Lanting Xu inkstone.
Lot 28
An inscribed duan stone snuff bottle Zhuozhai (probably Xu Qichou), dated 1890
Sold for HK$ 168,000 (US$ 21,659) inc. premium

Lot Details
Lanting Xu inkstone. Lanting Xu inkstone. Lanting Xu inkstone. Lanting Xu inkstone. Lanting Xu inkstone.
An inscribed duan stone snuff bottle
Zhuozhai (probably Xu Qichou), dated 1890
5.62cm high.

Footnotes

  • Treasury 3, no. 395


    端石蘭亭序鼻煙壺
    拙齋(許啟疇,1890年作)

    The Zhuozhai Lanting Preface Inkstone

    Shale (Duan stone); reasonably well hollowed, with a flat lip and protruding flat foot; incised in regular script with the entire text of Wang Xizhi's Lanting Preface, the foot inscribed 'Weng Tanxi copied the Lanting Preface in reduced scale in the year gengyin of the Guangxu era. Zhuozhai (Unsophisticated Studio) modelled after that'
    Zhuozhai (Probably Xu Qichou), 1890
    Height: 5.62 cm
    Mouth/lip: 0.51/1.50 cm
    Condition: Bottle: upper neck trimmed to remove small chips and left a little uneven, with three small chips still just visible; footrim probably reduced a little to remove chips, and again with one small and six miniscule chips still showing; the edges of the angled form also with a series of miniscule chips; the surface with the usual wear, not obtrusive. Engraved inscriptions: perfect condition. General relative condition: considering the base bottle was simply made as a canvas for the inscription and most of the problems are very minor in any case, good


    Provenance:
    Hugh Moss
    Paula J. Hallett
    Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1986)

    Published:
    Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, no. 130
    Jutheau 1980, p. 119, fig. 3
    Kleiner 1987, no. 179
    Arts of Asia, September–October 1990, p. 95
    Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 251
    Treasury 3, no. 395
    Exhibited:
    Hong Kong Museum of Art, October–December 1978
    Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
    Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
    Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
    National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

    Commentary
    The Lanting Preface, the single most influential piece of calligraphy in the entire culture, was written by Wang Xizhi in 353 when forty-two scholars were invited to the Orchid Pavilion (Lanting) near Shanyin, in Zhejiang province for the Spring Purification Festival. It was composed towards the end of this rather drunken party as a preface to a series of poems written by the assembled scholars in a game of drinking and poetry and so encapsulated the pleasantly melancholic, mystical spirit of so much Chinese poetry that it became instantly recognized as a literary treasure. Being by Wang, it was also superbly written. He himself is said to have tried to rewrite it several times thereafter but was unable to recapture the same sense of magic. It is considered to have summed up both poetically and calligraphically that magical moment of creativity that hovers on the cusp between the reality of the senses and the transcendent realm of the spirit, where all great art first emerges.

    As translated by Lin Yutang in The Importance of Living, it reads:

    Here are gathered all the illustrious persons and assembled both the old and the young. Here are tall mountains and majestic peaks, trees with thick foliage and tall bamboos. Here are also clear streams and gurgling rapids, catching one's eye from the right and left. We group ourselves in order, sitting by the water-side, and drink in succession from a cup floating down the curving stream; and although there is no music from string and woodwind instruments, yet with alternate singing and drinking we are well disposed to thoroughly enjoy a quiet, intimate conversation. Today the sky is clear, the air is fresh and the kind breeze is mild. Truly enjoyable it is to watch the immense universe above and the myriad things below, travelling over the entire landscape with our eyes and allowing our sentiments to roam about at will, thus exhausting the pleasures of the eye and ear. Now when people gather together to surmise life itself, some sit and talk and unburden their thoughts in the intimacy of a room, and some, overcome by a sentiment, soar forth into a world beyond bodily realities. Although we select our pleasures according to our inclinations–some noisy and rowdy, and others quiet and sedate–yet when we have found that which pleases us we are all happy and contented, to the extent of forgetting that we are growing old. And then, when satiety follows satisfaction, and with the change of circumstances change also our whims and desires, there then arises a feeling of poignant regret. In the twinkling of an eye, the objects of our former pleasures have become things of the past, still compelling in us moods of regretful memory. Furthermore, although our lives may be long or short, eventually we all end in nothingness. Great indeed are life and death, said the ancients. Ah! What sadness. I often study the joys and regrets of ancient people, and as I lean over their writings and see that they were moved exactly as ourselves, I am often overcome by a feeling of sadness and compassion, and would like to make those things clear to myself. Well I know it is a lie to say that life and death are the same thing, and that longevity and early death make no difference! Alas! As we of the present look upon those of the past, so will posterity look upon our present selves. Therefore I have put down a sketch of these contemporaries and their sayings at this feast, and although time and circumstances may change, the way they will evoke our moods of happiness and regret will remain the same. What will future readers feel when they cast their eyes upon this writing?

    Despite his artistic confidence that his works would be read by later generations, Wang Xizhi cannot have envisaged the extent to which his finest moment of creativity would affect his culture or, that nearly sixteen centuries later its inscription on a snuff bottle would lead to a whole new audience around the world becoming familiar with his text. For further discussion on the Preface, its fate in the physical sense and a rubbing of a pictorial record of the event dating to the late sixteenth century, see Arts from the Scholar's Studio, no. 28.

