A rare moulded and carved ink cake 'Lanting Xu' table screen and stands Qianlong six-character mark and probably of the period
Lot 298*
A rare moulded and carved ink cake 'Lanting Xu' table screen and stands
Qianlong six-character mark and probably of the period
£50,000 - 80,000
US$ 78,000 - 130,000

Lot Details
A rare moulded and carved ink cake 'Lanting Xu' table screen and stands Qianlong six-character mark and probably of the period A rare moulded and carved ink cake 'Lanting Xu' table screen and stands Qianlong six-character mark and probably of the period A rare moulded and carved ink cake 'Lanting Xu' table screen and stands Qianlong six-character mark and probably of the period A rare moulded and carved ink cake 'Lanting Xu' table screen and stands Qianlong six-character mark and probably of the period A rare moulded and carved ink cake 'Lanting Xu' table screen and stands Qianlong six-character mark and probably of the period A rare moulded and carved ink cake 'Lanting Xu' table screen and stands Qianlong six-character mark and probably of the period
A rare moulded and carved ink cake 'Lanting Xu' table screen and stands
Qianlong six-character mark and probably of the period
The solid ink screen carved on one side with a scene of the Lanting Gathering with guests seated in amiable clusters on promontories beside a flowing river bearing wine cups balanced on floating lotus leaves, the guests equipped with brushes, ink stones and scrolls for their poetic compositions, the details highlighted in green and red, all within a gilt border of stylised confronted chilong, the reverse with an inscription within a similar border, one edge of the screen with the six-character Qianlong mark and the other with the five-character mark yan qu lou zhen cang, each of the stands with a pair of confronted gilt and red chilong dragons on one side, fitted box. The screen 25.1cm (9 7/8in) high; overall 29.5cm (11 5/8in) high when assembled (4).

Footnotes

  • 或清乾隆 蘭亭序圖插屏式墨,連座 「大清乾隆年製」及「延趣樓珍藏」楷書款

    Provenance: a Swiss private collection; according to the owner, in the family since the 19th century

    來源:瑞士私人收藏;據說是由十九世紀起的家族藏品

    One side of the ink cake is inscribed 延趣樓珍藏, which may be translated as 'Treasure of the Yanqu Pavilion'. The Yanqu Pavilion is part of the Ningshou Palace in the Forbidden City.

    The scene of the Lanting gathering depicted on the present lot took place in the ninth year of the Yonghe reign, of the Eastern Jin dynasty (AD353). Wang Xizhi (c.303-361), regarded as 'the Saint of Calligraphy', together with 41 eminent scholars, gathered at the Orchid Pavilion in Shaoxing, celebrating the Spring Purification Festival, composing poems and engaging in a drinking contest with wine cups flowing down a winding creek.

    Wang wrote on this occasion a short preface famously known as the Lanting Xu (Preface to the poems collected from the Orchid Pavilion). Literati thereafter copied this canonical preface onto stone and ink-rubbings, table screens, ink cakes, and many other scholar objects, so that it might inspire the literati while in his studio, as seen at the back of the present lot.

    The episode of the Lanting Gathering also gave rise to a popular 'flowing cup' game, which would take place in a pavilion specially designed with a narrow winding channel cut in the floor. Spring water flowed through the channel, and in one version of the game, participants would try to float their cup down the channel without it spilling; the loser would have to drink or compose a poem. In another version, participants would be placed around the channel, and whomever the cup stopped near would have to compose a poem. The Qianlong Emperor was said to have been very fond of this pasttime, and a Flowing Cup Pavilion 流杯亭 (Liubei Ting) was built in the Pavilion of the Purification Ceremony 禊賞亭 (Xishang Ting) his private quarters in the Forbidden City - see N.Berliner, The Emperor's Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City, Yale, 2010, p.96. However by the time of the erudite Qianlong Emperor, the activity was enjoyed less as a party game than as a conscious re-enactment of the scene described by Wang Xizhi, intended to connect the participants with the literati traditions epitomised by the famous calligrapher.

    The Qianlong Emperor himself embraced this literati approach in his distinctive calligraphy, writing the following poem in 1792:

    有石巉岩有竹攢
    流觴亭裡石渠盤
    他年遼待臨王帖
    視昔由今正好觀

    Which may be translated as

    There are stones, cliffs and bamboo gatherings.
    In the Pavilion of Floating Goblets, there is a stone curving [waterway] slab.
    In the future when I want to imitate the rubbing of Wang Xizhi [calligraphy],
    I will look at the Pavilion and imagine old times.

    Composed towards the end of the Emperor's life, the poem has a delicate poignancy as it draws together the themes of gathering friends, past masters, poetry, calligraphy and meandering streams coming to an inevitable end. It is these intricate layers of meaning which imbue the scene of the Lanting Gathering with such rich significance for the Qianlong Emperor.

    The present ink cake is remarkable in its high level of craftsmanship and the superb moulding skills strongly suggests an origin at the Imperial Court. The techniques of using gilt and colour pigment on ink cake started in the Ming Dynasty and became more popular during the Qianlong period, a period when it reached a technical and aesthetic peak.
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