Zhou Honglai, dated 1902 (the bottle possibly Yuanhu, Zhejiang province, circa 1902) 6.13cm high.
Treasury 5, no. 1052
白玻璃刻銘鼻煙壺 壺：可能是浙江鴛湖製品，約1902年 刻飾：周鴻來，1902年
Semi-transparent white glass; with a concave lip and slightly recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; engraved on one main side with branches of blossoming prunus and on the other with the entirety of a well-known short parallel-prose essay from the ninth century, followed by 'On an autumn day in the year renyin, Yanbin of Baimen engraved the full text of An Inscription for My Humble Cottage, by Mr. Liu Yuxi', both in draft script, with one seal of the artist in negative seal script, Zhou Bottle: possibly Yuanhu, Zhejiang province, circa 1902 Decoration: Zhou Honglai, autumn 1902 Height: 6.13 cm Mouth/lip: 0.64/1.52 cm Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar Condition: small chip at the inner lip and mouth joined to an open bubble in the lip (0.35 x 0.10 cm); two other natural, tiny bubbles in the glass polished through, one of which the artist has used as part of a prunus branch; three miniscule areas of abrasion/chipping on the foot rim. General relative condition: very good
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, May-June 1993
Commentary: For details of the engraver, Zhou Honglai, one of the pre-eminent late-Qing miniature engravers among the literati, see Treasury 5, nos. 1049-1056.
This rounded-rectangular bottle, more elongated than his standard squat version, is the second most popular form for Zhou Honglai bottles. Both this one and Treasury 5, no. 1055 - the other of the same general form in the Bloch Collection - have a footrim. This footrim, while hardly impeccable, is the best-carved of any of Zhou's output that we have had an opportunity to handle.
Here we see his oft-repeated subject of a branch of blossoming prunus, a subject beloved of literati artists in general, and adopted by some painters to the virtual exclusion of all others. Zhou may repeat a subject, but never a composition which, as we have noted in relation to Zhou Leyuan and Ding Erzhong - both artists who painted the inside of bottles - as well as glass carver Li Junting, is a sign of the true artist rather than the primarily commercial one. Each composition, although different, is equally vibrant, well-composed, and intensely literate - of which this example is a perfect illustration. The subject is one which allows considerable scope for both brush work and its diamond-point equivalent. The inscription reads:
A mountain does not need to be high. It becomes known when immortals are to be found. A river does not need to be deep. It becomes enchanted when dragons are to be found. Here is my humble cottage. Through my reputation [its name spreads like] fragrance. The steps are green with scattered moss. [One catches] glimpses of the lush grass through the screen of bamboo splits. Learned scholars [come to] chat and laugh together. The ignorant never count among our company. I can play my zither or read the Diamond Sutra, without [fear of] being disturbed by a medley of stringed and wind musical instruments, or being fatigued by reason of governmental documents. [Similar to] the thatched cottage of Zhuge Liang of Nanyang and the pavilion of Ziyun of Western Shu, [we may cite] Confucius' saying, 'How could this be [considered a] crude [abode]?'
Zhuge Liang (181-234) was a politician and military expert living in the Epoch of the Three Kingdoms (AD 220-265). He went into seclusion in Nanyang (present-day Deng xian in Hubei province) at the end of the Eastern Han (25-220). In 207, Liu Bei (161-223), soon to become the founder of the state of Shu, paid him three visits at his thatched cottage to seek advice on military strategy. These visits have been used to signify able leaders ready to waive the formal etiquette appropriate to their high station when searching out talent. Ziyun was the sobriquet of Yang Xiong (BC 53 - 18 AD), a native of Chengdu in Shu (now Sichuan province). He was a well known writer, philosopher and linguist of the Western Han period (BC 206 - 23 AD). Liu Yuxi (772-842), who wrote the original, was a well known Tang-dynasty poet.