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photographer New Owner.
Water, Pine and Stone Retreat. Qianlong  Large picture | Small picture
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 8 October 2009: Lot 1821 

of square section with the top panel of the cover slightly raised on a stepped base and framed by canted panels echoed on the base, each panel covered with bats flying on a dense ground of ruyi- shaped clouds, repeated on the panels of the straight sides of the cover and on the base with only clouds, the interior of the base fitted with a pierced archaistic scroll inner lip which forms the foot when the cover and the base are inversed, the foot of the base with a footrim locking the inverted cover, the interior lined with silk brocade, the wood of deep purplish brown (fitted box)
22.6 BY 22.7 CM.

Acquired in Hong Kong, 1983.
Arts from the Scholar's Studio, Fung Ping Shan Museum, University of Hong Kong, 1986, cat. no. 176.

This box is a rare example of containers made with the intention to be reversible, with the interior lid designed so that both base and lid may be inverted to create an open container on a stand at which point the lid serves as the foot of the stand. Boxes of this type were made as containers as well as display stands. The attractive silk brocade lining of the box also suggests that the interior of the container was intended to be shown when the box was opened. No other box of this type appears to be recorded, although the skilful carving on the present piece recalls an album box of rectangular form, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, decorated with the motif of dragons amongst clouds, included in the exhibition The Imperial Packing Art of the Qing Dynasty, Palace Museum, Beijing, 2000, cat. no. 47, together with another zitan box used for holding scroll paintings, carved with the same motif, cat.no. 35.

During the Qianlong emperor's reign great attention was paid to the packaging of the emperor's vast collection of artefacts. According to Qing imperial records, the packing of objects was frequently inspected by the Emperor himself. Imperial packaging was often decorated with auspicious motifs such as that seen on this box. Bats and clouds represent the wish for good fortune and luck, as the bat (fu) in Chinese is homophonous with the word 'wealth and fortune', while the word for cloud (yun) is homophonous with 'well wishing and luck'.

The art of packaging reached new heights under Qianlong in the use of material, decoration and forms. Motifs were not only for aesthetic purposes but they reflected the supremacy of imperial authority and endowed the object with auspicious significance. Rong Zhang in his work, ibid., p. 41, notes that 'the imperial packing of the Qing dynasty was renowned for both its quality materials like red sandalwood, lacquer, cloisonné, silver filigree and embroidery and its decorative crafts like carving, painting, inlaying, baking and weaving. The Qing imperial packing was either produced by the Palace Workshops or presented as the packing of tributes by local officials'.



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Hugh Moss |