I am always excited when the Christie’s online magazine lands in our inbox and I was especially excited this month when I began reading the fascinating history behind the Dragon Throne for the Son of Heaven. This exquisite Red Lacquer Throne from the Qianlong Period (1736-1795) is coming up for sale in London at Christie’s on 14th May.
The Qianlong Emperor was a visionary, encouraging and furthering the arts, expanding the empire and welcoming Western influence into his court and such a work of art (the throne) can only be testament to his nearly 6 decades of rule.
There are 9 dragons featured on this throne, a particularly auspicious number for the Chinese and also a number which is regarded very masculine, being the highest single digit. Thus making this a very strongly a throne which represents the supreme power of the emperor. The clouds too among which the dragons are pursuing flaming pearls are very strong symbols too in Chinese tradition, representing good fortune. The flaming pearls themselves represented wisdom, harmony and prosperity. It is a detailed, layered work both physically and symbolically. Nothing is left to chance.
The body is made of soft wood which is then coated in 100-150 layers of lacquer. Lacquer is the sap of the tree which grows in Southern China and once there are enough layers to carve upon, the carving commences.
Clearly the predominant colour of this beautiful throne is red, but look closer and you will see that this red is offset and stands out because of the orange lacquer underneath on which it sits. I can only imagine the hours of work it took to create such a piece!