An inscribed emerald-green glass overlay 'Rhapsody on a Heavenly Horse' snuff bottle Zhou Honglai, 1898 (the bottle: 1770-1850)
Lot 107
An inscribed emerald-green glass overlay 'Rhapsody on a Heavenly Horse' snuff bottle Zhou Honglai, 1898 (the bottle: 1770-1850)
Sold for HK$ 68,750 (US$ 8,866) inc. premium
Lot Details
Snuff bottles formerly in the Mary and George Bloch collection (lots 100-146)
An inscribed emerald-green glass overlay 'Rhapsody on a Heavenly Horse' snuff bottle
Zhou Honglai, 1898 (the bottle: 1770-1850)
Of flattened globular form with an elegant curved neck, flat lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim, engraved on one main side with a horse, inscribed in draft script, 'Executed by Qiandaoren' (The man who submerges himself in the Way), with one seal of the artist, possibly Ding, the other main side with Mi Fu's Rhapsody on a Heavenly Horse, also in draft script, preceded by the seal, possibly of the artist, yixiao ('a laugh'), the title of the rhapsody, and the date 'late-spring month of the wuxu year of the Guangxu reign', and followed by, 'For the pure enjoyment of Jianqiu, the honourable elder brother, engraved by Yanbin, [alias] his humble younger brother, