Yiru Jushi. Hongwu

The Imperial Origins of the Art of Inside-painted Snuff Bottles
Hugh Moss January 2023

Half a lifetime ago I proposed an ‘Early School,’ of inside-painted artists having rejected prevailing wisdom that the art-form was invented in the late nineteenth century in Beijing. I identified a southern school (Lingnan) as dating from the early nineteenth century and included another artist in the broader school although I didn’t know where he worked, the artist who signed Yiru jushi 一如居士, amongst other names. His artistic activity, cyclically-dated on many of his works, was interpreted at the time as from 1861 to 1871. Subsequently, however, I discovered good reasons to re-interpret the sexagenary cycle and place the artist sixty years earlier, which made him the earliest identifiable artist, working from 1801 to 1811. This re-assessment raised an intriguing, if tentative, identification of Yiru jushi with Hongwu 弘旿 (1743 – 1811), a grandson of the Kangxi emperor, first cousin to the Qianlong emperor, a prince, artist, and important member of the Manchu courtly elite of the mid-Qing period.1 One of the recorded sobriquets of Hongwu was Yiru jushi, and Hongwu died just a few months after what was, at that time, the last known dated bottle associated with any of the names used by Yiru jushi.

Today, further information prompts reconsideration of this group of bottles and of the origins of the art-form. One further example has recently come to light in the Corning Museum of Glass, bearing two of the alternative names and the studio name that appear on the Yiru jushi group of bottles. It is entirely calligraphic and the unique red-overlay glass bottle in which it is written would suggest that it was produced to be inscribed; the thin overlay provides a perfect frame for each of the four inscriptions and, without them, would look unusually sparse. It bears the name Yunfeng 雲峰 together with the seal, Yunfeng 云丰 (using the ancient form of yun and the phonetic element of feng), together with the studio name Tinghe shanfang 聽和山房 (Listening to Harmony Mountain Retreat), all of which occur on other bottles of the group. But it is dated to the Autumn of 1812, which is a year after Hongwu died.


Fig. 1. CMoG 51.6.340. Image licensed by The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY (www.cmog.org), under CC BY-NCSA 4.0.
Fig. 1. CMoG 51.6.340. Image licensed by The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY (www.cmog.org), under CC BY-NCSA 4.0.


We also recently benefitted from the valuable research by Andrew Singer into maritime trade between East and West.2 It links Henri-Leonard Jean-Baptiste Bertin (1720-1792), a prodigious collector of Chinese objects as well as an early Sinophile and Minister of State under two French kings, with the Jesuit Jean Joseph-Marie Amiot (1718-1793), and with Hongwu. Their relationship, as noted by Singer epitomizing ‘the two-way nature of the European-Chinese contact of the eighteenth century, contact that survived and thrived on the maritime sea routes.’ When the Qianlong Emperor banned the Jesuits in the late eighteenth century, after the death of Castiglione in 1766, Henri Bertin, along with Hongwu, assumed the burden of financing the remaining missionaries still living in Beijing. Bertin sent them money and supplies, and in return they sent him objects and images for his study and collection, together with continuing information about China. Hongwu benefitted from his support with a steady stream of information and technology from the West. Bertin’s main contact in Beijing was his fellow Frenchman, Amiot, and Amiot's principle contacts at court was none other than Hongwu. As Singer notes, ‘Hongwu-Amiot-Bertin became a conduit for art going back and forth to Europe.’ The Amiot-Bertin connection is also reflected in a series of water-colour drawings of Chinese works of art, including snuff bottle designs, see fig. 2.3


Fig. 2 Three water-colour paintings of fanciful, imperial snuff-bottle designs sent to Bertin from Amiot in the late 18th century. Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, 21.1.1750.
Fig. 2 Three water-colour paintings of fanciful, imperial snuff-bottle designs sent to Bertin from Amiot in the late 18th century. Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, no. 21.1.1750.


