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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 14 

Lot 14

Lot 14
Treasury 3, no. 397 (‘Yuezhi’s Songhua-stone Imperial Melon’)

Shale; reasonably well hollowed, with a flat lip and flat foot; carved in the form of a formalized melon, the lobes covered with incised inscriptions relating to ancient bronze vessels, together with a dedication and signature
Bottle: probably imperial, 1680–1780
Inscription: Zhenzhi 振之, 1760 – 1890
Height: 5.38 cm
Mouth/lip 0.45/1.19 cm
Stopper: coral; plastic collar

Bob C. Stevens
Sotheby’s, Honolulu, 7 November 1981, lot 183
Belfort Collection (1986)

Chinese Snuff Bottles 4 (1966), p. 39, fig. 6
Stevens 1976,no. 660
Chinese Snuff Bottles and Dishes 1978, no. 267
Très précieuses tabatières chinoises, p. 16, no. 222
Arts of Asia, September–October 1982, p. 150
Snuff Bottle Review, March 1983, p. 11
Kleiner 1987, no. 177
JICSBS, Summer 1991, p. 6
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 249
Treasury 3, no. 397

Mikimoto Hall, Tokyo, October 1978
L’Arcade Chaumet, Paris, June 1982
Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

Wherever we find a popular form produced in a number of different materials, as is the case with this snuff bottle, it is worth considering whether most or all of the examples might be an imperial group as a whole, coming in part at least from the palace workshops at Beijing. The stone may be the famous Songhua stone 松花石 prized by the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong emperors for making inkstones.

The inscriptions added to it, which could have been put on at any time subsequently but which are typical of nineteenth-century scholarly involvement in the snuff-bottle arts, relate apparently to three archaic bronze vessels, two ding sacrificial food vessels and a li (the li being like a ding but with hollow legs to expose the greatest possible surface to the flames when heating food). Using various scripts, including ancient bronze script, seal script, and regular script, a scholar identified only as Zhenzhi has copied for his respected ‘elder cousin’ the inscriptions from the ancient vessels.

In the centre of one main side, in large seal script, is the inscription Fu gui chang yi houwang富貴昌宜侯王 (‘Wealth, honour, and brilliance fitting for a lord’); this is an inscription seen on a great many washing pots from the Han dynasty.

The next two segments, to the left of that seal-script inscription, read Zhong zuo lü ju ding 仲作旅車鼎 (Zhong made a display ding). This is in archaic script. and ju should be written as a single character; but the archaic form of it is so gangly and oversized that few scholars, if any, realized before modern times that it was not two characters. At the end of inscription is its name: Lü ju ding 旅車鼎

In the next segment to the left is the dedication, in regular characters: Yuezhi biaoxiong zheng zi 悅之表兄正字 (‘For cousin Yuezhi to correct the characters’)

In the centre of the other main side is an inscription in archaic script covering three lobes of the melon: Shi shu fu zuo zun ding qi wan nian zizi sunsun yong bao yongheng 史叔父作尊鼎其萬年子子孫孫永寶用享 (Shi shu fu made an honoured ding; may his sons and grandsons treasure it, use it, and enjoy its benefits forwever’)

To the left of that inscription, one of the lobes on the narrow side names the carver in regular script: Di Zhenzhi kan弟振之刊 (‘Carved by your junior, Zhenzhi’)

On the other narrow-side lobe, to the left of this signature, is a third inscription from a bronze vessel in archaic script: Wang zuo Yonggong qi li 王作永宮齊鬲 (‘The king commissioned a qi li for the Palace of Eternity’); it is followed by Yonggong li 永宮鬲 (‘The Yonggong li’) in regular script. The original inscription is available in a rubbing (on the right in this image), showing that the bottle does not copy it closely.

The carver of these inscriptions may have been the son of a famous Anhui carver named Zhang Lifu 張立夫. Zhang excelled at carving ancient calligraphy onto stone. He also carved bamboo staffs and brushpots. His son Zhang Zhenzhi carried on his work and was much sought after as a teacher. Zhang Zhenzhi was on the staff of the eminent official and scholar Zeng Guofan 曾國藩(1811–1872).

Another Zhang Zhenzhi was a man whose given name was Heng 鑅; Zhenzhi was his courtesy name. His native place was in Zhili (Hebei province), close to the capital. He was an education commissioner in Hunan before 1850 (he wrote this calligraphic work, carved into wood panels, in Hunan), and had a similar post in Fengtian 奉天 (modern Shenyang), where he remained from 1850 to at least 1854. Interestingly, Fengtian was only about 200 km west of the Changbai Mountain Range (on the border with North Korea), where shale like the material of this snuff bottle was extracted. (Information on Zhang Heng comes from Cheng Xiaojun 成晓军, Fengyu wan Qing: Zeng Guofan yu tade jingyingmen 风雨晚清 : 曾国藩与他的精英们 [The storm clears in the evening: Zeng Guofan and his finest men] [Beijing: Tuanjie chubanshe, 2009], p. 184; Wu Dating 吳大廷, Qing Wu Tongyun xiansheng Dating ziding nianpu 清吳桐雲先生大廷自訂年譜 [Autobiographical chronology by Mr Wu Tongyun, Dating] [Taipei: Taiwan Shangwu yinshuguan, 1980], p. 6; and http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_60d1b38f0102dxjm.html)

In Treasury 3, we also mentioned Wang Linsun 王麟孫, courtesy name Zhenzhi, whose landscape-painting style was nearly identical to that of his father, Wang Chen 王宸 (1720 – 1795). There was strong interest in epigraphy in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and we assume Wang Linsun was at least a decent calligrapher, but otherwise he is a weak candidate for the engraver of this bottle’s inscriptions in comparison with Zhang Heng and Zhang Zhenzhi. Zhang Heng is particularly intriguing because this distinctive type of shale, Songhua stone 松花石, would have passed through Fengtian on its way to distribution in the rest of the country. Lacking firm evidence, however, we have left a broad range for the date of the carving. The early possible date for the bottle itself is based upon the fact that many of the darker range of Songhua inkstones in the imperial collection are dated to the Kangxi period.


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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