Fang Bingwen, Guangxu incised four-character mark and of the period, dated 1897 7.01cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1443
An inscribed white porcelain 'Lanting Preface' snuff bottle'
('Return to the Lanting')
Colourless glaze on porcelain with black pigment; with a convex lip and recessed, flat foot surrounded by a protruding, flattened footrim; engraved on one main side with a group of four scholars and two servants seated on the banks of a narrow, winding brook in a rocky landscape with bamboos, watching cups of wine floating past, inscribed above in running script 'For the pure enjoyment of Libin', followed by one seal of the artist, yin ('seal'), and on the other main side, also in running script, with the text of Wang Xizhi's Lanting preface followed by 'Engraved by Fang Bingwen of Wannan in the twelfth month, winter of the jihai year'; the foot inscribed in slightly cursive regular script Guangxu nian zhi ('Made in the Guangxu period'); the engraving all filled with black pigment; the foot, lip, inner neck, and interior all glazed Fang Bingwen, Wannan (southern Anhui province), twelfth month, 1897 Height: 7.01 cm Mouth/lip: 0.69/1.64 cm Stopper: coral; glass collar
Condition:Bottle: kiln condition.Engraving: studio condition
Provenance: John Ault, June 2005 Robert Kleiner, June 2005
Published: Treasury 6, no. 1443
Commentary The interpretation of the cyclical date here is not in question, since the Guangxu reign mark appears on the foot and the jihai year occurs only once during that reign. In this case, however, the reign mark is hardly necessary to identify the correct date. The art of micro-engraving flourished from the 1860s into the early Republican period. Interpreting the date as sixty years earlier, in 1837, would place it too early, while 1957, sixty years later, would be too late. The art form was continued into the Communist era, when experts were sought out in the 1950s to teach a new generation various arts and crafts, but by the time micro-engraving began again in the 1960s, the traditional content was largely absent and the style had changed, making the dedications common to communication among the literati inappropriate.
Fang Bingwen is presumably another of the scholars who took to micro-engraving late in the Qing dynasty in response to the popularity of the art form established by the 1890s by Yu Shuo (see under Treasury 6, no. 1442) and Zhou Honglai (see lots 25 and 64 in Sale 2). The rarity of his works suggests that, unlike them, he made neither a habit of microengraving nor a living from it; otherwise we might expect more examples from his hand. He was clearly a skilled painter to be able to shift so effortlessly to the art of microengraving on a hard, shiny surface, and a practised calligrapher. Although his writing is not as elegant as Zhou Honglai's, it is obviously fluent and confident.
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