In 1788, the prince, insisting that Chinese artists could match the skill of French artists, sent a gift of inside-painted glass snuff bottles to Bertin. As yet this is the earliest known reference to the art-form. According to the correspondence, one of the snuff bottles depicted a frog and a grasshopper, and the other a goldfish – neither of which are found in bottles bearing the signature Yiru jushi or any of the other names with which he is associated. Amiot was clearly not over-impressed by the quality of the painting. In the letter of September 1, 1788 accompanying them to France, Amiot wrote that the prince was sending these snuff bottles so that ‘…the minister might compare difficulty with difficulty, patience with patience.’ Amiot suggested that Bertin not take the craftsmanship ‘…as a sign of his own lack of taste.’ There is the usual misunderstanding of referring to any snuff container as a ‘snuff box’ to suit western understanding, but the fact that he refers to snuff bottles is made clear in the letter where he notes that these bottles were taking the place of snuffboxes (‘cette espèce d’ampoule ou de phiole qui tient ici lieu de tabatière, parce qu’on n’y prend que du tabac de Portugal. ’) Tabatière simply means a container for snuff, hence the tendency for the French to assume that a Chinese tabatière  would be a snuff box, raising the need for Amiot to clarify the difference.

A month later, on October 1, Amiot sent another letter to Bertin noting ‘small gifts from a member of the imperial family (presumably Hongwu), including inside-painted snuff bottles and two large cups (deux grandes tasses) from the Ming Wanli era.’ Clearly the newly invented inside-painted snuff bottles were sufficiently novel to be the focus of attention in Beijing and, thus, suitable gifts on more than one occasion to demonstrate Chinese ingenuity and skills to a foreign audience.

This allows us to establish the existence of inside-painted snuff bottles at the court of Beijing by late 1788, thirteen years before the date of the earliest snuff bottle bearing the name Yiru jushi (the Hongwu group).

Many of the known bottles can be found in both the fourth volume of the Bloch catalogues 4 and in the first two volumes of the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection on this site, the latter written and researched together with one of my valued collaborator of the past many years, Stuart Sargent.5 These volumes consider three phases of influence over the snuff bottle arts (imperial, non-imperial, and collectors’) seen through the lens of the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection.

The name Yiru jushi is open to interpretation. Yiru is a Buddhist term implying unity or indivisibility, and jushi can mean a lay practitioner of Buddhism, but it can also suggest a retired scholar. The name might be taken to indicate a devotion to Buddhism as a lay practitioner and mean ‘Lay devotee of the Indivisible and Undifferentiated.’ In the complex relationship between the ancient Chinese idea of Daoism, and Buddhism once it was introduced to China following the Han dynasty, the transcendent, ineffable state to which both aspire, led to ongoing synthesis of the two philosophical systems, their differences existing only in the lower-level religious structures that reflect them in order to explain the mystery to the mystified. This allows that the term might also be adopted by one who sought transcendence through Daoism rather than Buddhism. If we take 居士 jushi to refer to a lay scholar then we might translate it as ‘Oneness Lay Scholar,’ ‘Non-Duality Lay Scholar’ or ‘The Lay Scholar of Indivisibility.’ Take your pick. What we do know is that Hongwu, after being disgraced in his military career was freed to take up more leisurely pursuits at court, including the standard refuge, given leisure-time among the literati, of an interest in the Dao or Buddha nature.

At that time, there was only one other person recorded who assumed the elective sobriquet (hao) Yiru jushi, a devotee of Pure Land Buddhism, Wu Zongwei 吳宗魏, who died in 1838, but there is no other reason to consider him as our artists.7 Whereas we can now be certain of the link between the artist of these early inside painted bottles and Hongwu.

Other names appear in various combinations on the Yiru jushi wares, Yunfeng 雲峰 (‘Cloudy peaks’, which is too common to offer much help and was also common as a courtesy name - zi ); Zhongchang 仲昌 (also common as a courtesy name); and Banshan 半山 (‘Halfway up the mountain’, am equally common sobriquet or hao , but occasionally also a courtesy name). One other name occurs just once, 芝塘識 (Recorded by Zhitang), and is apparently the name of whoever composed the text rather than the artist who inscribed it in the bottle. We also find the Manchu script for Yunfeng, and what is probably the Manchu for Yunfeng Daoren 雲峰道人 (‘Cloudy Peaks Man of the Way’). When Yunfeng is used a seal it is nearly always 云丰 Yunfeng, using only the shorter, phonetic components of the characters 雲 and 峰, but on one extant work he used the seal bi  笔 (‘brush’). A studio name also appears, Tinghe  shanfang  聽和山房 (‘Listening to Harmony Mountain Retreat’), a studio otherwise unrecorded.

