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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 31 

Lot 31


Lot 31
Treasury 2, no. 367

The Vice Minister’s Hobby

Chalcedony; with a concave lip and flat foot; carved with a continuous, partially cameo scene of Li Shizhi seated on a rocky bank drinking from a small wine-cup, his attendant behind him, poised with a wine-pot to replenish it, a wine jar of crackled porcelain at his feet and another behind him, with a weiqi board, and in front of him a string of cash, set in a rocky landscape with pine trees and lingzhi beneath a band of formalized clouds, inscribed in incised draft script ‘The Vice Minister’s daily hobby costs ten thousand cash.’
Suzhou, school of Zhiting, 1740–1850
Height: 6.02 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.7/2.0 cm
Stopper: marble; gilt bronze collar

Lot 31 Provenance:
Hugh Moss (1987)

Moss 1971, p. 65, no. 168 and p.71, no. 185
Kleiner 1987, no. 153
1987 Exhibition Poster, London
Treasury 2, no. 367

Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993

Lot 31 Commentary
With the large group of chalcedony bottles attributable to the school in the Bloch Collection, and those already published elsewhere, we are in a position to establish certain stylistic features for the Zhiting school at its best, which we think was probably during the Qianlong period into the early nineteenth century. We have here multiple-serrated-line rocks and formalized cloud-scroll at the shoulders, providing a convenient upper frame for the picture. These formalized cloud-scrolls as picture dividers or frames were a typical Ming pictorial device carried over into the Qing. On transitional porcelain wares, they are the most common way of applying a painting to an essentially cylindrical or rounded form to give a modicum of continuity to the joining of the opposite ends of the flat picture. A vertical series of scrolling clouds provided both separation and continuity as each end of the picture dissolved into mist.

We also see here an evolved serrated rock style, which became a popular alternative for the school, where a similar idea of serial lines and serrations are more evenly distributed, with larger, elongated indentations or serrations. These ‘cheese-grater’ rocks are seen here in the darker area high on the reverse main side as an overhanging outcrop in brown, giving way to a small area of grey rocks and then mist.

There are also two mature pine trees of characteristic style, their trunks and branches skillfully carved with a series of twists, knot-holes, wrinkles, and lines to simulate the gnarled appearance of an ancient pine. The trunk and branches are carved with supremely graceful, calligraphic élan, and lead to distinctive clusters of formalized pine needles, made up of circles with incised lines radiating out from a small, circular central depression, characteristically made up predominantly of the darker colour in the material. Immediately beyond the string of cash are two long-stemmed, small oval-headed lingzhi growing in a clump, standard for the school unless these fungi are the main subject, in which case they tend to be carved larger and more realistically. Otherwise the figures are typical, with either the head or just the face carved on a lower plane out of the ground colour, while all or some of the clothing is in the darker tone. 

The bodies are convincingly depicted, in very natural poses with superbly carved, well rounded clothing draped over the bodies. Every hint of colour is put to good use in a delightful ink-play where some of the work is strictly cameo work, cut from a higher plane of different colour while some is interpretation of colour that sinks more deeply into the ground material.

Although the Zhiting school, whether in jade or quartz, rarely left much in the way of purely natural markings in the stone to serve as subject matter as the Official School artists so often did, they are, nonetheless, often consummate ink-play agates.

Every nuance of colour in the stone is used to good advantage and the subject must to some extent be interpreted from the existing markings even though it is then fully realized as a representational scene.

The inscription here is from ‘Song of the Eight Wine Immortals’, a well-known poem by the Tang literatus Du Fu (712-770) that is full of half-hidden references to reasons why the eight contemporaries celebrated in the poem had reasons to hide their frustrations behind a façade of carefree drinking. The vice minister is Li Shizhi, and the three lines devoted to him are

The minister of the left in his daily gusto spends ten thousand in cash,
Drinking like a huge whale sucking up a hundred rivers:
Cup to lip, he enjoys the 'sage' and declares he will avoid the 'worthy'.

'Sage’ and ‘worthy’ are old euphemisms for clear and cloudy wine, respectively, but ‘the worthy’ is here also a veiled reference to those who worked to isolate him within the administration and would force him out of his position in 746, two years after the poem was written.

In common with most of this group, the hollowing here is good but not extensive, the lip concave, and the foot flat without any footrim.


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=872&exhibition=6&ee_lang=eng


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Hugh Moss |