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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 25 

Lot 25

Lot 25
Treasury 2, no. 366 (‘Zhiting’s Meng Haoran At Ease’)

Chalcedony; with a concave inner lip and flat, slightly irregular foot; carved on one side with a partially cameo scene of Meng Haoran strolling with his attendant, who holds a spray of blossoming prunus, in a rocky landscape with a flowering prunus tree growing from a rocky bank, the foreground with foliage and two clumps of lingzhi in front of a convoluted, pierced rock, with a small country cottage visible beyond a rocky bluff, and on the other with a low relief scene of a small water-side group of three houses set on a bank beyond rocks, with a plank or stone-slab bridge leading across a narrow inlet towards them beneath a shoulder band of formalized clouds
Suzhou, school of Zhiting, 1730–1850
Height: 6.12 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.66/1.92 and 1.85 cm (oval)
Stopper: coral; gilt-bronze collar

Condition: There is a tiny chip, two surface scratches and a bruise to the outer mouthrim, but otherwise in good condition.

Eric Young
Sotheby’s, London, 24 April 1989, lot 404

JICSBS, Spring 1989, inside back cover
JICSBS, Autumn 1989, p. 28
JICSBS, Winter 1992, front cover
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 230
Kleiner 1995, no. 271
Treasury 2, no. 366

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

There has been a casual assumption, ever since we first recognized a group of jade and chalcedony bottles as being linked by style and associated with the town of Suzhou, that these represented Suzhou style as a whole, with perhaps most of the workshops in the town producing similar wares. This belief is no longer sustainable. One reason is that the distinctive manner of carving rocks so common to this large group of bottles and related pendants, with a series of ridges serrated with small indentations, does not appear on any wares other than the snuff bottles and pendants. We know from the imperial archives that substantial quantities of jade carvings were ordered at Suzhou for the court through the local Imperial Silk Manufactory, and we know that from the 1760s onwards a large number of screens and mountain- or boulder-carvings were produced there (Yang Boda, 1992). None has the distinctive serrated rockwork style we have come to associate with Suzhou snuff bottles, although the planar style, with a series of angular planes suggesting jagged rocks, is common to both. This distinctly three-dimensional planar style is probably a more reliable indicator of a broader local style, while the serrated style appears to be typical only of the snuff-bottle and pendant school of Zhiting.

Suzhou was apparently the largest hardstone carving centre in China, and it seems increasingly likely that the snuff-bottle style is merely one of a number of different Suzhou styles, representing perhaps as little as a single workshop specializing in snuff bottles and pendants from perhaps as early as the Kangxi period to the late nineteenth century. Therefore, we have chosen to differentiate this distinctive sub-style by using the art name of one of the earlier artists who made jade snuff bottles and signed his wares, hence the ‘school of Zhiting’ designation. We do not know precisely when Zhiting worked, but he seems to have been an eighteenth-century carver; jade expert James Watt suggests he was a Kangxi carver (see Treasury 1, no. 122, where a group of non-snuff-bottle carvings by him are cited). In the light of the group of snuff bottles bearing his name and the fact that we can link his signed works in jade with several unsigned works in chalcedony (all data probably unknown to Watt at the time of his publication), we may be fairly certain that he worked well into the Qianlong period if, indeed, he was active in the Kangxi period at all.

The style continued into the Tongzhi period in the late nineteenth century (see Sale 6, lot 186). That the school produced both jade and chalcedony bottles is not in doubt. There are even a few crystal bottles known, of which Sale 2, lot 65 is stylistically the earliest (a J & J example is cited there, and two other known examples are published in Moss 1971, no. 173, now in the Kleiner Collection, and in Hall 1991, no. 25). There are far too many examples of stylistic similarity between the jade and chalcedony bottles to leave this question in doubt, and one only has to compare this example with another jade in this collection (Sale 1, lot 93), carved with the same subject on both sides, to be certain. Apart from the rather quirky style of depicting the country residences, the similar small, distinctively depicted, rounded lingzhi clumps set like irregular toffee-apples on long, smooth, rounded stems, and the similarity of figures and prunus, the artist has in each case put a rather idiosyncratic clump of convoluted rocks in the foreground.


A feature of this school is found here where an essentially continuous subject appears to be divided into two sides by relatively plain narrow sides. The carving from both main sides blends rapidly into an almost undecorated narrow side, where features from the main sides, such as rocky outcrops, simply fade into nothing. This is not true of all the works of the school by any means, but is found sufficiently often to suggest a pattern; perhaps it occurred only at a particular time, perhaps only when the material suggested it. Sometimes it is only certain elements, the rockwork for example, that fade out while one or two elements, such as a pine tree, form more confident continuity between the two main sides. It seems to depend in part on whether there is some colour at the edges to be used up.


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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