Suzhou agate with man behind rocks
Lot 14
An inscribed chalcedony snuff bottle Zhiting School, Suzhou, 1730–1850
Sold for HK$ 300,000 (US$ 38,683) inc. premium

Lot Details
Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks Suzhou agate with man behind rocks
An inscribed chalcedony snuff bottle
Zhiting School, Suzhou, 1730–1850
sold with accompanying watercolour by Peter Suart
5.13cm high.


  • 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
    Condition: upper neck rim reduced very slightly in one place to deal with a tiny chip, which still shows as a miniscule depression; similar problem on the outer footrim—neither obtrusive. General relative condition: very good

    Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

    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

    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.



    高:5.13 厘米
    口經/唇經:0.70/1.64 厘米

    有彼德小話 (Peter Suart) 水彩畫
    羅伯特.霍爾 (1985)
    Moss 1971, 頁68,圖178, 頁71,圖185
    Kleiner 1987, 編號148
    Arts of Asia, 1990年9月~10月,頁94
    Treasury 2, 編號377
    Sydney L. Moss Ltd, 倫敦, 1987年10 月
    Creditanstalt, 維也納, 1993年5月至6月

    我們不知道大概活躍於乾隆期的 "芝亭"是誰。現存只有六件煙壺帶這個名字,但是蘇州這一派別的獨特產品一直延續到同治時期。本壺確是我們稱為"芝亭流派"作的,但也有很多特色。當然,用斑紋千變萬化的石料雕刻煙壺,每塊玉髓必有每塊的形態,因而須要不同的闡明。本壺所代表的一系列煙壺美學性很強,設計師必定既是供應市場的巧匠,又是藝術家。他製作的煙壺一定在社會名流中流傳過,可是製作人自己還是無名的,煙壺所表達的美學聲明屬於所有人,不屬於芝亭或他指揮下的匠工。有時候,匠工的名聲見於世,如明代犀角雕刻名家鮑天成、治玉大師陸子剛、仿造古銅器專家胡文明、十九世紀漆工盧葵生(名棟,亦有畫卷傳世,見李一氓1998, 頁204~206,),可是雖然芝亭並不是完全匿名的,但他雕刻的煙壺顯然不是以"芝亭"的落款有名,否則帶款的芝亭煙壺就不會那麼少見的。說不定,有零星的鼻煙壺帶芝亭名字,可能不是因為老顧客的要求而是因為巧匠想把它們送給親戚朋友或者留給自己用。

    圖中的湖石是中國庭園裏典型的小假山,也是煙壺圖案中最佳的湖石之一。實際的假山經常是由湖石或雕鑿的石頭堆砌的,芝亭流派雕呈的卻是理想的,當時如果出現這麼好的天然石,審美家 "以巨金亦不可得,直物稀為貴也"(借用語境迥異的阿英辭語),就是今天,也一定昂貴。我們見過的芝亭煙壺都是藝術品,其雕呈的湖石都有個體性,而雕塑和精修質量好卻是一致的。

    本壺肩部乾淨利落的浮雕雲紋也是芝亭風格的典型特點,下邊的流水紋是它的倒影。樹幹、巖石、顏色的布置也是典型的。園門使人聯想到 J & J 珍藏中的採集靈芝圖景 (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, 141編號;彼時提出的富於幻想性的象徵解釋可以不接受), 利用橙色的斑塊來雕呈門、墻、砌體結構等是芝亭流派典型的風範。雕出凸起的題句和利用斑點的一片來雕呈學士的帽子與鬍子也都是此派常見的。

    本壺也有獨具的地方。掏膛徹底,近乎御賜類煙壺的規模。捲唇和突出足(盡管足乃然是本流派正規的平面足)都是芝亭流派極少見的。樹幹和樹枝與芝亭流派其他煙壺沒有兩樣,可是葉子不同,是平行線相交紋。類似的花紋出現在我們稱為"卵石皮浮雕師流派"(莫士撝杜撰的英文名稱:Master of the Rocks school)的一件玉煙壺(見Hall 1989, 編號128。我們用"卵石皮浮雕師流派"這個名稱來代替含糊的名稱"含玉"。"含玉"或作"唅玉"、"琀玉"、"漢玉")。蘇富比香港1989年11月16日拍賣品號699是琢有1794年作的乾隆詩的御用翠玉筆筒,該筆筒也刻有平行線相交紋,我們測定是蘇州的芝亭流派以外的產品。也許那個流派就是卵石皮浮雕師流派,而此種平行線相交紋就是蘇州諸流派所共有的特別形式。無論如何,它和石頭的削角外形、流水的波浪形等都是互相輝映。
Auction information

This sale is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future sales, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this sale, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Wine:

Buyer's Premium Rates
25% up to HKD800,000 of the Hammer Price
20% from HKD800,001 to HKD15,000,000 of the Hammer Price
12% over HKD15,000,000 of the Hammer Price.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licenses please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

Similar Items