Even before the connection with Hongwu was mooted, the connection with the court was suggested by the disproportionate number of crystal bottles that can be associated with imperial production. As a prominent courtier, and member of the imperial family, Hongwu’s access to imperial crystal bottles would be a given. Several of his works are in faceted, obviously imperial forms from the Qianlong or Jiaqing reigns. Rarely do we find example in glass, but there is not a single bottle that would not fit comfortably into a pre-1812 date.

Given the new information, we are in a position to reconsider the nature of the authorship of the Yiru jushi group of bottles. The most likely conclusion seems to be that while Hongwu was involved he did not personally paint any of the bottles. He may have been the instigator, inspired by the newly invented art-form - not the artist but the patron. Others seem to have provided texts to be inscribed, as we saw with the bottle inscribed ‘recorded by Zhitang,’ other scholars seem to have provided the prince with texts, and the name Zhongchang’ 仲昌 is probably another of the group Hongwu worked with, since one side of the Corning bottle includes this name, but in a way suggesting that he was responsible only for the text.

The Imperial workshops were collaborative by nature. The emperor governed them and was closely involved aesthetically through various layers of administrators, princes and eunuchs primarily, who conveyed instructions. The records of the workshops are replete with orders from the emperor, conveyed by his minions, for the Ruyi Guan to prepare designs to be produced by other workshops.8 There are also frequent records of the works of one specialist workshop to be sent to another for further work making stands, boxes, or, in the case of snuff bottles, stoppers. Occasionally a designer, or particular artists involved is noted, but they were predominantly anonymous.

It would make sense, therefore, for the prince to take an interest in the art; dictate its evolution; provide the bottles to be painted; choose texts from other scholars of his acquaintance, or even from the literature, include their names, then add his own sobriquet while leaving the artist who actually painted them as irrelevant to posterity. This would allow for a bottle, such as the Corning example, to be produced a year after his death, significantly, without the Yiru jushi name. The appearance of the name, Banshan, that appears on the posthumous work suggests this is not an alternative name for Hongwu. It is possible given the ubiquity of its use as a sobriquet, that it indicated the unknown artist and, by the same logic, so perhaps does Yunfeng. As a rule, when anonymous craftsmen wanted to add a sobriquet to accommodate literati sensibility, common ones were chosen. The studio name was possibly also associated with the wares rather than the prince, thus allowing its use after he died. It might, for instance, have been a studio, whether real or notional, associated with the overall production.

Such collaboration would make more sense of the data available so far. A similar process is echoed in Yangzhou in the late 19th century, when various patrons had their names added to glass overlay bottles giving the impression that they made them rather than commissioned them from local glass makers.

 The Hongwu group of bottles encouraged a devolved style continuing into the Daoguang period copying the palette, style and even some of the assumed names of the earlier group but the quality of painting and calligraphy is far less impressive. These in turn led to low-quality commercial production, presumably still in Beijing, from which emerged the artist Zhou Leyuan later in the century, bringing the art form back to the loftier artistic integrity of the Yiru jushi, and Lingnan wares.

With this crucial new information, we are in a position to update our understanding of the art form, and of the Yiru jushi group of wares.

All have been used and are snuff-stained to some extent, some extensively so. The bottles are predominantly in crystal, although at least two are known in glass, including the Corning example, the other in a condition suggesting it might have been excavated from a tomb – it is severely cracked and in rather degraded condition (fig. 3). Hundreds if not thousands of imperially distributed snuff bottles were interred with their owners – being an obvious choice as an indication of imperial favour to carry into a presumed afterlife. What is particularly intriguing about it is that it is the only bottle from his entire output with added colours. One flower remains a faded cinnabar colour, while the others suggest that they were once yellow.


