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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 40 

Lot 40


Lot 40
Treasury 4, no.586 (‘Long Life to the Qiao Sisters’)

An inside-painted rock-crystal 'Qiao sisters' snuff bottle

Flawless crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; painted on one main side with the Qiao sisters seated reading a book together on a chair with bamboo-shaped openwork back and arms and a brocade seat, inscribed in regular script ‘[Executed] in the eleventh month of the year xinchou by Ma Shaoxuan’ with one seal of the artist, Shaoxuan, in negative seal script, the other main side with an assemblage of books, ink rubbings, calligraphic specimens, a letter, a folding fan painted with a branch of peony and bearing the name Nantian, with one illegible seal, a money order and a political communiqué
Bottle: 1760–1880
Painting: Ma Shaoxuan, Studio for Listening to the Qin, Ox Street district, Beijing, eleventh month, 1901
Height: 6.1 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.56/1.8 and 1.72 cm (oval)
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar
Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

Jade House, Hong Kong (1985)

Kleiner 1987, no. 290
1987 Exhibition poster
Orientations, February 1992, p. 70
Ma Zengshan 1997, p. 33, figs. 7 and 8
Treasury 4, no.586

Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
Christie’s, London, 1999

This is another of Ma’s masterpieces, combining two of his favourite subjects from the early years.

The two Qiao sisters lived at the end of the Han and the beginning of the Three Kingdoms period. They were rare among famous ancient beauties insofar as they were never accused of causing the fall of a dynasty or chaos in a court. They also figured in an anecdote with which all but the most backward peasant Chinese would have been familiar. The elder Qiao sister was married to Sun Ce, the founder of Wu, one of the three polities that claimed to inherit the mantel of the Han; the younger Qiao sister was married to the renowned general Zhou Yu (175–210), Sun Ce’s childhood friend and a critical supporter of Sun in the establishment of Wu. Like some recent royal marriages in an island nation off the coast of France, these marriages had an appealing story-book magic. For more on this subject, see Treasury 4, no. 578.

Although ten items have been depicted here, this kind of composition is generally referred to as ‘bapo’ (‘eight brokens’). The broken, or incomplete, state of these objects is suggestive of another word, sui, which means ‘fragmentary’ but is homophonous with the word sui meaning ‘year.’ In other words, by means of punning, bapo evokes baisui, which means ‘one hundred years.’ The significance embedded in this kind of design is, therefore, once again the much longed-for longevity. For more details, see Berliner 1992. The partially obscured nature of so many of the documents in compositions of this kind makes it difficult to identify them all beyond a doubt, but we have identified a number of them in the caption. The signature that appears on the folding fan without its fan-frames is Nantian, the assumed name of Yun Shouping (1633– 1690). The scrap of red paper at the top of the composition bears the name of Zuo Zongtang (1812–1885), who not only played a crucial role in putting down the Taiping and Nian rebellions (in 1864 and 1868, respectively) but also suppressed Yakub Beg’s Islamic state in Turkestan in 1877, leading to the creation of Xinjiang province. In the second row, the cream-coloured document on the left, partially covered, is a quatrain by Tang poet Meng Haoran (680–740).

Although the neater assemblage of documents of Sale 3, lot 37, was produced regularly as early as 1895, the ‘Eight Brokens’ does not appear on an inside-painted snuff bottle until 1897, when Ma painted it several times. The documents change slightly from time to time, but they are obviously a very similar composition with only minor variations. Most of the major documents re-appear in all of them. Another exquisite version of this composition, but in a pear-shaped crystal bottle, was illustrated in Geng and Zhao 1992, no. 337.


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Hugh Moss |