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photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2010: Lot 14 

Lot 14


Lot 14
Treasury 2, no. 377

Zhiting’s Moonlit Sage

Chalcedony; well hollowed with a concave lip and protruding flat foot; carved with a continuous partially cameo scene of a scholar in his garden at night, standing on a terrace beneath a tree and behind a convoluted rock, gazing out across a pond, the bank of which to one side has a banana plant growing on it from behind a rocky outcrop, beyond which the roofed gates to the garden are seen, all below a shoulder band of formalised clouds, inscribed in cameo relief draft script ‘Being fond of the moon, I go to sleep late in the night’
Zhiting school, Suzhou, 1730–1850
Height: 5.13 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.70/1.64 cm
Stopper: jadeite; silver collar

Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

Lot 14 Provenance:
Hugh Moss
Robert Hall (1985)

Moss 1971, p. 68, fig. 178 and p. 71, fig. 185
Kleiner 1987, no. 148
Arts of Asia, September–October 1990, p. 94
Treasury 2, no. 377

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

Lot 14 Commentary
Although demonstrably by the Zhiting school at Suzhou, this bottle is unusual in many ways. These arise, in part, from this particular art form and its ink-play nature where every piece of material is different and requires, therefore, different ways of maximising its potential. They also arise in part out of the extraordinarily artistic nature of the school. Zhiting, or whoever was in charge of designing and supervising the production team of possibly a number of different people over the years, was obviously an artist as well as a commercial craftsman. Bottles of this sort would have been passed around and greatly admired as art, but under the literati code, the name of the artist who made it may have been much less important than the identity of the scholar who owned it and selected it.

 It would have become, to a large extent, his act of communication, his artistic statement and it is quite possible that the name of the carver would have gone largely unmentioned. Occasionally an individual craftsman might rise above this anonymity to become recognized as an artist in his own right among the influential minority. In late Ming China, Bao Tiancheng, the famous rhinoceros-horn carver was one such, as was the jade carver Lu Zigang, the metal-smith Hu Wenming and even other members of his family, and one or two other metal workers. In the nineteenth century, the Yangzhou lacquerer Lu Dong (Kuisheng) became recognized as an artist as well as a craftsmen and signed his works, even being noted among the literati as a competent painter (at least one of his paintings survives; see Li Yimeng 1998, pp. 204–206). In the Suzhou school of carving one or two artists rose briefly above their anonymity to identify themselves proudly as artists, and Zhiting was one of them, suggesting that he may have partially risen above the anonymity of craft workshops. To whatever extent he made most of the bottles discussed here, it is doubtful whether his patrons of the day would have made a habit of proudly showing their friends their latest Zhiting snuff bottle as such, in the same way as they would proudly show a Wang Shimin painting, or even a Bao Tiancheng rhinoceros-horn cup. Were they so inclined, there is little question that Zhiting would have been asked to sign his works more often, whereas the few, exceptional signed pieces out of what was obviously a very much larger output, suggest that he was not.

 It is quite possible, indeed, that with such otherwise anonymous craftsmen, several of the signed examples bear names less because the patrons demanded it, than because they represent more personal items, made perhaps for friends, family, or even for their own enjoyment.

The convoluted rock over which the scholar gazes is one of the finest in the medium and typical of those found in Chinese gardens at the edges of ponds and framing terraces. In such gardens, these rocks are usually conglomerations of separate pieces sculpted into appropriate forms, but in art where the imagination can run wild and the ideal is at the artist’s fingertips, there is no need for such a compromise. The various convoluted stones dotted about the works of the school of Zhiting so casually are the ideal. If found in nature, they would be worth a fortune to the Chinese aesthete of yesteryear, and even today would command a formidable price. Although each of the convoluted rocks we have seen so far is different, because they were conceived as ideal examples of high art, they are united in their consistent magnificence and in the quality of sculpture and finish.

The crisply cut cloud-scroll around the collar is also typical of the Zhiting style, and is reflected in the manner in which the water is carved. Also typical are the trunk and branches of the tree, the rocky outcrops and the use of colour. The doors relate to those in the lingzhi-gathering scene in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 141) where a fanciful symbolism was suggested, but here, as probably there, they are no more than typical doors to an estate, whether in the country or in the centre of town. The use of a different tone of warm brown for the doors and surrounding wall and brickwork is a masterly touch typical of the school, and the relief, draft-script inscription in a different colour is not only standard, but is probably carved by the same calligrapher as that of Treasury 2, no. 374. Another standard but superbly realized detail is to be found in the way the scholar’s hat and whiskers are cut from a thin plane of speckled, darker colouring.

The unusual features of this bottle are the degree of hollowing which is extensive, and more the standard for the Official school, the lipped neck which is extremely rare for the school, the protruding foot (although still finished as a standard flat foot rather than as a recessed foot) and the foliage of the tree. It is not certain what tree is intended here, since the trunks and branches of Zhiting-school trees all look the same, and the foliage here is simply cross-hatched, quite unlike any other from the school, although this same sort of foliage is found on one or two jade carvings of the Master of the Rocks school (see Hall 1989, no. 128, for instance. There is also a jade brush-pot with similar cross-hatching, which was probably made at Suzhou but not by the Zhiting school (it is of the group of non-snuff bottles attributable to Suzhou referred to under Treasury 2, no. 366), and bears an inscription by the Qianlong emperor added in 1794 (not 1795 as was misprinted in Treasury 1). It is illustrated in Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 16 November, 1989, lot 699.

 We proposed in the first volume of this series that the Master of the Rocks school may well have been an alternative Suzhou school to the one under discussion here, and if this is the case, this type of cross-hatching of trees may be a local idiosyncrasy. It is splendidly effective here, acting as a counterpoint to the rounded smoothness of the rocks and, indeed, the wavy water.



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