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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 85 

Lot 85

Lot 85
Treasury7, no. 1490 (‘A Boat for Ziyou’)

Coconut shell; with a flat lip and recessed, slightly convex foot surrounded by a protruding flattened footrim; made from two segments joined together with glue; carved on one main side with a covered skiff moored to a pole in flowing water beneath a willow tree growing from a rocky bank, inscribed in regular script ‘Made for the elegant enjoyment of the respected Ziyou on a summer day of the xinwei year’, and on the other with an irregular panel carved with a copy of an ancient bronze inscription in relief on a roughly stippled ground, with a regular -script transcription beside it: ‘Made a zun wine vessel for the use of Fuding’, followed by the signature Zimei
Zimei, 1871
Height: 5.76 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.43 and 0.41/0.87 and 0.81 cm (both oval)
Stopper: horn; yellow horn finial; horn collar; possibly original

Eldred’s, 26 August 1978
Gerd Lester (1986)

Treasury 7, no. 1490

Although constructed of two segments of coconut shell in the standard way, this bottle differs in several ways from its counterparts, such as Sale 1, lot 16 (which we now think was by an artist working at the beginning of the nineteenth century with only second-hand access to the kinds of sources available to Lu Jun, for which see lot 7 in the present auction and the forthcoming JICSBS article on coconut-shell snuff bottles by Moss and Sargent).The two halves are not held together by pins, which is the usual method, but simply glued—albeit very efficiently, since the two halves still hold fast without so much as a hint of strain at the joins. The maker has carved a standard neck and foot out of the thickness of the two joined segments, which is extremely unusual. As a rule, a neck and foot would be made of extra segments. Another unusual departure is the use of bas-relief for the waterscape; relief designs like this, where the surface plane is lowered all around the design, are the exception to the rule on coconut shell bottles of the simpler constructional methods.

The waterscape is clearly the work of an experienced artist, and the bronze inscription appears every bit as competent as any we have seen—at first glance. Close inspection shows that the ground around the inscription is perhaps hastier in execution than on other coconut-shell bottles: it was reduced below the surface plane of the bottle and then simply notched out in a pattern dense enough to serve as an effective backdrop for the characters but not as a finely worked rough surface. Even More puzzling is the inscription itself. We have been unable to locate its original so far; moreover, the character zun, which constitutes the entire second column of the inscription here, is split, with a space between the upper and lower elements. Finally, the grammar of the inscription seems incomplete; either something is out of order or this is an excerpt from a longer inscription, something we have not seen so far in these snuff bottles. It is possible that this is a pseudo-inscription, but we hesitate to declare it as such until more research is done.

The name Zimei is almost certainly that of a woman. It is possible that Zimei carved the entire bottle; it is perhaps more likely that she purchased a bottle that had been carved by a person with who had enough knowledge and skills to impress her (but not a more experienced scholar). If she engraved the transcription of the archaic characters, she probably did it with some coaching; or she may have had someone with a bit less skill than the original artist do the transcription and dedication for her.

The correct interpretation of the cyclical date remains uncertain. Although there was a concentration of signed and dated coconut-shell bottles from the latter part of the century, favouring the 1871 date for this bottle, there is another bottle with similarly less-than-impressive calligraphy and in a somewhat similar hand that is dated to the fifth year of the Daoguang reign, or 1825 (JICSBS, Spring 2000, p. 11, fig. 18). It bears only the art name of the carver, Rensong (Virtuous pine). The existence of such a bottle in 1825 would encourage us to ascribe the Zimei bottle to the previous xinwei year, 1811, the same time frame as the error-prone carver of Sale 1, lot 16.


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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