17601860 7.04cm high (including original stopper).
Treasury 7, no. 1470
A carved chengxiangmu 'landscape' snuff bottle
('Hint of Honey')
Wood (lign aloes, chenxiangmu); with a flat lip and naturalistic foot formed as elements of the design; made from various segments and carved with a continuous rocky landscape scene with a mature pine tree, two other trees, possibly also intended as conifers, and bamboo, a scholar in formal cap sitting beneath the pine and by a natural rock table upon which an open book rests as his servant approaches from behind carrying a dish holding a finger citron (Buddha's hand) while two gentlemen in informal dress on the opposite main side play weiqi on another natural stone table, with formalized clouds swirling on the shoulders 17601860 Height: 6.64 cm (including original stopper) Mouth/lip: 0.76/1.33 cm Stopper: wood (lign aloes, chenxiangmu), carved as a formalized chrysanthemum flower; original
Condition:original surface colouring to neck to hide joins across shoulders and neck partially gone, revealing the original wood below;some small areas of original filling now showing darker than the main wood;stopper with reasonably large chip restored in what is now a darker colour with one missing flake from the restoration (0.8 x 0.7 cm).General relative condition: good
Provenance: Gerry P. Mack Sotheby's, New York, 25 October 1997, lot 215
Published: Chinese Snuff Bottles, No. 3, p. 42, fig 42 Treasury 7, no. 1470
Commentary Lign aloes (or agarwood, eagle wood, etc.) comes from Aquilaria sinensis, a Chinese tree, or, more commonly over the centuries, from Aquilaria malaccensis, a Southeast Asian tree (now threatened by habitat destruction). The first reliable reference to chenxiangmu is found in a standard history compiled in the first half of the seventh century and covering the period 420 589. It was highly valued for burning as incense. It often has an aroma of honey, and there is an unconfirmed legend that this is due to the fact that honey ants formed their nests in the soft dead wood of the tree, impregnating it with fragrance. A discernible smell of honey lingers in this example. If there is any truth in this tale, it might account for the fact that the more fragrant wood is often riddled with holes, so even small items were frequently made up of several solid segments joined together, which is the case here.
Many of the surviving pieces, whether literati accoutrements or snuff bottles (the two are not, of course, mutually exclusive), seem to be from the same workshop or to represent a school of carving that specialized in this material, probably over an extended period of time. Given the source of the wood, the items may have been made in the south of China. Many of the snuff bottles, however, are in a different style, as are the two in the Bloch collection (the other being Sale 1, lot 92), and their courtly, original stoppers may indicate a northern origin, or at least production for the court. Both stoppers at issue in this collection reflect the style of formalized chrysanthemum flower stoppers that are not only common on a series of carved cinnabar-lacquer bottles that are probably imperial (see Sale 2, lot 104) but also standard for a mid-Qing range of imperial moulded porcelain bottles (see, for example,Sale 1, lot 83).
This school's characteristic treatment of the foliage of trees, which leaves us in some doubt as to which particular species is intended, was mentioned under Sale 1, lot 92.