks in Green, Huang Gongwang, Yuan dynasty, collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei; published in Shiqu Baoji chubian, juan 17, no. 41; Landscape Reunited: Huang Gongwang and “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains”, Taipei, 2011, p. 76 (fig. 3); Silk Tapestry of Chibi Fu by Qiu Ying, Qianlong period, collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing; published in Shiqu Baoji xubian, han 5, vol. 18; Embroidered Pictures, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2005, pl. 109 (fig.4); and Autumn Boating on a Maple River, Sheng Mao (act. Mid-14th century), collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei; published in Shiqu baoji chubian, juan 44, no. 47; The All Complete Qianlong: the Aesthetic Tastes of the Qing Emperor Gaozong, Taipei, 2013, pl. II-2.18.
PROPERTY FROM A JAPANESE PRIVATE COLLECTION