Fig 3. Glass bottle dated to the winter of 1808 (Hugh Moss Records)
Fig 3. Glass bottle dated to the winter of 1808 (Hugh Moss Records)
(The Sanctum of Enlightened Respect collection).


Whatever the nature of the original inside-painted bottles seen by Bertin, the art form rapidly morphed into serious literati art under Hong Wu, which continued with the Lingnan school, regardless of any commercialism that may have prevailed simultaneously. It then degenerated in the mid-nineteenth century into decorative curiosities, only to be revived as an art form by the pivotal master Zhou Leyuan who we can recognize as founding the Beijing school in the last decades of the nineteenth century, inspiring those who followed him, and through two of his followers, the sons of Ye Zhongsan, the entire modern northern school of painting and, tangentially, the Shandong and subsequent school as well.

Hong Wu as a well-recognized artist in the literati tradition was ideally suited to become the patron of the newly invented art-form, raising the aesthetic bar. His earlier paintings on paper or textile are in a more traditional, literati style but a few of his later works hint at the radical simplification of the snuff bottle imagery.9 An album of landscape paintings appeared at a Yu Jen auction in Taipei (August 2021), a gift for the Qianlong emperor from Hongwu, which bears several of the emperor's seals indicating his approval. The style is far closer to the snuff bottle style than any of his other known works.

The style of the snuff-bottle pictures (as opposed to the calligraphy) may appear to be somewhat child‑like, but this represents the highly sophisticated mode of painting of reacquired naïveté, which is a common goal in the loftier reaches of Chinese art. Once an artist has mastered the surface skills of depiction, all unnecessary skills and frills are pared down to basics, to the bones of expression, to essence. The spontaneity and essential simplicity of the child are reacquired by the mature intellect.

Because of the sophisticated pictorial style of the Hong Wu group it may be difficult to distinguish genuine from fake paintings. As mentioned above, the devolved commercial school produced lesser wares pretending to be from the loftier group, but even where differences in pictorial style might not give the game away to the untrained eye, the lack of calligraphic fluency does.

A second small group of early inside painted snuff bottles may be early examples of the courtly genesis of the art-form. They are in glass, and inscribed in Chinese and Manchu script. But so far so few are known that we lack the data to make more sense of them. All include Manchu script.10 The one signed example is in the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection and is painted in a generic glass bottle which has no particular imperial connection nor is dateable on form and glass-making style alone. It is signed Yupu 堉圃, both in Chinese and Manchu, and bears an admonitory phrase encouraging hard work (fig. 4). I am indebted to Stuart Sargent for providing, or at least checking, all translations and providing commentaries from his depth of understanding of Chinese poetry.


Fig. 4. Glass, signed Yupu. The Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection, no. 21.5.323
Fig. 4. Glass, signed Yupu. The Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection, no. 21.5.323


As a keen fan of the Hong Wu group of bottles since I first encountered one in the collection of an English couple in the early 1960s, I have collected as many as I could, dealt with in the aforementioned online catalogue, with the exception of one example added more recently (fig. 14), allowing a chronological overview of the oeuvre.


1801 (Xinyu   辛酉)
Fig. 5. Crystal. 21.5.517 Dated 1801.
Fig. 5. Crystal, Dated 1801. Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, no. 21.5.517

The earliest known bottle is from 1801, the famous calligraphic example from the Bloch collection. It is inscribed with a lyric (ci  詞), a form of poetry that developed in the Tang and Song dynasties but was still a vital genre in Qing literature. The lyric praises the ‘icy bottle’ in which fragrant snuff is stored, and the calligraphy that decorates it, suggesting that Zhitang 芝塘, whose name comes after the lyric, may have composed it to praise the bottle in which it is inscribed; this is the only bottle where this name appears. It also contains the studio name, Tinghe shanfang 聽和山房.


