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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 11 

Lot 11

Lot 11
Treasury 4, no. 437 (‘The Hands of Buddha’)

Crystal and ink; with a flat lip and flat, square foot; inscribed on all four sides with a continuous poem, preceded by the notation ‘[Composed in the Rhyme of] Spring in the Qin Garden’ and followed by ‘Recorded by Zhitang in the ninth month of the year xinyou at Tinghe shanfang (‘Mountain Retreat for Listening to the Sounds of Harmony’)’, all in regular script
Yiru jushi, Mountain Retreat for Listening to the Sounds of Harmony, attributable to Beijing, 1801
Height: 6.3 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.78/1.6 cm
Stopper: coral, carved with a coiled chi dragon; gilt bronze collar

The Kaynes-Klitz Collection
Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 16 November 1989, lot 155

Arts of Asia, March-April 1990, p. 148
JICSBS, Spring 1990, p. 22
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 297
Kleiner 1995, no. 374
Treasury 4, no. 437

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
British Museum, London, June–November 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997
Christie's, London, 1999

Yiru jushi may have been Hongwu (1743 – 1811), a grandson of the Kangxi emperor. The name Yiru jushi can be translated as ‘Lay devotee of the Indivisible and Undifferentiated', alluding to a great deal of Buddhist philosophy. We must note that the name Yiru is not unusual, and there are others who called themselves Yiru jushi. However, Hongwu is surely our man: he was an artist, a scholar, and a Manchu, and the painter of these bottles was all three as well (some of his bottles bear Manchu signatures). His dated works appear to have come from the last decade of Hongwu’s life.

An examination of the range of crystal bottles in which our snuff-bottle painter worked (see Sale 1, lot 68) reveals that many of them are of known imperial forms, including no less than six multi-faceted bottles. One of these is an octagonal, transparent chalcedony with raised convex panels on each side, of a shape well known as a court staple. Including these, thirteen of his known bottles are of a type that would provide a strong connection to the court during the mid-Qing period. There are no bottles from his output that convincingly suggest that he worked as late as the mid-nineteenth century.

We must admit that the style of painting in the Yiru jushi snuff bottles is quite different from that of a small number of recorded extant paintings by Hongwu that we have been able to locate. Examples are listed in the printed Bloch catalogue. The difference in style between Hongwu’s known works and the snuff bottles is not an insurmountable barrier, however. The paintings may be from earlier in his career--one is dated 1751. By 1801, when he must have been seventy years of age or more, he may have changed his style completely. It is also possible that he adopted a different style specifically for painting inside snuff bottles, possibly in response to failing eyesight in his old age, prompting a simpler, more essential style. The neatness of his calligraphy would not conflict with this. It is much easier to write characters without seeing clearly than to paint coherent pictures. The famous writers of miniature calligraphy on glass, ceramics, or ivory of the past century, whose works are unreadable without a magnifying glass, wrote without looking at individual characters, writing them entirely from memory.

The inscription is a lyric written to the tune Qinyuan chun. Seven hundred years earlier, a poet would have known the music, but by this time the tune title was simply the name of a matrix of line lengths, rhyme patterns, and tonal patterns that the poet was to follow in writing his composition. Some of Mao Zedong’s lyrics were written to the same matrix, proving that old bottles can be used to contain new wine. The lyric is divided into two stanzas, as is normal for this genre. On the bottle, this is signaled by leaving a space between the last character of the first stanza and the first character of the second (in the fourth column on the second side).

Fragrance is stored in an icy bottle;
It fills the sleeves as it is brought;
Bad smells can be done away with.
With contact in the chain of cause and effect,
A hand soft as cotton
Secretly conveys it to the philtrum
And the eyes come alert.
Fine like wafting smoke,
Fragrant as [illegible] dew,
It is kept as a treasure in a jade case or brocade bag.
It can be enjoyed forever,
And we ask a skilled craftsman to engrave it
Like the most painstaking carving.

It is warm and soft like the finest jade.
What’s more, inside and out,
It is clear and bright, excellent in artistic conception.
Within [illegible] is an inch-square space,
Where the writing is done, ‘goose-tracks [in the mud]’,
[Illegible] pure dots and slanting strokes of
Regular characters: one sees [strokes as small as] flies’ heads.
Such thought went into this,
Such strength of sight!
Clever and without peer.
Truly worth enjoying,
To take the breath of orchids
And with iron-like strokes make the ‘silver hooks’.

It is easy to see that the lyric is about snuff, a snuff bottle, and small characters written in or on the snuff bottle. The identity of Zhitang is less clear: the name was used by at least ONE man alive in the early nineteenth century (Xue Chuanyuan, 1761 – 1829, a poet and the author of a work on maritime defence), but we have not been able to connect him with Yiru jushi, inside painting, or Hongwu. The studio name Tinghe shanfang is found on other bottles bearing names known to have been used by Yiru jushi, so it may be one of his studio names. Whatever the case, we think the inscription on this bottle was composed for Yiru jushi by Zhitang and written in the bottle by Yiru jushi.


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=1804&exhibition=12&ee_lang=eng


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