A 'famille-rose' enamelled porcelain 'Xixiang ji' snuff bottle
Imperial kilns, Jiaqing iron-red four-character seal mark and of the period, Jingdezhen, 17961820 6.14cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1249
A famille rose enamelledporcelain 'Xixiang ji' snuff bottle
('Famille Rose Romance')
Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a flat lip and concave rounded-rectangular foot surrounded by a convex footrim of the same shape; painted on each main side with a framed, slightly recessed, convex panel with scenes from Xixiang ji (The Romance of the West Chamber), one showing Hongniang alerting Cui Yingying to the music played by Zhang Junrui, seen in his chamber at the upper right, the other with Hongniang watching the reaction of her mistress to the note she has brought from Zhang, the surrounds painted with a formalized, scrolling, floral design; the foot inscribed in iron-red seal script, Jiaqing nian zhi ('Made during the Jiaqing period'); the lip with a brown glaze painted with gold enamel; the footrim also gilt; the interior unglazed Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 17961820 Height: 6.14 cm Mouth/lip: 0.71/1.6 cm Stopper: gold, iron-red, and turquoise blue enamel on colourless glaze on porcelain, moulded with a formalized chrysanthemum petal design; China, circa 19201940
Condition: gold enamel on lip worn, and some wear on gold enamel on footrim;minor abrasions from use; otherwise, in kiln condition
Provenance: Unidentified dealer, Beijing (1922) Ko Collection Christie's London, 10 June 1974, lot 5 Hugh M. Moss Ltd. Alice B. McReynolds Sotheby's, Los Angeles, 31 October 1984, lot 7
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum of Singapore, November 1994February 1995
Commentary Typical of mid-Qing subject matter on porcelain snuff bottles, this is taken from the play Xixiang ji (The Romance of the West Chamber), written by Wang Shifu of the Yuan dynasty. Any educated Chinese of the Qing dynasty would have been able to recognize the scenes from the illustrations in popular woodblock editions, though the play was considered to be improper reading matter for young people. The story, first set down in the Tang dynasty, relates the romance between Zhang Junrui and Cui Yingying, facilitated by Cui's maid, Hongniang, one of the great go-betweens of history. While staying at Pujiu Monastery on his way to take the civil service examination at the capital, Zhang had been instrumental in rescuing Cui from bandits. Cui's mother had offered her hand in marriage to anyone brave enough to save her, but now judges this unproven scholar an unsuitable match. In one scene on this bottle, Zhang is shown conveying his sorrow through his music at a secret meeting arranged by Hongniang. On the other side, Hongniang awaits a response from a note from her mistress she has delivered to Zhang.
There is a bottle of identical form and with the same subjects and compositions in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 211). It is of the type that features underglaze-blue and gold enamel surrounds and it has a square reign mark with the characters in two vertical lines, rather than four characters in a single horizontal line. Another with the underglaze-blue surround is in Stevens 1976, no. 287. Both bottles probably date from early in the reign, but it would be imprudent to draw conclusions from that about the present bottle, which exhibits important differences. For example, the enamelled floral design that surrounds the panels here looks stylistically closer to the nineteenth century than to the Qianlong reign.
The Jiaqing mark here is as neatly and carefully written as any from the reign. Although we think many bottles with rather clumsier Jiaqing reign marks may be ascribed to the early reign, when reign-mark writers were still mastering the new characters, expert reign marks by themselves do not prove a late-reign date.
The painting is as fine as one can expect of the period, and the condition impeccable, with even the gold enamel intact; surely the bottle was never exposed to extended circulation. Ko bought this in Beijing in 1922, a time when the anachronistic imperial family was living in the Forbidden City and selling off treasures to support itself. Corrupt eunuchs and others who served the imperial family did their part, and thousands of works of art found their way clandestinely into the hands of dealers to be dispersed to buyers and collectors in China and from all over the world. When major paintings, jades, and other treasures from the national heritage were passing into private hands, the sale of a few snuff bottles, particularly from sets stored away for a century or more, would not have much tested the conscience of a palace eunuch. These were the same eunuchs who are reported to have deliberately razed the Jianfu palace in the Forbidden City in 1923 in order to hide the evidence of their thefts, evidence that was sure to be uncovered by an audit the emperor had ordered. No matter that a large number of works of art in the store, including gold Buddhist altar ornaments, Buddhist paintings, 435 items of porcelain, jade, and bronze, and 31 boxes of robes would have to be sacrificed. The most detailed account of the arson appears in Sir Reginald Johnston, Twilight in the Forbidden City(1934),pp. 335337.
This stopper does not look like an original. It is not one of the ones made by John Charlton for Moss in the 1960s or 1970s (see under no. 1193), but it could have been matched with the bottle sometime after it was acquired by Moss. When he bought the last part of the Ko Collection, Moss also obtained a group of snuff dishes and a mass of spare stoppers and spoons, among which were many porcelain ones, often in series, that seem to have been made in China during the Republican period as replacements. Many of these were not matched up to bottles before the collection reached its final stage. This looks as if it might be from that group. The number of spare stoppers remaining in the collection suggests that the owner had a range of matching stoppers made for his bottles, and in each case had a few spares made up for future use.