Last night I was watching a documentary on BBC-2 about Christies the international auction house. Called ‘Sold! Inside the World’s Biggest Auction House’ this two-part documentary made by the talented Michael Waldman was a delightful and observant ‘fly on the wall’ to celebrate Christies’ 250th anniversary. This episode highlighted the huge prices some items can command. Imagine my amazement when a vase almost identical to one that I featured in my recent novel: Daughters of the Silk Road appeared on screen!
This extraordinary ‘Dragon jar’ made under the reign of Chinese Emperor Xuande (1426 - 1435) came under the hammer in May 2016 having been used by its owner as an umbrella stand. Incredibly, I featured an almost identical dragon jar after exhaustive research of surviving Xuande blue and white porcelain now in museums around the world.
In my novel, the vase is also neglected in the owner’s hallway – used not as a receptacle for umbrellas but for car keys or dried flowers. Either way, the ‘real’ owner of the Christies’ vase, and my ‘fictional’ heroine had no idea of the true value of the item in their possession.
The vase in the Christies documentary sold for 158,000,000 milion HK dollars – somewhere in the region of $20,000,000. In my novel, the vase achieved an even more ‘record-breaking’ 400,000,000 million HK dollars, in part due to the fact that it has only three claws as opposed to the five-clawed dragon on Christies’ jar. Three claws symbolised royalty indicating that ‘my jar’ was made for an emperor or king. In both cases the amount raised was a life-changing moment for the owner and, in the case of my novel, the happy ending richly deserved by my character Miranda who had suffered years of genteel poverty with her teenage daughter following a tricky divorce. A member of what we now call the ‘JAMS’ – Just about managing – Miranda ran a small business and worked in a local bookshop but still struggled to pay the gas bill.
The novel set about to explain how a vase made over six hundred years ago might have arrived in Europe and ultimately the UK. How did it survive intact? I suggested that it might have come to Italy originally in the hands of the real-life explorer Niccolo di Conti who returned to Venice in 1444 with his two children Maria and Daniele.
My novel follows the fortunes of the vase as it is handed down through Maria’s merchant family from one generation of the family to the next as they travelled and settled in different parts of Europe from Italy to Bruges, Antwerp and Amsterdam, before finally arriving in England.
As I wrote the novel, I did worry that I was possibly pushing credibility a little. Could such a vase survive so many years of existence unharmed? As it happens I was spot on. The vase sold by Christies was remarkable for its perfection. Not a scratch or chip. I would love to know more about how it survived all this time and whether the story behind this dragon jar was anything like the fictional life I gave my dragon vase. Sadly, I will never know. But it does confirm something I had always suspected – that from time to time - life really does imitate art!
Daughters of the Silk Road was published in April 2016 by Bookouture, and is available on all platforms. Here is the universal Amazon link: https://t.co/XYd7fIwsfN