A 'famille-rose' porcelain 'Imperial poem' snuff bottle
Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, Jiaqing iron-red four-character seal mark and of the period, 1796-1810 5.24cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1247
A 'famille-rose' porcelain 'Imperial poem' snuff bottle
Famille-rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a flat lip and slightly convex rectangular foot; painted on each main side with a convex panel, one with a garden scene with corn poppies, asters, and bamboo growing around an ornamental rock, the other with a poem by the Qianlong emperor in regular script, followed by the designation Yuzhi ('By imperial command') and two indecipherable seals, the gold-painted panel frames edged in iron-red and surrounded by a formalized floral design, also in iron-red enamel; the foot inscribed in iron-red seal script, Jiaqing nian zhi ('Made during the Jiaqing period'); the lip painted gold; the interior unglazed Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 17961810 Height: 5.24 cm Mouth/lip: 0.65/1.65 cm Stopper: gilt-copper; chased with a formalized floral design
Condition: minor surface scratches from wear; some wear to the enamelling on the ornamental rock, and slight fading to the enamelling on the flower petals and a couple of the characters in the text
Provenance: Joseph Baruch Silver Clare Lawrence Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd. (1992)
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum of Singapore, November 1994February 1995
This Jiaqing-marked snuff bottle is surely from early in the reign. The shape, the use of a floral design on one side and a poem on the other, and the enamels and decorative scheme are all typical of the latter part of the Qianlong reign. We also know that the panel frame of gold edged with iron red appeared on late- Qianlong bottles. Moreover, the poem is not by the Jiaqing emperor, but by his father, the Qianlong emperor. It was composed in 1733 as a colophon to an album of flower paintings by Zou Yigui (1686 1766) and relates to the corn poppy. Published in the Leshan tang ji, one of the volumes containing the voluminous poetic output of the emperor (see Lam 2003, p. 7, fig. 2 for a facsimile of the original publication), the same poem appears on other bottles from the Qianlong reign (ibid., p. 16, fig. 20, from the Humphrey Hui Collection, and p. 17, fig. 21; and Li Jiufang 2002, no. 314, where no. 308 is another from the same set; both still in the imperial collection and both with Qianlong reign marks). The present example may date from the abdication years. It seems more likely that the new emperor would show his filial piety by choosing his father's poems while his father was still alive to appreciate the gesture. Or perhaps the Jiaqing emperor had little to do with the order. It could have been placed by the Qianlong emperor with instructions to mark some or all with the Jiaqing reign mark. We know from the archives that orders were sometimes placed during the abdication years to the effect that some from a series would bear one reign mark, the rest the other. (See for instance 1798, fourth month, first day, for an order for ten wucai bowls, half with Qianlong marks and half with Jiaqing marks; and in the same year, tenth month, seventh day, a further reference to twenty-two pieces of porcelain, half with Qianlong marks and the other half with Jiaqing marks.) At some time in the future, we may find other bottles with this particular design but carrying Qianlong reign marks. Even if it was the Jiaqing emperor who placed the order, it is likely to have been during the earlier part of his reign. The unglazed interior would also be commensurate with a date from early in the reign.
The poem reads:
The song for Yu, oh! Parting brought such distress. Pacing back and forth, one still thinks of the riverbank in Chu. Who would know he who cherishes the jade and treasures the fragrance, Is not the man of olden times who carried the name of Xiang.
Yu was the favourite concubine of Xiang Yu (233202 BCE), King of Chu. Surrounded by the hostile troops of the founder of the Han dynasty, Xiang Yu determined to fight one last battle rather than cross the Yangzi to Chu and face the wives and mothers of the soldiers he had sacrificed in his bid to claim the crumbling Qin empire. The song he sang the night before his inevitable death to bid farewell to his concubine (and his horse) is recalled in the first line of this poem (and was heard around the world by audiences of the 1993 film Farewell My Concubine in its Peking-opera incarnation). The corn poppy, called yumeiren (literally, Yu, the beautiful lady) in Chinese, is regarded as emblematic of Yu's beauty. In this poem, the emperor declares that the flower and the lady for which it is named are still appreciated by him, now that Xiang Yu is long gone.
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