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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VI  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2013: Lot 176 

Lot 176

Lot 176
Treasury 1, no. 149 (‘The Jiaqing Emperor’s Jade Basket’)
HK$625,000

Nephrite; very well hollowed, with a concave mouth and flat foot; carved with a continuous basketweave pattern framed at top and bottom by a broad rope border contained between a narrow, plain border on either side of it, the foot incised in regular script Yangzheng shuwu (‘Study for the Cultivation of a Righteous Mind’)
Imperial, attributable to the palace workshops, Beijing, 1795–1851
Height: 5.38 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.60/1.97 and 1.95 cm (oval)
Stopper: glass; vinyl collar

Provenance:
Trojan Collection
Robert Hall (1993)

Published:
Hall 1992, no. 20
Kleiner 1995, no. 64
Treasury 1, no. 149

Exhibited:
British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1997

Apart from the sheer quality and unusual detailing of the workmanship, one of the most striking things about this bottle is that the studio mark on the base is incised with a series of apparently wheel-cut lines to build up the thickness of the strokes in a style very similar to that found on glass snuff bottles from the Beijing palace workshops during the Qing dynasty. With this as a clue to provenance, very slight pale flaws in the neck also hint at a possible palace workshops origin, since this is a feature of a group of white jade bottles attributable to the court during the mid-Qing period. These features on their own might not be sufficiently convincing for a confident attribution to the palace workshops until the ownership of the studio is investigated. Three people during the Qing dynasty apparently used the studio name Yangzheng shuwu. The one most likely connected with this bottle is Minning, who became the Daoguang emperor on 3 February 1821 at the age of 38 sui; the Yangzheng shuwu was his study in the Yuanming yuan during both his youth and his adult years.

The second person said to have had the studio name Yangzheng shuwu is rather problematic. To begin with, his name is given as both Qin Chengye (with the dates 1745 or 1747 – 1828) and Qin Chengshi (identified only as a Qianlong-era metropolitan graduate); the sources that ascribe a poetry collection titled Yangzheng shuwu shi to this person generally call him by the latter name, Qin Chengshi. If the waters were not already muddy enough, Qin Chengye was the tutor of Minning. Now, Qin Chengye would not have named his own poetry collection after the study of his imperial pupil. There were garden buildings and academies in various parts of China with the name Yangzheng shuwu (none of them with any likely association with this snuff bottle), so there was clearly no taboo against using it, but the only Yangzheng shuwu in Qin’s life was the place where he gave Minning his lessons, and clearly Minning had ownership of it. A bibliography of works by Nanjing authors includes a four-juan book by Qin Chengye titled He Yangzheng shuwu shi [Harmonizing with the Yangzheng shuwu poems]; the title tells us that Qin was writing in response to someone else’s Yangzheng shuwu poems—obviously those of Minning. We suspect the following: Qin Chengye may have directed the compilation of the poems of his pupil, leading careless record keepers in later years to erroneously put his name down as the author of the poems. The same culprits probably miscopied his name as Qin Chengshi. Eventually, twentieth-century dictionaries of alternative names pick up a Qin Changshi as having the studio name Yangzheng shuwu, and the confusion spreads.

A Zhang Fuyuan from Hunan is also said to have had a Yangzheng shuwu, but virtually nothing is known of him.

The basketweave design, almost certainly a staple at court, is superbly carved on this bottle, with delightful variation in the nature of the weave to give it a marked sense of having been hand-woven, as the original would have been. The rope border at the top and the bottom is considerably wider than any other known, and this provides another link with the palace workshops, since rope designs were a standard for court carvers of the Qianlong period. To add a natural-looking rope border as the edging for the woven rattan would be to copy the original idea from one common type of basketweave, whereas to create a distinct border of this sort, of wide rope flanked on either side with a distinctly non-realistic plain edge, is to emphasize the rope. It becomes a distinct design element, and a reason for its distinctiveness must be sought, and is found in the standard palace style. The hollowing is also impeccable, as is the concave lip and small mouth through which the hollowing was achieved. The mark was then inscribed with unusual care, given the nature of the inscribing tool which on standard Qianlong-marks from late in the period on glass was often used rather carelessly. The carver has attempted to make curving and rounded strokes credible, despite the nature of the wheel-cut line, which is essentially a straight incision.

 

This is not the Sotheby’s sale catalogue. This is a product of Hugh Moss for the purposes of this website. For the catalogue details please refer to Sotheby’s website or request a copy of a printed sale catalogue from Sotheby’s

 

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