Translucent, streaky olive-brown and semi-transparent white glass; with a flat lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding flattened footrim; carved as a single overlay with some carving in the ground colour on one main side with two birds beside a crackled vase with a branch of blossoming China roses, one of the birds climbing into a low, rectangular dish that appears to be empty, with an oval seal, in relief, positive seal script, Li shi ('Li family' or 'Mr. Li'), and on the other with flowering prunus branches, a flowering narcissus and two mandarin oranges, inscribed in relief seal script Yunting zishang ('for Yunting's own appreciation') Yangzhou, 1864-1890 Height: 7.08 cm Mouth/lip: 0.60/1.45 cm Stopper: coral, carved with a coiled chi dragon; turquoise collar
Condition: upper neck possibly slightly trimmed, but still with one small chip and several tiny ones; the footrim with one tiny chip and smaller nibbles, all insignificant. General relative condition: very good
Provenance: Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 5 May 1994, lot 1249
Published: Treasury 5, no. 1024
Exhibited: British Museum, London, June-October 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July-November 1997
Commentary: This bottle introduces, on a bottle bearing Yunting's name, extensive carving in the ground colour of a sort found frequently on the finest works of this school. This ground-plane carving may occur in two forms, one being simple, engraved lines added to the ground colour, a method employed to depict, among other things, water. The other involves relief-carved elements in the ground colour, as seen here in the crackled vase and the low, rectangular vessel into which one of the birds is climbing. This technique may also be detected in the flowers of the narcissus, here so refined that the impression is of a headless plant growing from a bulb. Narcissi are frequently depicted in Chinese art with their bulbs showing, since at Chinese New Year they are grown in pots of water set on pebbles. Here, however, the bulb seems to have been cast down on the ground, which is unusual. The branch of flowering prunus, similarly, is shown lacking a setting, as it is neither growing from the ground as a tree, nor set in a vase as would be usual for cut branches.
The superb quality of this carving is matched by an overlay footrim that is faultlessly achieved.
The two birds here represent a married couple, hence harmonious marriage. The blooming China rose enjoys a long flowering period and thus stands for longevity, one of its Chinese names being changchun, meaning 'everlasting spring.' The crackled (sui) glaze of the vase (ping) implies the wish: '[May you be] safe and sound year after year' (suisui ping'an). The prunus and narcissus together are symbols of purity (shuangqing), forming one of several plant groupings that illustrate the scholarly penchant for taking things in nature to signify an incorruptible quality in human conduct. The white petals and the fragrance of the narcissus qualify it as one, while the freshness, fragrance, and hardiness of the prunus perform the same function. The mandarin orange (jie) is associated with the idea of 'auspicious' (ji). Since a large and a small orange are depicted, the smaller one is obviously lighter (qing) than the larger one. Combined with the sound 'ji', the term 'jiqing' means 'celebration of an auspicious occasion.'