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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 126 

Lot 126

Lot 126
Treasury 6, no. 1421 (‘Han Seal’)

Black enamel and colourless glaze on cobalt on porcelain; with a slightly convex lip and recessed flat rounded-rectangular foot surrounded by a protruding convex rounded-rectangular foot rim; moulded in relief on one main side with an ancient covered ding on a stand and a Han-dynasty seal positioned below it so that we see the bottom and two sides of the seal, the seal text reading Xunyang ling yin 潯陽令印 (‘Seal of the Xunyang prefect’), and an inscription around the sides bearing the date Da Han Jian’an shiwunian eryue 大漢建安十五年二月(‘Great Han dynasty, Jian’an era, fifteenth year, second month’) , inscribed on one shoulder and narrow side in regular script, Zhende sanxiong rendaren yawan 振德三兄仁大人雅玩 (‘For the elegant amusement of respected third brother, Zhende’), Yudi Ding Tixian jingzeng 愚弟丁體賢敬贈(‘Respectfully given by your humble younger brother, Ding Tixian’), painted on the other main side with a group of three trees, on the left of which a man in a boat is visible, the scene continuing around to the right to the narrow side where two men sit in conversation below another inscription in regular script (translated below); the foot inscribed in underglaze-blue regular script Da Qing Guangxu nian zhi 大清光緒年製 (‘Made during the Guangxu era of the Great Qing dynasty’), all in underglaze blue except the seal text, which is in black enamel directly onto the biscuit; the lip, inner neck, and interior glazed
Jingdezhen, 1874–1908
Height: 7.49 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.59/1.35 cm
Stopper: carnelian; vinyl collar

Wing Hing, Hong Kong (1993)

Treasury 6, no. 1421

We have found Han seals for magistrates of other locales, similar to the one on this bottle, but we have not yet found the model for this one. Nor have we found a precedent for the addition of a rather specific date around the seal. There was an eclipse of the sun in that month (on 13 March 210, to be exact); Cao Cao 曹操 issued a call for talented men in obscurity to come forth and serve; but if the designer of this snuff bottle intended an historical allusion to something that happened in Xunyang in the second month of Jian’an 15, the allusion is so obscure that even we decline to speculate on what it is.

The seal is backwards—which means it does not represent the imprint of a seal but the bottom of the actual object. The date around two edges of the face can be imagined as written or inscribed along the bottom edge of two side faces of the seal. It is doubtful that any Han seals ever had a specific date carved on the sides in this manner.

This mould was used for a variety of different decorative combinations, mostly without the shoulder inscriptions, and with various subjects painted on the flat main side. There is one in underglaze blue and iron-red only, where the iron-red is very cleverly used to back the seal-text, giving it considerable verisimilitude (Au Hang 1993, no. 295). Two other enamelled versions are in Robert Kleiner & Co. 1994, no. 63, and Kleiner 1990, no. 196. Both are simpler, lacking the additional date around the body of the seal and the shoulder inscriptions. The closest, however, is in ibid., no. 195, also a Guangxu-marked, blue-and-white version with the date around the body of the raised seal and a shoulder-inscription. Like Sale 9, lot 143, this may have been part of a series produced for the court.

Quite apart from this being a rather crowded composition with so much going on around the bottle, it is an unusual one, combining, as it does, artefacts of ancient culture with a normal scene of two scholars chatting in a landscape while a fisherman passes in his boat.

The paired lines above the chatting scholars read


We sit facing, engaged in disinterested conversation on affairs of our time.
We observe at leisure the moving boats on shallow waters.

The identical words are found on a charming bowl excavated in the 1980s and attributed to the Guangxu era by the Jiangyin Museum.

We have not been able to identify Zhende or Ding Tixian.


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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Hugh Moss |