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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 35 

Lot 35


Lot 35
Treasury 3, no. 399

Gongfu’s Shandong Pebblestone

Limestone conglomerate; reasonably well hollowed, with a flat lip and concave foot; incised on one side with a scroll, which is bordered on two sides with single-unit leiwen (thunder pattern) and inscribed in archaic bronze script with an inscription from a xu followed by a seal, in seal script, with the name Gongfu, together with an additional inscription in seal script ‘Made in the mid-autumn (eighth month) of the jichou year’
Decoration: Gongfu, possibly 1769, probably 1829 or 1889
Height: 6.3 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.76/1.72 cm
Stopper: coral; gilt-bronze collar chased with a formalized floral design

Lot 35 Provenance:
Hugh M. Moss Ltd (1994)

Treasury 3, no. 399

Lot 35 Commentary
One very large area of mahogany brown colour has been singled out to depict a scroll, edged with leiwen, on which has been copied the inscription from an ancient bronze vessel, a xu, which is a covered food vessel. Still more imaginative is the use of a single, circular pebble of paler material within the unusually large area of brown as a seal bearing the carver’s name, Gongfu.

The inscription reads:

Mangong made this precious xu to be used for sacrifices in the chamber of the filial ancestors for long life; may future generations always use it with great care.

The inscription in seal script, which takes advantage of the small patch of brown colouring that was not suited to the shape of the scroll, dates the decoration to the eighth month of the jichou year, which in this case might correspond to 1769, 1829 or 1889, although one of the latter two is probably more likely.

Texts copied from ancient bronze vessels became very popular among the literati during the nineteenth century, increasingly so following the excavations of ancient tombs as the century progressed. Although the study of texts on ancient bronzes certainly pre-dated the late-Qing period as a standard form of philological pursuit, the habit of reproducing them on other works of art is typically nineteenth century. During the second half of the Qing dynasty they began to appear as rubbings of ancient bronzes together with their inscriptions, mounted as if they were paintings or calligraphy. Pictures of ancient bronzes as the main subject also began to appear in paintings and on a variety of other works of art. In the eighteenth century a scholar would have been far more likely to have copied the ancient inscription onto paper or taken a rubbing, whether for private study or for publication in a wood-block printed edition. By the nineteenth century the study of these ancient texts, encouraged by the publication of the bronzes in the imperial collection during the Qianlong period and by excavations during the Qing dynasty, had become the rule rather than the exception for a scholar and resulted in their use as primary decoration on other works of art, even on houses. The first part of this inscription is found carved into wood on a door in a large nineteenth-century residential compound in Fujian province known as ‘Nine-headed horse’ (click here and scroll down to the second panel; the full text and a picture of the vessel from which it is taken are also presented). We are probably looking at a nineteenth century bottle inscribed in either 1829 or 1889. The bottle, of course, might be earlier than the inscriptions.

Individuals with the zi Gongfu include a Beijing martial arts master who was born in 1834 but is not known to have any talents relevant to this snuff bottle and several literati of the Ming and very early Qing.


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Hugh Moss |