An inscribed white glass 'Lanting Preface' snuff bottle
Bottle: possibly Yuanhu, Zhejiang province, circa 1903 (the decoration: Zhou Honglai, Hangzhou, 1903) 5.38cm high.
Treasury 5, no. 1053
白玻璃刻蘭亭修禊圖鼻煙壺 壺：大概為浙江鴛湖製品，約1903年 刻飾：周鴻來，杭州，1903年
An inscribed white-glass 'Lanting Preface' snuff bottle ('Orchid Resonance')
Translucent white glass; with a concave lip and concave, pointed foot; engraved on one main side with a landscape scene depicting what may be an imaginary setting for the events described in the 'Lanting Preface,' with an open pavilion on a grassy slope near bamboo groves with a body of water and distant mountains beyond, inscribed in draft script, 'The Purification Ceremony Conducted at the Lanting ('Orchid Pavilion'), made by Yanbin,' with one seal of the artist in positive seal script, Zhou, the other main side with the entire text of the 'Lanting Preface,' preceded by, 'In mid-summer of the year bingwu, [I] copied the full text of Mr. Wang Xizhi's "Lanting Preface",' and followed by, 'Made by Zhou Yanbin of Baimen at Lin'an,' with one seal of the artist in positive seal script, Zhou Bottle: possibly Yuanhu, Zhejiang province, circa 1903 Decoration: Zhou Honglai, Hangzhou, 1903 Height: 5.38 cm Mouth/lip: 0.52/1.68 cm Stopper: tourmaline; coral collar
Condition: one tiny bubble in third line of calligraphy on reverse filled with black, the cut bubble being a natural part of the glass-polishing process; some abrasions to foot and edges, not obtrusive; otherwise, in workshop condition
Provenance: Robert Hall (1996)
Published: Treasury 5, no. 1053
Commentary Dispersed among the shapes more commonly used by Zhou Honglai and the earlier glass bottles on which he occasionally worked, we find a small group of unusual shapes, apparently made by the same glassmaker, of which this is an example. The glass is of the same distinctive range, and there is reason to believe that he acquired them from the same source, which we think was Yuanhu, in Zhejiang province. The inscription states that this bottle was engraved at Lin'an, or Hangzhou, but Zhou seems to have been a visitor to Hangzhou rather than a long-term resident there. Since his Treasury 5, no. 1051, also carved in Hangzhou, is dated the autumn of 1901, however, he may possibly have remained in Hangzhou for a lengthy period. Or Zhou may have made two shorter visits, for the journey from his native Nanjing to Hangzhou was neither difficult nor lengthy and one he could have made easily enough along the Grand Canal and a short stretch of the Yangzi.
The landscape is interesting in its refusal to depict the ostensible subject, the Lanting gathering. Here we find no scholars playing their poetic drinking game, nor the stream along which servants floated cups of wine they were obliged to drain if they failed to come up to scratch in the poetry competition. Also absent is Wang Xizhi, customarily depicted writing his preface in an open pavilion, his favourite geese in the water nearby. There is a finger painting by Zhu Lunhan (1680 1760) that has a similarly unpopulated vision of 'Winding stream at the Lanting', so this is not without precedent. And one could argue that painting with one's finger or micro-engraving both encourage and entitle an artist to adopt the spare style of the Yuan painter Ni Zan, regardless of the subject matter. Or perhaps it is without the distraction of other guests at the gathering that we can best enter the scene in our imagination and, in the words of the Preface, 'watch the immense universe above and the myriad things below, travelling over the entire landscape with our eyes and allowing our sentiments to roam about at will, thus exhausting the pleasures of the eye and ear.'