A yellow-green and russet nephrite 'noble occupations' snuff bottle
Master of the Rocks school, 17401830 6.62cm high.
Treasury 1, no. 138
The Belfort Noble Occupations Jade
Nephrite of pebble material; very well hollowed, with a recessed foot; carved with a landscape scene with a towering rocky crag from which a pine tree grows above a scholar seated in a waterside pavilion gazing out over a woodcutter bearing his bundle of sticks over his shoulder, a buffalo, and a fisherman, the line from his rod dangling in the turbulent waters of a stream with lingzhi growing from its banks, the narrow sides with mask-and-ring handles, the foot carved with a rock set amidst cresting waves Master of the Rocks school, 17401830 Height: 6.62 cm Mouth/lip: 0.51/1.65 cm Stopper: jadeite; glass collar
Condition: Cutting line in the surface below one ring handle, part of original process. Small chip neatly ground out of back of outer lip rim. Otherwise workshop condition
Provenance: Hugh Moss The Belfort Collection (1986)
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, OctoberDecember 1978 L'Arcade Chaumet, Paris, June 1982 Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993 British Museum, JuneOctober 1995 Christie's, London, 1999
Commentary: As is standard for the Master of the Rocks school, this favourite subject (the four Noble Occupations) is entirely rethought as a composition to match the material; and, as with Treasury 1, no. 138, the artist playfully uses the buffalo to stand in for an absent farmer. he carving of this example is exemplary and of the high quality which is standard for the best works of the school. Apart from wholly fluent and confident composition and carving of the relief subject, exemplified by the almost miraculous thinness and straightness of the fisherman's rod and line, the ground plane is as smoothly separated from the relief carving through the network of relief as any hardstone carving from China. Mentally remove the relief plane, and the formal integrity of the ground plane would still be extraordinary and the equal of a plain, undecorated bottle of the finest quality. Miraculously, this is also achieved here while leaving the entire ground with a slightly matt finish so that no unduly glossy reflection can interfere with a comfortable reading of the relief. This feature is often found with this school.
Also standard to the school is the concentration of subject matter in the skin colour. The core material is left entirely undecorated, apart from one mask handle, and for the other, the artist has even managed to use the skin colour for the beast's head. The handles themselves are typical for the school, with the long, floppy ears framing the face and the slightly elongated, oval rings. Although bottles of this school often continue the carving beneath the foot, in this case the carver has stopped short at the base of the bottle, leaving a plain area instead. This is one example of the subtle variations that make this school so appealing.
In a further innovation, the carver has, within the footrim and overlapping it on two sides, carved a rock in a turbulent stream as a continuation of the subject and the energy of the lower area of the main design. The probable reason for this, since the skin could obviously have accommodated a continuation in the normal manner, is that the entire subject is set on a flat, oval panel, the integrity of which would have been compromised by such continuation. This device frames the extraordinary carving of the main subject and concentrates attention on it, tending to confine the eye within its borders, which ideally suits the subject and the form. Another masterly touch is the use of the skin colour for the entire foot, suggesting a reference to glass overlay bottles that were so popular at the time when the Master of the Rocks school would have been producing its finest works.