1804(Shenzi 申子)
Fig. 6. Crystal. 21.5.321. Dated 1804
Fig. 6. Crystal, dated 1804. Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, no. 21.5.321


A bottle I first discovered in the 1960s in the collection of Charlotte Davis, a charmingly eccentric English collector living with an unruly gang of Pekinese dogs in a grand house in Palmer’s Green, London. It took a very long time to arrive, finally, in the collection and remains one of my favourite bottles by the artist, with its spectacular, probably imperial crystal bottle and exquisite calligraphy consisting of two eight-line poems; one of them followed by the signature Yunfeng, the date, and the studio name, Tinghe shanfang 聽和山房. One poem reads:

既已空諸有, 更將實所無. 腹光能洞視, 表裏見工夫.
心外本無法, 壺中卻有天. 文章歸蘊藉, 腹笥笑便便.

When it is empty of what was there,
We shall fill it with what is missing.
The light in its belly can be seen;
Outside and in, the skill is apparent.
Beyond the mind, there are no dharmas;
Within the bottle there is a world.
The patterns therein are of the subtle kind;
The ‘belly book-bag’—one laughs—is round and full.

The first four lines seem to say simply that when the snuff bottle gets empty one refills it, that the vessel has transparent walls, and that the form and decoration of the bottle is skilful. The reference to ‘light in the belly’ recalls an ancient story (supposedly from the Later Han, but possibly first written down in the six Dynasties) about a special plant called the mingjing cao  明莖草 (bright-stalk grass) at the north pole that a certain immortal often consumed; when it was dark, a light glowed from his belly. ‘The light in its belly can be seen’ directly refers to the transparency of the bottle, of course, but use of the unusual and unique term ‘light in the belly’ adds a touch of whimsy. It also suggests the magical quality of images and calligraphy inside a transparent bottle as a complete novelty at the time. ‘Beyond the mind there are no dharmas’ juxtaposes two commonplaces to present a witty contradiction. One states the Buddhist principle that all dharmas that can be discussed (phenomena and events) arise from the mind and lack independent reality. ‘Within the bottle there is a world’ alludes to the stories—familiar to many snuff-bottle collectors—of immortals who slip easily into a separate universe within their bottles or gourds. So the poet is stating that there is no real world outside the mind, but there is a real world within a snuff bottle.

The other poem is a longer version of a four-line poem that appears on other examples by him.11

比玉喜無疵. 疑冰倍有姿. 箇中天自別, 世外味堪思. 近取襟懷裏, 微參鼻觀時. 豈惟怡悅我, 並好贈相知.

Compare it to jade: happily, it has no flaws.
I mistake it for ice: but it has even more charms.
Within it, the universe is a different one:
Beyond the world, a flavour to be longed for.
Keeping it close, I take it from within my breast pocket,
When I profoundly enter into the contemplation of the nose.
Why should it please only me?
I also love to present it to those I know.

One form of Buddhist meditation is to contemplate (guan) the tip of the nose until the air that comes out turns white; biguan (nose contemplation) thus has come to mean ‘nostrils’, so line 6 can be interpreted as a fancy way of saying ‘when I snuff’. The language in this line is often used in the context of incense or tea.


1805 (Yichou  乙丑)
Fig. 7. Crystal. 21.5.442 Dated Autumn 1805.
Fig. 7. Crystal, dated Autumn 1805. Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, no. 21.5.442


The first of two bottles from 1805 is dated to the autumn of the year and bears the popular scene of the woodcutter and fisherman, although the other main side has a rare image of a seated fisherman actually fishing.

The first couplet is the opening two lines of a poem on the fisherman by Qin Taoyu, a minor Tang poet:

With a green bamboo rod, he spends his old age at a bend in the river,
Clothes made of lotus leaves he can make himself.

The second couplet is the concluding two lines of a poem on the archetypal companion of the fisherman in Chinese culture, the woodcutter. This one is by Lu Guimeng, a ninth-century poet:

The sun sets, but he does not come home;
Someone looks out for him by the brushwood gate.

There has been an attempt to erase the signature Yunfeng (‘Cloudy Peaks’) and corresponding seal here. They are almost completely obliterated, while the rest of the calligraphy and painting are intact. This may offer a clue as to the current suggestion as the nature of this group, but if so it currently escapes me.


