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photographer New Owner.
Water, Pine and Stone Retreat. Qianlong  Large picture | Small picture
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 8 October 2009: Lot 1830 

the shallow oval-shaped bowl with robust sides rising from a low footrim with the main sides flanked by a pair of elongated 'C' shaped 'ear' handles extending just below the mouth rim, each handle carved with a taotie animal mask, the sides of the exterior carved with two pairs of confronting archaic kui dragons with bodies dissolving into archaic 'hooks and volute' scrolls, the dragons centered on two medallions qian and long in seal script, with two further similar medallions on the main sides enclosing the characters fang and gu, completing the mark 'Qianlong fanggu', all reserved on a leiwen diaper ground, the stone of translucent white tone with a grey vein (fitted box)
12 CM.

A Private American Collection.
Knapton & Rasti Asian Art Ltd., London.

The Qianlong emperor's fondness for archaic and ancient forms is evident from this white jade ear-cup which is after Warring States (475 -221 BC) and Han dynasty (206 BC- 220 AD) ear-cups, especially those made in lacquer, such as the four cups included in the exhibition 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1993, cat. nos. 3-4. The present jade vessel is remarkable for the high quality of the finish which is characteristic of the jade workshops patronized by the Qianlong emperor.

Ear-cups known in Chinese as bei or yushang are of this oval form with a pair of round ears serving as handles. Vessels of this type appear to have had a dual function and were used both as wine and food containers. The cup's dual use is evident from the ninety ear-cups unearthed from the Han dynasty tomb site belonging to the first Marquis Dai and his family, located at Mawangdui near Changsha in Hunan province, where fifty cups were found inscribed with the three-characters jun feng shi meaning 'to serve you food' and the rest inscribed with the three-characters jun feng jiu which translates as 'to serve you wine'.

The present cup is inscribed with the four characters Qianlong fanggu which may be translated as 'Exemplifying Antiquity during the Qianlong Reign'. The Qianlong fanggu mark can be found on a number of important wares that were commissioned by the Qianlong emperor who favoured pieces that were designed to invoke the glorious past. Possibly one of the earliest jade ear-cups, in the Anhui Provincial Museum, is illustrated in Zhongguo meishu quanji, vol. 9, Beijing, 1991, pl. 209 (fig. 1), where it is attributed to the Six Dynasty period. Another jade ear-cup of the Tang dynasty, from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Jadeware II, Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 34.

For examples of wares inscribed with the Qianlong fanggu mark see a vase with animal-shaped ring handles, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in Chinese Jades Throughout the Ages –Connoisseurship of Chinese Jades, vol. 12, Hong Kong, 1997, pl. 22. Li Jiu-fang in 'An Introduction to Jades of the Qing Dynasty', ibid., p. xxviii, notes that the formal classification ofQing imperial fanggu jades may be divided into three groups – the replication of ancient jades, the modification of old jades, and jades inspired by Bronze Age forms. Li further mentions that according to the 1743 registry for the Establishment of Maintenance of the Zaobanchu, Bao Shixu and an assistant of the Office of the Treasury delivered two volumes of the Kaogutu (Illustrated Catalogue of Examined Antiquity) to the workshops, and issued the Imperial request that the workers study the illustrations and descriptions of the ancient masterworks in order to create new ones. Instructions were given that the reproductions were to be exactly like the originals in form and measurement. See also the Imperial jade water vessel (lot 1804) in this collection with the six-character Da Qing Qianlong fanggu (Exemplifying Antiquity during the Qianlong Reign of the Great Qing Dynasty) mark inscribed on the base.

Fig. 1 A jade ear cup, six dynasty from the Anhui provincial museum



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Hugh Moss |