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Ming Imperial Dragon Carpet at Christie’s, NY

Lot 8 in ‘The Exceptional Sale‘ at Christie’s in New York on 11 December 2014 is a rare Ming imperial double-dragon carpet. It is the sole carpet in this rather bizarre selection of 47 unusual high-ticket objects, antique and modern, including European sculpture, Chinese ceramics, fine French furniture, silver, clocks, an Oscar and an early Apple computer.

The Ming Dragon carpet was made in the late 16th century during the Wanli period, and was almost certainly once part of the furnishings of the Fordidden City in Beijing. It is very closely related to the group of fifty-one such carpets still in the Palace Museum, Beijing, which were most likely all the product of a specific workshop that began weaving carpets for the imperial court in the 15th century and continued until the middle of the 17th century (see M. Franses, ‘Forgotten Carpets of the Forbidden City’, HALI 173, pp.74-87, especially fig.2). 

Christie's, IMPERIAL DOUBLE-DRAGON CARPET, CHINA, WANLI PERIOD

IMPERIAL DOUBLE-DRAGON CARPET, CHINA, WANLI PERIOD (1573-1619). Missing original borders, approx. 14 ft. 9 in. x 10 ft. 4 in. (450 cm. x 315 cm.) PROPERTY OF AN AMERICAN COLLECTOR, acquired 1996. Estimate $600,000-$800,000.

A large fragment, with some substantial reweaves and missing its original grand wide borders, the carpet shows two sinuous five-clawed imperial dragons chasing a flaming pearl, a symbol of perfection and prosperity, against a backdrop of clouds and vines. The design is reminiscent of the carved double-dragons, clouds and waves of the Imperial Way, the stone pathway reserved for imperial use traversing the Forbidden City. Exhibited in Beijing in 1992, it was bought by the international trade on 22 September 1993 at Sotheby’s, New York, for $68,500. At the time, we commented that despite its condition/completeness problems, ‘it was an excellent example of type and sold for a price which, given its rarity, beauty and art historical importance, was a bargain’ (HALI 72, p.129). Acquired by its present owner, an American collector, in the mid 1990s, the estimate this time around is $600,000-$800,000.

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