An inscribed cinnabar-red and turquoise-blue glass overlay 'Zhong Kui' snuff bottle
Yangzhou, 1870-1890 Sold with accompanying watercolour by Peter Suart 6.3cm high.
Treasury 5, no. 1023
藍地套漆紅玻璃鍾馗出巡圖鼻煙壺 揚州, 1870～1890
A cinnabar-red glass-overlay 'Zhong Kui' snuff bottle
Opaque cinnabar-red and translucent turquoise-blue glass; with a flat lip and recessed, slightly convex foot surrounded by a protruding flattened footrim; carved as a single overlay with a continuous procession scene with Zhong Kui seated on a donkey holding a folding fan, beside Laozi on a water buffalo, with seven demons, one playing a trumpet, two carrying a shoulder-pole between them from which hang two stacked baskets, another carrying a mirror on a stand, one with what appears to be a flower growing out of the top of his head, another holding a covered box, while the last carries a lantern on a pole; inscribed in relief seal script Li shi Yunting zuo ('made by Yunting of the Li family') Yangzhou, 1870 1912 Height: 6.3 cm Mouth/lip: 0.60/1.49 cm Stopper: carnelian; vinyl collar
Condition: Small nibbles to inner lip, one tiny chip to outer lip; some minor wear to the cinnabar red on the demon on one side; footrim with chip in outer edge about 2 mm square
Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart
Provenance: Gerd Lester (1986)
Published: Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 132 Treasury 5, no. 1023 Moss and Sargent 2011, p. 25, fig. 37, right middle
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, March-June 1994 National Museum, Singapore, November 1994-February 1995
The writing of the courtesy name Yunting here is the form that caused this patron to be called 'Li Junting' in our earlier publications on the Yangzhou school of glass overlay. See Sale 3, lot 92 for the standard way of writing his courtesy name. We now know that Yunting was the courtesy name of Li Peisong, who moved from his native Dantu to Yangzhou around 1870 and, with his brother Li Peizhen (Weizhi), had several glass-overlay snuff bottles made bearing dates (when dated) from 1877 to 1881. Li Peisong was an official (perhaps by purchase), a businessman, and a philanthropist. He was not a glassmaker; the inscription here indicates that he caused the bottle to be made. For details on the Li brothers, see Moss and Sargent 2011.
While standard for a wide range of Yangzhou carvings of the painterly relief style, this bottle falls below the standards set by the finest the bottles made for Li Peisong. Interestingly, the bottle illustrated by Perry 1960, p. 50, no. 19, and dated 1882, only three years after Sale 1, lot 119, is not only very similar in style and quality, but of the same colour combination as this one. (Note that in our commentary to that bottle, we still had not realized that Li Yunting and Li Weizhi were not the same person. By the time we wrote the commentary to Sale 2, lot 141, the distinction had been discovered.)
Having been mildly disparaging about this obvious masterpiece, let us turn our attention to its many finer points. The subject matter, although not unique for the school, is rare and quite delightful, featuring a team of well-trained demons performing menial tasks for their master, Zhong Kui. Another sign of the high quality of this bottle is reasonably good control of the overlay colour on the footrim, which, while appearing faultless on the outside, bleeds into the foot inside the footrim. The footrim here is also well controlled, but not to the same degree as the best made for the Li brothers (see Sale 2, lot 76). The composition is well balanced and powerful, with confident use of a strong contrast in colours, and employing demons to replace the usual handles is a delightful feature.
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