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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VI  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2013: Lot 104 

Lot 104

Lot 104
Treasury 4, no. 440 (‘The Beauty of the Lotus’)

Crystal and ink; with a flat lip and a flat foot; carved on each side with flowering lotus plants contained in an approximately circular recessed panel; painted on one side with an orchid, chrysanthemums, and bamboo growing from a rocky bank, inscribed ‘Fragrancy for a king’ and ‘In imitation of Shitian’ followed by the signature Banshan; the other main side inscribed with a poem followed by ‘Recorded on an autumn day in the year dingmao,’ followed by the Manchu signature, Yun Jeng, all the Chinese inscriptions in regular script
Bottle: 1740–1807
Painting: Yiru jushi, attributable to Beijing, autumn, 1807
Height: 6 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.60/2.15 cm
Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar

Trojan Collection
Robert Hall (1993)

Hall 1992, no. 84
Treasury 4, no. 440

Christie's, London, 1999

Lan, the ‘fragrancy for a king’, was eupatorium or thoroughwort in early times, a plant used in cosmetics and to ward off insects and other noxious things (see Joseph Needham et al., Science and Civilisation in China 6, 2 Biology and Biological Technology: Agriculture [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984], p. 508). The phrase ‘fragrancy for a king’ originates from words put into Confucius’s mouth in a little-known Han-dynasty work on qin music: seeing the lan flourishing in a hidden valley, Confucius exclaimed that ‘lan should be fragrant for a king, yet here it is flourishing by itself, a cohort of the common grasses’. Recognizing an analogue to his own situation (virtuous but obscure), he could not help pausing in his journey to take out his qin and play it. Later, when lan came to refer to the orchid, Confucius’s words migrated with the term and became a periphrastic phrase for ‘orchid’, as is obviously the case here.

Shitian was the sobriquet of the Ming artist Shen Zhou.

The poem on the other main side is the second half of a poem on lotus blossoms by a prominent Ming official named Shen Shixing (1535 – 1614):

Swimming and playing, golden scales appear;
Flying and soaring, kingfisher wings pass over.
To take in the cool, we linger by the waterside terrace,
And make continuations of the old lotus-picking songs.

This is one of the most successful works where Yiru jushi has taken an existing decorated snuff bottle and painted it. He has resisted the temptation to follow the outside decoration, as later artists might have done, but he has managed, nonetheless, to integrate the exterior carving with the interior decoration, and the result is intriguing. On one side this consists of no more than placing the characters between the relief carving so they can be read easily (for the most part), but on the other, the lotus pond occupies the carved foreground while the painting of the bank of the lotus pond on which the bamboo, chrysanthemums, and orchids grow along a rocky shoreline, forms the background.

The works of Yiru jushi suffer from the same problem as many of our earlier painted bottles in that the years of contact with snuff has darkened the paintings and the surfaces on which they were executed. This one is particularly dark, but this is mainly due to accretions of snuff. The painting itself, partly because it was all in black ink to begin with, which is one of the more tenacious colours, has not suffered at all and most of the characters are still clearly visible.

The range of bottles Yiru jushi used is one of the many clues that he was the first major artist in this field, and possibly the inventor of the art. It is obvious that to whatever extent he commissioned particular bottles, he also seems to have painted frequently on existing bottles. If Yiru jushi was Hongwu (d. 1811; see Sale 2, lot 124) and the first to paint seriously inside snuff bottles, it is likely that he would have had ready access to a variety of crystal bottles and would have needed to commission specific bottles only rarely. As a Manchu at court, he would have been in touch with many individuals with large collections of snuff bottles and plenty of crystal bottles suitable for painting.


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


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1497&exhibition=11&ee_lang=eng


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