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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1025 

Lot 1025
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Lot 1025
Treasury 6, no. 1420 (‘Daoist in Wonderland’)

Colourless glaze on cobalt on porcelain; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding convex foot rim; painted under the glaze with a continuous scene of six imperial five-clawed dragons around the upper body, with two more on the shoulders, flying above a base frieze of mythical sea creatures rising from formalized waves; the neck with a band of alternating formalized shou (‘longevity’) characters and bats (four of each); the foot with a ninth dragon amid formalized clouds and surrounding the inscription in underglaze-blue seal script, Suyun Daoren zhi 素雲道人 (‘Made for Suyun, Follower of the Dao’); the lip, inner neck, and interior glazed
Jingdezhen, circa 1891
Height: 9.61 cm
Mouth/lip: 1.32/2.52 cm
Stopper: horn

John Ault (2002)
Robert Kleiner (2002)

Kleiner 1990, no. 198
Treasury 6, no. 1420

Under lot 1093 in this auction, we identify Suyun Daoren as the powerful eunuch also known as Liu Chengyin 劉誠印. Liu was one of the Empress Dowager’s three favourite eunuchs in the last three decades of the century and the only one she could rely on for intelligent political advice. For more on him and his connection with the Quanzhen 全真 sect of Daoism at the White Cloud Monastery in Beijing, see Liu Xun 劉迅, ‘Visualizing Perfection: Daoist Paintings of Our Lady, Court Patronage, and Elite Female Piety in the Late Qing’, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 64, no. 1 (June 2004): 57 – 115. It is significant that when Liu Suyun became too ill to continue in service, the Empress Dowager saw him off from the Summer Palace in a boat reserved for Manchu princes (Liu Xun, p. 86). This helps us understand why this and some other bottles bearing the Suyun daoren mark feature five-clawed dragons, which had been normally reserved for the emperor. We have surmised that these protocols had broken down by the end of the nineteenth century, but in the case of Liu Suyun we can say that it was less a matter of lowering the threshold for use of the five-clawed dragon and more a matter of people other than the emperor rising in power and prestige to the same level of privilege.


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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