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photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part II  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 23 November 2010: Lot 37 

Lot 37


Lot 37
Treasury 7, no. 1577

Cultivated in Heaven

Transparent, golden-brown amber, the exterior covered with an irregular network of crizzling; with a flat lip and protruding flat foot; engraved on each main side in semi-cursive regular script with a couplet of poetry, on one side preceded by the seal qing (pure) and followed by two seals, wan and Shisheng (together meaning: ‘For the pure enjoyment of Shisheng), and on the other preceded by zuo (composition) and followed by Shisheng and wan (For the pure enjoyment of Shisheng); the interior well hollowed but not polished
Height: 5.82 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.48/1.79 and 1.63 cm (oval)
Stopper: coral; turquoise collar

t 37 Provenance:
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1985)

Kleiner 1995, no. 343
Treasury 7, no. 1577

British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

Lot 37 Commentary
The poem is by Gao Chan (ninth century). The opening couplet, on the side where the inscription is preceded by the seal qing, reads

The emerald peaches are grown in heaven, nourished by dew;
The rosy apricots are planted close to the sun, leaning on the clouds.

The side where the inscription is preceded with the seal zuo has the second couplet:

Hibiscus born and living on the autumn river
Don’t resent the east wind because their blossoms have not opened.

The occasion of the poem is the writer’s failure to pass the examinations; he notes the superior position of those born to privilege (in heaven, close to the sun; i.e., the emperor), but claims he does not resent the winds of spring for the fact that he himself has not blossomed, as it is autumn now—perhaps a future year will bring him success. (It took him about ten years altogether, and he was granted the jinshi in 876 only with the sponsorship of a high official.)

The only individual identified here appears to be called Shisheng, although this means reading the seal left to right, rather than in the usual right-to-left configuration. With seals, this is possible, and we have done so because Shisheng is a relatively common hao or adopted artistic name, whereas Shengshi is not and seems to make no sense. There are more than half a dozen Qing scholars who adopted the name Shisheng, none of whom is any more likely than any other to be the individual involved. Nor can we be sure of his involvement. All that we are told is that the bottle was made or the inscription was added for the enjoyment of Shisheng. He may not have been involved at all in its manufacture. It is not even certain that the bottle was made originally to be inscribed. It may have been in existence as an undecorated bottle for some time before it was engraved, hence our rather long dating range. It seems likely from the unpolished interior that the bottle was probably made prior to 1820, the end of the Jiaqing period, regardless of when the inscriptions were added. If we judge the inscription alone, however, it would fit comfortably into a range of wares produced in the nineteenth century by various scholarly participants in snuff-bottle decoration.


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