Poly 2007 Spring Auction: Purple-gold copper figure of Buddha
1770 (the 45th year of Qinglong period of Qing Dynasty) was the 70th birthday of Emperor Qianlong. The Banchan 6th of Tashihunpo Monastery in Tibet wanted to go to Beijing and celebrated birthday for the Emperor. From April 13th, Qianglong 44th year on, Banchan 6th had continuously presented gifts to the Emperor. According to the record at that time, the purple-gold copper figure of Buddha was one of gifts being tributary. In the second year, Banchan 6th was abruptly dead in Beijing. Emperor Qianlong saw a copper figure of Baddha, which was given by Banchan 6th, while cleaning up Banchan 6th¡¯s tributes. This Baddha seemed larruping. Then, Emperor Qianlong asked the imperial workshops of the Qing court to imitate it. On December 22nd 1781, Emperor Qianlong sent Shu Wen, who was the minister of the imperial workshops, to Zhong Ba Hu Tu Ke Tu to ask about the recipe to make purple-gold copper, and prepare to ask artisans of the imperial workshop to learn it. According to the introduction by Zhong Ba Hu Tu Ke Tu, purple-gold copper was not made by Tibetan artisans; it was made by artisans of Nepal. But he provided a recipe. Then, artisans of the imperial workshop of Qing court tried to produce one purple-gold copper Buddha based on this recipe. According to the recipe, materials and proportions were as follows: half kilogram of red copper, three-cash of gilt, six-cash of silver, three liang of copper, two-cash of steel, two-cash of tin, two-cash of lead, five-cash of five-color glass, and two-cash of azoth.
After one trial, the recipe of purple-gold copper has been fixed and used time after time. From 46th year to 52nd year of Qianlong period, the Qing court has only made 61 purple-gold copper figures of Buddha. This showed the technique was not mature so that the production was not high. On December 29th of Qianglong 54th year, the court received appropriate diamond, which can be used to make purple-gold copper, from Siam. Thereupon, artisans improved the recipe through many experiments, the final recipe was as follows: half of kilogram of red copper, five-cash of diamond, one liang of gold, one liang of each color glass of five-color glass, two liang of copper, six-cash of silver, two-cash of tin, two-cash of lead, two-cash of steel, and two-cash of azoth.
This recipe significantly increased the proportion of diamond and five-color glass that made the color of purple-gold copper brighter. Until now, the recipe of purple-gold copper has been finally fixed. Today, there is a sheet of purple-gold copper, which was the sheet that was used to finalize the recipe of purple-gold copper at Qianlong period of Qing Dynasty, in the Imperial Palace
The foundry of purple-gold copper Badhha of Qianlong period has been last for 60 years, the recipe has never changed after that. According to the recordation, the court produced only one hundred and more purple-gold Buddha during 6 years after that. Most of them were Amitayus Buddha. Also, Emperor Qianlong liked to produce this type of Buddha in a set of nine or multiple of nine that implied Emperor Qianlong has considered the purple-gold copper as the important material of producing figures that represented longevity. Using purple-gold copper to produce figures has only been last for 15-16 years, so the works left behind were limited and considered as the representative curiosa of Qing court.
Purple-gold copper has the following features. Firstly, it used rare materials, such as gold, silver, imported five-color glass, and etc. red copper and copper were very important strategic material at that time. Normally, there were used to produce coin and cannons. Thus, each purple-gold copper figure of Buddha was carefully verified by Emperor Qianlong and strategist of the country. Secondly, before Qianlong 46th year, all court produced purple-gold copper Buddha were carved with the mark of ¡°Da Qing Qian Long Nian Jing Zao¡± (produced in Qianlong period of Qing Dynasty). However, after the appearance of purple-gold copper Buddha, the Emperor Qianlong gave order that the mark must be in the form of exact year that is why we can know exact production year today.
Using the purple-gold copper Amitayus Buddha of Beijing Poly as an example, let¡¯s explain the common traits of this type of figures: 1) Amitayus Buddha was made by purple-gold copper sheet; 2) no gilt over the body; 3) the color of a new statue is bright; 4)special lines of light are reflected from the inside of metal. Due to the effect of oxygenation after more than two hundred years, the color of most part of the statue has become dark. A small part, which was affected by oxygenation at lower level, has red color and special reflected light that is the difference from old silver products.
The mark of ¡°Da Qing Qian Long Kui Chou Nian Jing Zao¡± (Production of Kuichou Year of Qianlong Period of Qing Dynasty) was carved on the stand of the Amitayus Buddha. ¡°Kui Chou Year is Qianlong 58th year (1793)¡±. This statue was produced after the period that the recipe has been finalized. Since the purple-gold copper Buddha were chronically sacrificed in imperial fanes in Beijing, Chengde, or Shenyang, they are rare to be owned by individual collectors. Thus, this Amitayus Buddha is very rare.