A 'famille-rose' porcelain 'figures and poem' snuff bottle
Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, Daoguang iron-red four-character seal mark and of the period, 18211850 7.34cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1323
A famille rose porcelain 'figures and poem' snuff bottle
('Round in Circles')
Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a convex lip and concave foot; painted on one main side with a circular panel of a scholar seated on an oval mat with two beribboned scrolls beside him, pointing towards his servant, who reaches for two more scrolls from a low table, a two-tiered stand behind his left shoulder with a cylindrical support for a double dragon-headed staff from which hangs a musical chime, behind his right shoulder a low table on which stands a pot of acorus grass, the panel surrounded by twenty characters in regular script, the other main side with the title of the poems to be unpacked from those twenty characters, Fenghuaxueyue ci ('Lyrics of wind, flowers, snow, and moon'), and an explanation of the circular text set in a similar panel surrounded by the same twenty characters; the foot inscribed in iron-red seal script, Daoguang nian zhi ('Made during the Daoguang period'); the lip glazed; the inner neck, and interior unglazed Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 18211850 Height: 7.34 cm Mouth/lip: 0.75/1.4 cm Stopper: crystal; gilt-bronze collar
Condition:abrasions from use, with some characters in central panel slightly worn. General relative condition: good
Provenance: Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd. (1990)
Published: Treasury 6, no. 1323
Commentary For similar decoration and the same poem and inscription see Hui and Sin 1994, no. 12, where the literary mode of the circular poem is explained, noting that by starting at any character, and moving clockwise or anti-clockwise, forty different verses, eachin four five-character lines can be composed. The inscription at the centre reads:
Poems about the wind, flowers, snow, and moon. Forty poems in the pentasyllabicquatrainformat can be obtained from these twenty charactersarranged in acircle.
By starting with any character and combining it with the four following characters to form the first five-character line and using the sixth to the tenth characters for the second line, the eleventh to the fifteenth characters for the third line, and the sixteenth to the twentieth characters for the last line, one gets a poem that rhymes in the right places and makes good sense. If the same process is repeated by using the second character as the beginning character of another poem, a second poem can be formed. It is possible to create twenty poems by moving in the clockwise direction and an equal number of poems by moving in the anti-clockwise direction. As an example, the following is a translation of one poem that begins with the character feng (wind, located above the circle to the left). It is formed by using the rest of the characters in their allotted sequence in the clockwise direction:
A waft of wind disperses an alluringly fragrant mist. A pale moon [appears out of] the haze after a light drizzle. The crimson [petals of] a lonely tree flutter [in the air]. Mingling with snowflakes, [they seem to be putting on] a gorgeous dance.
Another of this unusual shape for the design was in the Hunter Collection, but with an otherwise unrecorded outer border of black and gold flowers (Sotheby's, New York, 15 September 1998, lot 181). The standard for this design was a compressed spherical shape, appearing in Chinese Snuff Bottles and Dishes 1978, no. 76 (also illustrated in Holden, Rivers and Mountains, no. 122); Christie's, New York, 18 October 1993, lot 7 (from the Reif Collection); Hui and Sin 1994, no. 12 (with a very rare two-character reign mark); Low 2002, no. 172, and Souksi 2000, no. 71 (which also has a matching stopper with part of the inscription on it, an innovation we have never seenbefore). Another version of this subject, but of a different shape, is also in Raymond Li 1983,p. 35, no. 55, where no. 54 has the same circular poem but surrounding an iron-red design of the Eight Trigrams and a shou ('longevity') character.
This design was another of the standards for sets of imperial porcelain made for the court at Jingdezhen during the Daoguang period and, from surviving bottles, it is obvious that various different sets were made during the reign.
Many Daoguang imperial forms had a flat foot without a protruding footrim but, in view of the inherent weakness of iron-red enamel and the natural wear that it would attract, the foot was often made concave, as it is here, to protect the mark to some extent, thus leaving a natural convex footrim that is barely perceptible. In this case, however, it is difficult to see if this has worked or not, since the bottle has obviously seen practically no use at all and is in kiln condition; the mark remains undamaged.