Oriental Ceramics & Works of Art

An Extremely Rare Copper and Bronze Clockwork Celestial Globe by Qi Meilu is to be sold 4 June.

Clockwork Celestial Globe by Qi Meilu

An Extremely Rare Copper and Bronze Clockwork Celestial Globe by Qi Meilu, dated Daoguang and Dinghai Year, correspondning to 1827, the globe formed from two copper hemispheres, engraved with dots and circled dots and pigmented to represent more than 1500 stars according to their magnitude, thin engraved lines grouping the stars in their traditional Chinese constellations which are identified by constellation names engraved alongside, the internal spring-driven clockwork mechanism turns the sphere in time with the Earth's rotation, mechanism pinned to brass polar axes which are supported by brass two-part meridian rings, four pillar chain fusée movement with verge escapement, engraved on their east and west faces with scales in both degrees and Chinese characters, the equator ring similarly engraved with Chinese and Western scales of measurement, all supported on a base inspired by a Kangxi period design by the Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest, consisting of four upright dragons on a circular base, signed and dated in an engraved inscription between the equatorial and ecliptic south pole, height c. 34 cm; wear, scratches, dents, the movement with damage/repair, not tested for function

For similar examples made under the supervision of Qi Meilu, see: A globe dated to the fifth month of 1828 which was acquired by H.L. Nelthropp in 1890 and is now in the collection of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, London and will be exhibited at the Science Museum, London, from October 2015. This globe is illustrated and discussed at length by John Combridge, 'The Clock-Driven Celestial Globes of Qi Meilu and Others', Antiquarian Horology, Winter 1987, Vol. 17, No 2, pp. 165-174
A second globe, dated to the third month of 1830, which was offered for sale at Sotheby's in New York in 1982, is now kept at the Science Museum storage facility at Blythe House, London.
A third globe, dated to the fourth month of 1830, formerly in Anhui Provincial Museum, is illustrated in Shi Shuqing. 'Qi Yanhui suo shi de tianwen zhong' (On the Astronomical clock made by Qi Yanhui), Wenwu, 1958, no.7, pp. 24 and 37-38.
Compare with the following examples offered for sale at auction:
A copper and gilt-bronze globe made by Liu Yan and dated 1845, Sothebys New York, 19th March 2013, lot 1651
A copper and brass globe made by Deng Fusheng and Li Yongcheng and dated 1830, offered for auction 8th October, 2009, Sothebys Hong Kong.

SEK 1.200.000 – 1.500.000
Euro 130.000 – 162.000

From the Collection of Thorild Wulff. Originally purchased in Beijing by the famous Swedish botanist and explorer in 1912, the globe was sold by Wulff's daughter in the 1960s and has remained in the same Swedish family ever since. Thorild Wulff was born April 1, 1877 in Gothenburg, and died late August or early September 1917 in Northwest Greenland. He was a Swedish botanist and polar explorer. He died of exhaustion on an expedition to the North-Eastern corner of Peary Land as a result of bad weather and insufficient supplies. The North Greenland peninsula Wulff Land is named after him, as is a Greenlandic plant species Braya thorild-wulffii (Brassicaceae). In addition to Wulff's ill-fated trip to Greenland, he also visited India (1902) and Iceland (1911). In 1912 he embarked on a mission to China, Japan and Indonesia with the aim of purchasing items for the Rohsska Museum in Gothenburg. His qualifications for this mission were simply his reputation as an adventurer and when Bernhard Karlgren (notable Swedish Sinologist) inspected his acquisitions he observed that Wulff's collection was of very mixed quality. Items from this expedition are still housed in the Rohsska Museum.

The inscription reads: Daoguang Qi Nian Suizai Dinghau Jidong Wuyuan Qi Meilu Zhi. This may be translated as: "Made under the supervision of Qi Meilu from Wuyuan in the Winter season of the seventh year of Daoguang"

Three other celestial globes by Qi Meilu are recorded, each dating between 1828 and 1830, making this the earliest known globe by Qi Meilu. Qi Meilu was a provincial official whose family and given names were Qi Yanhui. In addition to his official responsibilities, he appears to have been the proprietor of a horological workshop. According to John H. Combridge in "The Clock-Driven Celestial Globes of Qi Mei-lu and Others", Antiquarian Horology, Winter 1987, Qi Meilu probably invented the clock-driven globe as an adaptation of non-mechanised globes described in the fourth part of an astronomical and horological encyclopaedia entitled Gouhou Mengqiu (Important Information on the Universe) which was published in 1815. The encyclopaedia was part-written and edited by Xu Chao-zhun from Shanghai and the first part was published in 1807.

A celestial globe is a three-dimensional map of the stars. As with a terrestrial globe, the celestial sphere is mapped by a North and South Pole, an Equator, and lines of longitude and latitude.

Astronomy and astrology have played an important part in Chinese culture since the Shang dynasty and detailed records began in the Warring States period. During the Tang and Yuan periods, respectively, Chinese astronomy was influenced by Indian and Islamic celestial science. From the late Ming period, Western astronomical and astrological theories were introduced to China via Jesuits working in the Imperial Court. Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688) was one such Jesuit: he was appointed Director of the Imperial Bureau of Astronomy to the Kangxi Emperor and, from 1669, he redesigned and refitted the Peking Observatory. In 1673, he oversaw the installation of a large-scale celestial globe whose design inspired the example offered here.
Clock-driven celestial globes appear to be the invention of Qi Meilu although other makers quickly followed his lead.

Enquiries (in English):
Elisabet Fellbom, tel +46 8 453 67 32, elisabet.fellbom@auktionsverket.se
Linn Bennich, tel +46 8 453 67 41, linn.bennich@auktionsverket.se
Enquiries (in Chinese): oriental@auktionsverket.se

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