An inscribed nephrite pebble-material snuff bottle
Zhiting School, Suzhou, 17401840 8.65cm high.
Treasury 1, no. 125
'Stone like Gold' Suzhou Pebble
Nephrite of pebble material; carved with a continuous rocky landscape scene in which an elderly scholar walks past a lotus pond while another scholar is seen poised, with his brush in the air, having inscribed a rock face with the three characters shi ru jin (stone [prized] like gold), an attendant at his side holding his inkstone, with a pine tree and a wutong tree growing among the rocks and wisps of formalized clouds floating in the air
Zhiting school, Suzhou, 17401840 Height: 8.65 cm Mouth: 0.62 cm Stopper: jadeite, carved as a twig carved with leaves Condition: minor trim to pine needles beside mouth, barely noticeable without a magnifying glass; five tiny chips to raised characters of the inscription; small chip on lotus leaf below old man with walking stick; nothing obtrusive
Provenance: Drouot (Millon Jutheau), Paris, 1 and 2 March 1984, lot 148 and front cover Robert Hall (1987)
Published: Hall 1987, no. 53 and dust-jacket cover, front and back Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 41 Treasury 1, no. 125 and front and back covers
Exhibited: Robert Hall Gallery, London, October 1987 Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune, 1994 National Museum, Singapore, November 1994February 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1997
Commentary: There are very few Suzhou nephrite snuff bottle which have greater impact than this one. It is, quite simply, stunning. The pebble material has as richly marked a skin as any known pebble, with a thick outer layer of vivid, russet-brown giving way to a paler colour beneath, and the core material is half white and half an intriguing dark-brown speckled beige material. This is the nephrite equivalent of the extraordinary agate bottle in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 140) where a material miracle of nature has inspired the artist to extraordinary achievement.
"Cherish stone as if it were gold" is a common declaration of principle among the many Chinese who collect interesting stones or who prize fine stones for seal carving and other arts. And if it is to be carved, as little of the stone as possible is to be taken away. Here is the pronouncement of one connoisseur writing about tianhuang, 'field yellow', a famous variety of Shoushan stone from Shou Mountain in Fujian; this stone is particularly prized for seal carving:
Because tianhuang stone is so precious, most collectors would rather keep it in its natural, uncarved state than go at it with carving tools. Even if they are going to make a seal out of it, they will seek out a famous expert, and the expert seal carver himself will usually cherish the stone like gold, and rack his brains to avoid the unbearable, which would be to carve the whole thing (those three seals of the Qianlong emperor are exceptionsand actually a terrible waste). They will use relief carving or shallow relief carving to disguise or pick out the flaws in the stone, just to make it more charming.... (Yang Tianliang 1995, p. 521)
Could there be any better expression of the spirit with which our Suzhou artist has approached this nephrite pebble? In making this snuff bottle, he has tried to preserve as much of the pebble's true 'face' as possible. The gentleman inscribing the cliff with his message has made this intention explicit in words (though he does not deign to spell the full expression out for us), speaking for the carver to us across the ages.
The relief carving also shifts the real-life scene depicted to the realm of the art of the snuff bottle, where the available skin has dictated the difference in colour and the relief carving, and in which the relief merely stands for the prominence of freshly brushed ink and is no more intended as the substance of material reality than the scale of the tree behind the scholar or the formalized clouds which float in so powerful an abstract manner above his head. Together with the fluency with which everything is carved, this ambiguity between the objective reality of the real world and the subjective reality of the work of art is powerful and intriguing. This can also be seen in the relationship between the scholar and his attendant, which is sculpturally brilliant. Both are entirely believable as real figures, with superbly controlled, three-dimensional carving showing every fold of their garments, every nuance of expression, and yet both are posed for maximum abstract impact as well, which is not a paradox in Chinese aesthetics where artists have been creating abstract paintings made up entirely of representational detail since as early as the twelfth century. The inscription is finished but the scholar stands poised with his brush apparently about to embark upon the third character, one hand holding his sleeve away from the rock surface so as not to smudge the ink as he writes. The attendant holds the inkstone tilted to such an angle that the already ground ink would run off immediately, and yet by doing so both the nature of the object and the sculptural movement are revealed far more powerfully than if it had been depicted in a functional manner. The placing and pose of the two figures link them with the inscription on the rock as a third element in a powerful, abstract composition which makes nonsense of the tiny scale of the scene and becomes monumental.
On the opposite side, the elderly scholar walks with a stick beside a lotus pond, with leaves and a bloom rising on long stalks from the rippling water. Each of the leaves and the bloom are carved using the darker surface skin, setting them in sharp contrast to the ground and to the lower layer used for a rock-face against which they partly grow. The bloom seems almost animated, facing the elderly sage as if the two were communing, as, indeed, they may well be. It was a common phenomenon for scholars on their countryside jaunts to pause and become engrossed in the minutiae of nature, and a 'conversation' with a lotus bloom, in terms of deep communication with its inner qualities, was no more fanciful than a more conventional conversation with a fellow aesthete.
Throughout this extraordinary work of art, the control of the medium and confidence of expression are total. The sculptural detail has the fluidity of a master painting, and the finish is impeccable with each plane of relief perfectly separated from the next and powerful forms juxtaposed for maximum visual effect.
來源： Druout (Millon Jutheau)，巴黎，1984年3月1、2日，拍賣品號148、封面 羅伯特．霍爾（1987） 文獻﹕ Kleiner 1987, 編號53，包書紙面、底 Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, 編號41 Treasury 1， 編號125，封面、封底 展覽﹕ Robert Hall Gallery, 倫敦，1987年10月 香港藝術館，1994年3 月～6月 National Museum of Singapore, 1994年11月～1995年1月 Israel Museum, 耶路撒冷, 1997年7月～11月
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