    By the late nineteenth century the Preface had been embedded in calligraphic consciousness to such an extent that no serious calligrapher would have been unaware of it, in its many copies after copies after copies, and rubbings taken from versions carved into stone, although the original had long since been lost, and most would have written it out for themselves, following as a rule, Wang's style of calligraphy to some extent. The version copied here is by Weng Fanggang (1733–1818), who went under the sobriquet Tanxi, a scholar-official, calligrapher, epigrapher and connoisseur, well respected in mid-Qing literary circles. Obviously a version of the Preface in small characters by him was extant in the late nineteenth century and was seen by whoever followed it, inscribing this bottle. Possibly it was the reduced-size version he referred to in the title to a poem from 1804, 'Inscribed on my own reduced copy of the "Orchid Pavilion"' (see Shen Jin 2002, p. 428).
    The name Zhuozhai could be a studio name, 'The Unsophisticated Studio,' but such studio names were also adopted as personal names, particularly two-character studio names ending in zhai (see also discussion under Treasury 3, no. 387) which would be more in keeping with the usage here, implying that Zhuozhai modelled (the terminal character mo) his version after that of Weng Tanxi. An inanimate studio would not be referred to as modelling, or following something in this way.
    Several recorded scholars adopted the studio name Zhuozhai, and three are recorded as having used Zhuozhai as a hao, or assumed artistic name. One of these is ruled out immediately, having died in 1718, far too early to have been involved in this late Qing work of art. Another is listed as Qing but without precise dates. He is Du Hou, a Guangdong seal carver who lived at Suzhou and is recorded as a powerful calligrapher, although specializing in Han calligraphy and culture, while the third may be the most likely. He is Xu Qichou, a successful examination candidate of the Tongzhi period, which would place him as a relatively young man in the 1860s and a likely candidate to have acquired the calligraphic and carving skills to do this sort of work by 1890. In the absence of any period for Du Hou and his recorded specialization in the calligraphic style of a century or two before Wang Xizhi's time, we have attributed this bottle to Xu.
    The calligraphy here is the work of an excellent calligrapher with obvious mastery of the iron-brush of the seal carver. The compelling script is exquisitely spread around the four sides of the bottle with absolute confidence and continuous energy, unbroken by hesitation or error. The composition of the characters is also sublime, mastering the three major concerns of balance in the high art of calligraphy: the balance of the strokes in the individual character, the balance between immediately related characters and the overall balance of the entire work (here broken down into four panels which cannot be viewed individually unless a rubbing is taken and they are laid out as a single image). Cementing all these together is the overall energy of the piece which runs unbroken from start to finish. The inspiration of Wang Xizhi lives on.

    Although in theory this inscription could have been added to an existing, undecorated bottle, in practice this is highly unlikely. The flat-sided and flat-footed bottle are so ideally suited to the texts added to them, and the form so unusual for a plain Duanstone bottle that we can safely assume that the inscriber commissioned the bottle with this text in mind. Endorsing this belief is the rather basic form and workmanship of the bottle itself; made to be inscribed, there was no need for independent artistic flourishes in the bottle itself. It is one of the great masterpieces of the genre and a delightful scholar's bottle in every sense of the word. It is also hardly surprising to find it dated to the late nineteenth century, by which time it had become customary for scholars to decorate their own bottles, incorporating the arts of the snuff bottle into the arts of the influential minority directly.


    拙齋蘭亭序端石

    端石;掏膛規整,平唇、突出平足;四面刻蘭亭序全文,足刻"翁覃溪先生縮臨蘭亭,光緒庚寅孟夏之月拙齋摹"

    拙齋(許啟疇,1890年作,抑或杜厚,1830年作)
    高:5.62 厘米
    口經/唇經:0.51/1.50厘米
    蓋:玻璃,骨鈕
    狀態:壺: 頸上部有修整疵點而不均勻處,尚存三個微小的缺口,足沿似乎也有所修整,亦存一小缺口與六處微乎其微的缺口,棱角亦有外壁有日常性的觸摸痕跡,難以察覺;刻文:完善; 一般相對的狀況:考慮到壺身的主要作用不過是提供刻銘的素地,而且大多數的疵病實在是微乎其微的,良好

    來源:
    莫士撝
    寶拉.哈列梯 (Paula J. Hallett)
    Hugh M. Moss Ltd (1986)

    文獻:
    Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, 編號130
    Jutheau 1980, 頁119, 圖3
    Kleiner 1987, 編號179
    Arts of Asia, 1990,9月~10 月,頁95
    Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, 編號251

    Treasury 3 編號 395

    展覽:
    香港藝術館,1978年10 月至12月
    Sydney L. Moss Ltd, 倫敦, 1987年10 月
    Creditanstalt, 維也納, 1993年5月至6月
    香港藝術館,1994年3至6月
    National Museum of Singapore, 1994年11月至1995年2 月

    說明:
    翁覃溪先生乃翁方綱(1733~1818)也。翁方綱嘉慶十一年(1804)有《自題縮臨蘭亭》一首詩(《復初齋詩集》卷61;見沈津2002,頁428),拙齋所摹可能是詩題所指的墨跡。至於號拙齋者,有杜厚(1792~1862), 蘇州人,專工漢隸,蒼勁有力,亦善篆刻,後有許啟疇,浙江瑞安人,同治光緒間人,書法遒勁,名動江淮一帶。因為學士揮鐵筆題煙壺的風習最茂盛的時期是十九世紀後半,而本壺銘刻的字體明明是王羲之的行體而不是漢代隸書,我們認為本壺歸功於許啟疇比較合適。

    理論上,拙齋可能是利用現成的舊煙壺,但是端石鼻煙壺很少見到這種形式,而且如此平面平足的形式太適合銘刻了,我們想拙齋必定是委托了人家特別為他製作新的端石小瓶子來用。


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