Fig 8. Crystal. 21.5.391 Dated Winter, 1805.
Fig 8. Crystal, dated Winter 1805. Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, no. 21.5.391


On the second bottle from 1805, painted in the winter, the encomium on snuff inscribed on one of the main sides of the bottle reads:

Brought from beyond the seas, this herb of the immortals from beyond the passes:
Its flavour in the bottle can be endlessly praised.
At the early court, one sniff clears the mind and eyes;
On a night journey, a tiny scoop will protect one from the pestilential vapours.

Two earlier artists are cited as inspiration: Gao Kegong (1248–1310), and the famous Ming scholar-painter Shen Zhou (1427–1509), both identified by alternate names.


1807 (Dingmao 丁卯)
Fig 9. 21.5.456 Dated Spring 1807.
Fig 9. Dated Spring 1807. Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, no. 21.5.456

1807 was a productive year for the artist, with a notable peak in production if surviving examples are any indication. It is in brown crystal, a material he used more than once. There is also one faceted octagonal bottle of imperial form in transparent agate known, but otherwise, he favoured crystal.12 One of the images here shows a scholar inscribing a rock, his attendant nearby holding the inkstone; it appears elsewhere on the artist’s works. Zhen Zhou is again cited as inspiration for this subject, although for other elements, he cites another earlier artist, the famous Ming painter Wen Zhengming (1470–1559), but as usual such references often indicate psychological, rather than specifically stylistic inspiration.

Fig 10. Crystal. 21.5.372 Dated Summer 1807
Fig 10. Crystal, dated Summer 1807. Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, no. 21.5.372


A second example from 1807 is from the summer and is arguably his finest surviving work. Not only is the bottle itself spectacular, with its amethyst embellishment on clear crystal with fluent carving under masterly control, it is in extraordinary condition. Obviously little used, it gives us an idea of how the painting would have appeared originally. The subject of chrysanthemums is here rendered only in black ink, suggesting that after a hesitant use of colour in the cracked example illustrated above as a possibly excavated example, he eschewed colour. Again we encounter the wood-cutter chatting to a fisherman, both living in harmony with nature in an ideal emulated, even if only in theory, by the literati official class.


Fig. 11. Crystal. 21.5.497 Dated Autumn, 1807.
Fig. 11. Crystal, dated autumn 1807. Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, no. 21.5.497


The third bottle from 1807 in the collection repeats the orchids found elsewhere, and earlier, where it is entitled ‘Fragrance for a king,’ the colloquial name of the plant known in Chinese as Lan (eupatorium or thoroughwort in early times), a plant used in cosmetics and to ward off insects and other noxious things.13 The phrase ‘fragrance for a king’ originates from words put into Confucius’s mouth in a little-known Han-dynasty work on qin music: seeing the lan flourishing in a hidden valley, Confucius exclaimed that ‘lan should be fragrance for a king, yet here it is flourishing by itself, a cohort of the common grasses.’ Recognizing an analogue to his own situation (virtuous but obscure), he could not help pausing in his journey to take out his qin  and play it. Later, when lan came to refer to the orchid, Confucius’s words migrated with the term and became a periphrastic phrase for ‘orchid’, as is obviously the case here. Again, the favoured artist Shen Zhou is cited as the inspirational source. We are often left in doubt as to the authorship of the poems included but the other main side here borrows a poem on lotus blossoms by a prominent Ming official named Shen Shixing (1535 – 1614).

This is one of the works where an existing decorated snuff bottle was later painted. He has resisted the temptation to follow the outside, relief decoration, as later artists might have done, but he has managed, nonetheless, to integrate the exterior carving with the interior decoration, and the result is intriguing. On one side this consists of no more than placing the characters between the relief carving so they can be read easily (for the most part), but on the other, the lotus pond occupies the carved foreground while the painting of the bank of the lotus pond on which the bamboo, chrysanthemums, and orchids grow along a rocky shoreline, forms the background.


