It was part of a special commission by the Qianlong Emperor in 1795 after his retirement to commemorate the end of his reign. After he stepped down from power in favour of his chosen heir at the age of 85, the emperor commissioned 20 sets of three seals to be carved in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials.
This green jade seal formed part of that special order and is recorded in the Qianlong Baosou (the official list of seals of the Qianlong Emperor). It bears the inscription De sui chu xin (Able to achieve my initial intention) and was associated with the Taishang Huangdi (Treasure of the Retired Emperor) seal: Guizheng nai xunzheng (Having abdicated but continuing to reign). This seal would have been used to stamp a signature in the upper right corner of paintings or calligraphy.
The seal was given to the vendor by her godmother, whose family had passed it down to her, and had been housed in a bookcase in a family home in France for over 30 years. It was only when preparing to move house that the owner decided to get some of the objects in the bookcase valued. Sotheby’s specialist Christian Bouvet immediately recognised it as a seal belonging to the Qianlong Emperor.