An inscribed Yixing gold-enamelled stoneware 'landscape' snuff bottle
Probably Imperial, dated 1763 5.76cm high.
Treasury 6, 1447
Gold and off-white enamels on brown stoneware; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flattened footrim; with a raised circular panel on each main side and mask-and-ring handles on the narrow sides; the panels painted with gold enamel, one side with an elaborate pavilion in a rocky landscape with a pine and other trees, the other with an inscription in seal script, followed by the date in regular script, guiwei zhi (Made during the guiwei year); the interior covered with off-white glaze Probably imperial, Yixing, 1763 Height: 5.76 cm Mouth/lip: 0.85/1.32 cm Stopper: malachite; stained bone collar Condition: small chip out of the outer edge of the footrim, 0.4 x 0.2 cm; some wear to the gold enamel. General relative condition: very good
Provenance: B. Hasterlik Sotheby's, New York, 17 September 1996, lot 125
Published: Qiu Donglian 2000, p. 194, top-right Treasury 6, no. 1447, and front and back covers of one volume
Commentary: In the Qing dynasty, four main centres of ceramic production were particularly prominent. Jingdezhen was by far the largest and appears to have produced the vast majority of the country's finer porcelain wares. The other main producer of fine porcelain was in Fujian province, at Dehua, where the well-known creamy-white wares known as 'blanc-de-chine' were made although some blue-and-white and enamelled wares were also made there during the Qing dynasty. The local porcelain clay was of unusual purity and the wares of extraordinary quality at their best, but Dehua suffered from poorer communications channels than Jingdezhen and did not develop to the same extent to supply the court and the entire country with fine ceramics. Large quantities of stoneware were produced at Shiwan (known as Shekwan in the local dialect), in Guangdong province, consisting of a wide range of functional wares, roof tiles and decorative architectural details, and a host of sculptural forms. The fourth main centre was at Yixing, where various colours of clay were used (purplish-brown, brown, beige, black, and dark green among them) and a range of stoneware had become popular during the mid-Ming dynasty. Had it not been for its fame in the production of teapots, however, it is unlikely that the kilns at Yixing would have risen above the regional production of utilitarian wares.
Connoisseurship of paraphernalia for the proper enjoyment of tea led to widespread appreciation of Yixing teapots and, thence, of Yixing wares in general. During the nineteenth century scholars and potters got together to produce highly artistic teapots and other items for scholarly use, transforming Yixing into one of the most important art-ceramic centres in China. The earliest courtly interest in Yixing wares dates from the Kangxi period, when a range of Yixing vessels, ordered as blanks, were painted with enamels in the palace workshops (see Ts'ai 1992, nos. 811, and Liu 1991, pp. 286 and 287). There also remain in the imperial collection a series of imperial wares ordered by the court under the Qianlong emperor and bearing his reign mark. We cite some of these below, including a group of wares with gold designs and inscriptions, which would not have been fashionable among the literati at the time, since they valued the ware for its rustic, natural qualities and for its excellence in brewing tea.
The cyclical date on this unique Yixing bottle has been read in the past as 1823, but comparing the workmanship to others in the imperial collection bearing Qianlong reign marks, we are convinced that it should be read as sixty years earlier, 1763. This makes it the earliest known bottle in the medium; it is also one of a tiny number of bottles from Yixing we can reasonably assume were made for the court.
There are three closely related teapots that help to establish the correct cycle. Two of the teapots, from the imperial collection in Beijing, have impressed four-character Qianlong reign marks in seal script and are part of small series of Yixing wares made for the emperor bearing either his reign mark or his poetry during the second half of his reign. The first (Liang Baiquan 1991, no. 26) is decorated with a gold inscription in similar seal script; the second (Liang Baiquan 1991, no. 18) bears a gold inscription in similar seal script and is decorated with pavilions in landscape (although with the unusual addition of silver enamel). The third teapot (Zhang Pusheng and Wang Jianhua 2000, no. 49) also bears a Qianlong reign mark, although the mark is not illustrated, and has a very similar gold seal-script inscription.
The inscription was interpreted in Treasury 6 as 'Reserving some space (liuyu) among the clouds / for a view of a white cottage', but we also made note of a different interpretation, one based on reading the character 'white' as shan, 'mountain' or 'hill'. That requires postulating that the calligrapher added an extra stroke to the normal seal script rendition of shan, but it takes into account that there is a scenic spot in Hangzhou named 'Leave-the-Surplus (liuyu) Hill Dwelling'; all the characters are the same as in our inscription, though a different word for 'dwelling' is used. The Qianlong emperor visited this 'Hill Dwelling' in 1757 and included it as one of the Eighteen Views of West Lake. In addition, he referred to it in poems or inscriptions written in 1757, 1762, 1765, 1780, and 1784 (Qingchao tongzhi, juan 120, pp. 7426-3 and 7427-3). Taking these factors into account, we think the inscription arguably can be read 'View of Leave-the-Surplus Hill Dwelling among the Clouds'. We gave the impression in Treasury 6 that Liuyu, 'Leave the Surplus', was the name of the hill, but this is the name of the dwelling and, like so many similar names, is the distillation of a larger idea: the philosophy of never consuming or using everything available but leaving something for others and for future generations. An oft-quoted motto-inscription to this effect has been ascribed to at least three different Song dynasty writers, but the same idea is articulated repeatedly in Qing dynasty policy discussions.