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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1067 

Lot 1067
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Lot 1067
Treasury 2, no. 353 (‘The Emperor’s Spring-Poem Crystal’)

Crystal with red pigment; very well hollowed; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim; inscribed with a ninth-century poem followed by the characters Qianlong jiawu zhongchun yuti 乾隆甲午仲春御題 (‘Inscribed by the emperor in the second month of spring in the year jiawu of the Qianlong era’), all in clerical script with traces of original red-pigment filling
Imperial, probably palace workshops, Beijing, 1750–1799; inscription dated 1774
Height: 5.82 cm
Mouth/Lip: 0.48/1.61 cm
Stopper: tourmaline

Edith Griswold
Sotheby’s, New York, 1 June 1994, lot 778

Treasury 2, no. 353

The poem inscribed here was apparently originally filled with red pigment, like the Manchu inscription on Sale 2, lot 22. In Treasury 2, the emperor was erroneously credited as the poet, but the colophon after the poem must be interpreted to mean that the Qianlong emperor merely inscribed it in 1774 (on paper or silk; it was later copied by the lapidary), for the text itself is Early Migrating Geese (Zao yan 早雁), by Du Mu 杜牧 (803 – 852), a well-known Tang poet.

Wild geese are associated with both the northern frontier and with their winter habitat in Hunan (around the Xiao-Xiang 瀟湘River, as the Xiang River is known after it is joined by the Xiao River); these associations account for the first and last couplets of the poem. Of course, they have to make the perilous journey between the two regions, and the second couplet uses allusions to Han dynasty lore to make the passage of a lone goose glimpsed or heard in the night particularly evocative. The third couplet suggests that the geese should avoid the nomadic hunters of the north (and stay in the Xiao-Xiang region of the next couplet, although it is conventionally a remote region of exile).
One might think a Manchu emperor would avoid a poem that uses (in its first line) a conventional reference to the northern hunters as lu 虜, ‘captives, slaves’, but he probably thought (and probably correctly) that Du Mu had in mind the Uighurs. The Golden River in the first line is in Inner Mongolia.

At the Golden River it is halfway through autumn;
the nomads draw their bows.
Beyond the clouds they fly in alarm,
scattering everywhere, anguished.
Over the Immortal’s Palm the moon is bright;
a lone shadow passes.
In the Changmen Palace lamps darken;
a few cries reach her ears.
You must know the barbarian cavalry
is spread everywhere:
Why must you obey the breezes of spring
and return [north], each and every one?
Do not tire of the Xiao-Xiang,
though few people will dwell there!
The waters abound with wild rice,
the banks with tasty lichen.

This unusually small bottle is of a popular mid-Qing form that occurs in a wide variety of materials, and adds weight to the probability that it may have been an imperial group. For other examples see Sale 6, lot 130, a Qianlong-marked yellow jade example with a poem inscribed in a similar style of inscription, and Sale 7, lot 47, a white jade bottle inscribed with the hall mark of the Fifth Prince Ding (d. 1854). For another, more conventional-sized brown crystal, see Sale 2, lot 42. To whatever extent the form is a fairly obvious one that could have been made elsewhere, it seems likely that it was also a standard imperial form made at court workshops. The large number of plain examples of the form may also fit in with the giving of presents on regular occasions from the court to officials and other dignitaries. To provide quantities of plain bottles would have been easier and quicker than providing bottles carved with specific subjects.


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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