Abstinence was a ceremonial requirement prior to worshipping the ancestors, the heavens or other deities in the Qing court.
The abstinence period usually lasted for
three days, during which courtiers were to refrain from eating meat
and fragrant herbs such as onions, chives, garlic and the like,
from consuming alcohol, and from any intimate acts.
To signal a period of abstinence, pendant
plaques were worn displaying inscriptions in both Chinese and
The Fernandes collection sold by
Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury on May 22 included nine
different examples fashioned in a range of luxury materials
including tortoiseshell, agate, jade, famille rose porcelain, rock
crystal, mother-of-pearl, lacquer and textile. The examples
pictured here are both rarities.
Estimated at £5000-8000, but sold at
£47,000, was a Qianlong period Imperial porcelain gourd-shaped
plaque decorated in the famille rose palate with scrolling
flowering vines, bats and small gourds and the characters zhai
jie in Chinese to one side, the Manchu characters
bolgomi karga to the other. It retained a silk tassel
for suspension mounted with turquoise beads. Sotheby's sold an
identical plaque in 2008 for £8000.
The 18th/19th century kesi textile
abstinence plaque - similarly inscribed - was made specifically for
the dragon boat festival. The Qing 'five poison' insects and
amphibians surround the text. Estimated at £1500-2500, it took
These sums took abstinence plaques to new price levels (at least
in the context of Western salerooms) although, as ever, the market
is difficult to read. A Qianlong abstinence plaque offered by
Bonhams, worked in gold with precious stones and enamel, failed to
sell with an estimate of £20,000-30,000.