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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 7 

Lot 7

Lot 7
Treasury 2, no. 371 (‘Zhiting’s Buddhist Offering’)
HK$437,500

Chalcedony; adequately but not extensively hollowed, with a concave foot surrounded by a narrow rounded foot rim; carved with a continuous, partially cameo scene of a long-haired Central Asiatic foreigner holding a spherical object outside a temple complex in a rocky landscape with three Buddhist lions, two beribboned brocaded balls, a clump of lingzhi, a maple tree and a long-tailed bird perched on a rocky ledge, two rock faces inscribed with three lines from a Ming poem on lions, the neck and part of the shoulder with a wisp of formalized clouds, the carving extending onto the outer lip
Suzhou, school of Zhiting, 1730–1850
Height: 5.52 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.64/2.00 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; glass collar

Provenance:
Robert Hall (1987)

Published:
Hall 1987, no. 10
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 232
Treasury 2, no. 371

Exhibited:
Robert Hall, London, October 1987
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

There would be no problem with dating this example to the Qianlong period, which would allow for earlier jade carvings attributable to Zhiting to be from the first half of the eighteenth century, but the school as a whole includes a bottle dated 1792 (a black-and-white nephrite bottle now in the Franz Collection, sold as lot 1496, Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 5 May 1995) and others that probably date from the first half of the nineteenth century, culminating in the Tongzhi-dated example from this collection (Sale 6, lot 186), which cannot have been made prior to 1862.

Although this is an unusual subject for the Zhiting’s workshop, it is far from unique. There are a small number of other examples recorded with the design of Buddhist lions, sometimes on their own, sometimes, as here, in a temple setting with a foreigner (see, for instance, a spectacular example in Friedman 1990, no. 53, and Snuff Bottles of the Ch’ing Dynasty 1978, no. 205).

The three lines of poetry on this bottle are from a poem on the lion by Xia Yan 夏言 (1482 – 1548), a Ming scholar and high official of unusual integrity. The inscription on the rock below the gate is from the first line of the poem, but the last three characters in the line are replaced on the bottle by a single character that we cannot decipher and think is meant only to look like a character. The two lines on the rock to the right are from the third couplet. The first two characters in each line are omitted in order to make five-character lines, which results in some loss of clarity, but obviously the bottle was too small to accommodate seven-character lines.

We suspect that this poem was written on the occasion of lions arriving in Beijing as tribute from a distant state. Because it is not easy to identify and find, we offer a translation of the complete poem below, with the parts relevant to this bottle underlined.

金眸玉爪目懸星。群獸聞知盡駭驚。怒懾熊羆威凜凜,雄驅虎豹氣英英。
曾聞西國常馴養,今出中華應太平。卻羨文殊能服爾,穩騎駕馭下天京。
With golden eyes and claws of jade, it has stars suspended in its eyes;
When they hear tell of it, all the beasts are terrified.
Its fury overpowers the bears and grizzlies, filling them with trembling awe;
Its ferocity puts tigers and leopards to flight, its vital spirit blazes.
I’ve heard that in the western realms they raise them;
Now that they appear in China, it must be a time of Great Peace.
But I envy the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, who can cause you to submit
And carry him safely down to the Heavenly Capital.

The last two lines are addressed to the lions. The bodhisattva Mañjuśrī is often shown seated on a blue lion or on a lion skin, symbolizing the power of wisdom to tame.

Many of the standard elements of the Zhiting landscape style are present here, despite the unusual subject, including one of the most extensive horizontal rocky ledges from the school, with the standard series of serried ranks of small, short incisions to represent perhaps grass, although they are ranged horizontally. The maple, if that is indeed what it is, is superbly carved, with a beautifully worked and intricately textured trunk and branches, but it also has a feature that illustrates well the extraordinary capacity of this school for the use of every touch of colour and for the transformation of negative markings into positive ones. There is a natural flaw in the material running horizontally above the figure in the direction in which he faces. Unedited, it would have seemed like a crack and been distinctly negative. The artist has turned it into a positive element by the unusual method for the school of employing it as a lower-plane cameo of foliage beneath a ground-colour branch. By carving part of the foliage in the ground colour and part of the branch over the deeper layer of dark brown, the artist has almost completely hidden the crack-like flaw, leaving just its end showing to act as a twig at the end of the branch. It is both an imaginative and inspired use of flawed material, something the Chinese lapidary was famous for, of course, but something the Zhiting-school aesthetic would have trained its carvers for to a high level of mastery.

 

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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