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Piguet Auction House discovers a celestial sphere that shines new light on the History of Science in East Asia

BY Salomé Summer | 02-Dec-2017
Piguet Auction House presents a world premiere in East Asian astronomy revealing one of the oldest known clock driven celestial spheres in the world. This unique and so far unseen instrument will be placed on public display for the first time in Geneva from 8th – 10th December before being auctioned on Wednesday 13th December at 9.30 am (lot 708, estimate € 85,000-130,000). This celestial sphere is the star lot in the Asian and Oriental Arts sale, already rich with museum worthy pieces. Three immense Ming sculptures with the same provenance as those in the Rietberg Museum in Zurich (lots 536 et 537 estimated each at € 43,000) will be presented in the Chinese section, along with an Imperial porcelain dish from the Loup collection which was exhibited recently at the Baur Foundation in Geneva (lot 553, estimate € 4,000 – 7,000).
Bernard Piguet, Director and Chief auctioneer at Piguet Auction House underlines: “The extensive research by our specialists resulted in this major discovery. It is a great honour to present such a unique and prestigious object to the international art market”.

The oldest model of an East Asian celestial sphere in the world

During the 10 months of extensive research, Piguet Auction House specialists sought out the greatest experts in this field, one of whom being Professor Christopher Cullen , world renown for his research and publications in this area. During his examination of the sphere, metallurgical testing was called for to corroborate the origin and dating of its components to Japan, first half of the 17th century. The auction house’s specialists then realised they had just discovered the oldest known model to date in the world’s collections.

By analysing the latitude and axis of the sphere according to the horizon of the earth box housed on the inside, the specialists were able to determine that it was intended for Edo, the original name for Tokyo. A luxury object of great precision at the time, the sphere would have been made by Japanese craftsmen who were advised on East Asian astronomical traditions. The techniques used were those of clock makers and they drew further information from western cartographers - ideals that had been introduced by the Jesuits in the 16th century.

“This discovery is of major importance to the History of Science in East Asia” underlines Vincent Krenz, Head of Asian and Oriental Art at Piguet. “It sheds new light on the exchange of knowledge between east and west during the 16th and 17th centuries and affords us a greater comprehension of scientific advancement in East Asia during this period”.

This unique piece also has a prestigious provenance. It was purchased in Paris before 1936 by Xavier Givaudan (1867 -1966) and has been preserved by the family ever since. Items from the Givaudan collection have already been sold by Piguet in 2017 and with great success (paintings and works of art in March and books in September – press releases and results available on request).

Museum worthy Asian and Oriental works of art

The Asian and Oriental Art sale will present 223 very fine lots for auction on Wednesday 13th December at 9.30 am.

Three monumental sculptures of a warrior and two horses date from the Ming period. They arrived in Switzerland by the same shipment as those housed in the Rietberg Museum in Zurich (lots 536 and 537, each estimated at € 43,000). These sculptures are currently at the home of a private Swiss collector and will be put up for auction for the first time.

A selection of porcelain pieces and cloisonné enamel objects are from a direct descendant of the Loup family (recent exhibition at the Baur Foundation in Geneva). Among the collection is an important Imperial porcelain dish from the Qianlong period (1711 - 1799) with wufu decoration (“five bats”), estimated at € 4,000 – 7,000 (lot 553).

Important Gandhara pieces from the Arthur Huc collection, a famous French journalist from between the two wars, deserve particular attention (lots 719 to 721) as does the collection of over 100 antique netsukes (lots 675 to 696).

Important finely crafted Japanese swords, Chinese embroideries and furniture made from the precious huanghuali wood are also included in this grand Asian Art sale.

Fine wines, jewellery and watches take their place in December’s sale

The sales that take place on 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th December will see over 3,200 lots of paintings, furniture, silver, works of art, fine wines, jewellery and watches go under the hammer. The total low estimate for this vast array of objects is 2.5-3.5 million euros.

The annual Fine Wines sale will be held on Monday 11th December at 19:00 and will offer an exceptional variety of fine Claret wines from private Swiss wine cellars. The top five classifications of wines or premiers crus classés will be presented – Ch. Margaux, Ch. Lafite-Rothschild, Ch. Latour, Ch. Mouton Rothschild and Ch. Haut-Brion – as well as the greatest Pomerol, St Emilion and Sauternes wines with excellent vintages: Petrus (2009), Ch. Cheval Blanc (1947, 1982 and 2005), Ch. d’Yquem (2005).

On Thursday 14th December, an incredible 1000 lots of jewellery and watches with estimates spanning from € 100 to 50,000 will go under the hammer. This quantity and variety of lots will be presented in a separate catalogue.

Public viewing (open doors):
Friday 8, Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 December 2017 from 12:00 to 19:00 non-stop.

Sales calendar:
Monday 11 December at 19:00: luxury leather goods, Fine wines.
Monday 11 December at 19:00: closure of the silent sale.
Tuesday 12 December 19:00: Russian works of art, silver, curios.
Wednesday 13 December at 9:30, 14:00 and 19:00: Asian and Oriental Art, Furniture, Works of Art, Paintings, Sculptures, Swiss Art, Modern Art.
Thursday 14 December at 14:00 and 19:00: Watches and Fine Jewellery.