1808 (Wuchen  戊 辰)
Fig. 12. Crystal. 21.5.539 Dated 1808.
Fig. 12. Crystal, dated 1808. Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, no. 21.5.539


One acquired for the Bloch collection in 1990, was quite worn and has since been restored. At the time I asked my friend Wang Xisan, the famous contemporary inside painted master, to restore the calligraphy to its original state, requesting that he add a further inscription to note his restoration. He quickly accomplished the task with his usual skill and added a short text: Gengwu dongyue Xisan buxiu 庚午冬月習三補修 (‘Restored by Xisan in the eleventh month of the year gengwu’). The original state can be seen in the Sotheby’s catalogue illustration.14

1809 Jisi  己巳)
  Fig 13. Crystal. 21.5.501 Dated 1809.
Fig 13. Crystal, dated 1809. Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, no. 21.5.501


The double-gourd form is not one that would normally be ordered for inside painting, certainly not initially for a new art form, as it is little more complex to control the pen in the lower bulb, another indication that the artist painted in existing bottles, an assumption endorsed by the original relief design of a bat and clouds in the upper bulb of one side. The shape itself is a well-known staple at the imperial workshops and was made elsewhere for the court. Again we find a repeated subject, with the scholar inscribing a rock face, and orchids. In Chinese painting in traditional media artists often specialized in certain subjects, some generalize as with landscapes, other more specific. Once famous for such subjects, artists might be inveighed to paint a similar, meaningful theme for friends or if commercially involved, for clients. With the Hong Wu group, the normal rule of not repeating compositions – as opposed to subject - which we appreciate with such great artists as Zhou Leyuan and with only a few exceptions with Ding Erzhong, doesn’t apply. With a novel art-form, and the Imperial connection, the beneficiaries of these bottles would have been sufficiently impressed without the need for novel compositions.


1810 (Gengwu  庚午)
Fig 14. Crystal. 21.5.583 Dated 1810
Fig 14. Crystal, dated 1810. Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, no. 21.5.583


I was sent photographs of this bottle in the late1960s from Quek Kiok Lee, a Singaporean collector. It has taken half a life-time for it to join the others in the collection, although sufficiently recently that it is not, as yet, included in the on-line catalogue so I will give a fuller account of it here. It is one of those in the faceted pear-shape that is identifiable as imperial. The scene of a scholar, one presumes, riding a donkey is a rare one for the artist. It is inscribed on the side of the main subject Gengwu, dongri  lu yu Tinghe shanfang 庚午冬日錄於聽和山房 (‘Recorded at the Listening to Harmony Mountain Retreat on a winter day in the year gengwu ’), followed by 放石田之筆 Fang Shitain zhibi  (‘Emulating the brushwork of Shitian’ – the sobriquet of the Ming artist Shen Zhou), with the signature 半山 Banshan, and on the other with an encomium to snuff, followed by the signature Yunfeng 雲峰 and one seal of the artist, Yunfeng 云丰 (again using the short forms based on the phonetic elements of each character). The two narrow sides are also inscribed with encomia about snuff and the snuff bottle. The bottle itself can be dated to 1720-1810, if we allow that it might have been newly made when painted, and was almost certainly produced at the Palace workshops.

The longer inscription is:


Comparable to jade, it is happily free of blemish;
[Also] remarkably [similar to] ice, yet it is far more charming [than ice].
What it holds inside is a uniquely different realm,
Possessing an other-worldly flavour, something worth longing for.

This poem also appears on another bottle by the artist from the Bloch collection that I did not acquire subsequently.15 A fuller version with continuing text is found on fig. 6 (21.4.321).

The narrow-side encomia read:


Its essence harbouring sun and moon
Such authentic flavour is a match for iris and orchid.


Once grasped by hand moist fragrance starts to seep out
As the bottle’s inner realm spontaneously expands.

Fig. 15. Crystal. 21.5.519 Dated to 1811.
Fig. 15. Crystal, dated 1811. Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, no. . 21.5.519


The last Yiru jushi bottle in the collection is dated to the summer of 1811, just a few months before Hong Wu died. Again we find the fisherman and a woodcutter.

Inscribed is the same encomium on snuff inscribed elsewhere:


Brought from beyond the seas, this herb of the immortals from beyond the passes:
Its flavour in the bottle can be endlessly praised.
At the early court, one sniff clears the mind and eyes;
On a night journey, a tiny scoop will protect one from the pestilential vapours.

One other bottle is known from his last year, from the spring (Catherine Shierson collection, Hugh Moss Records).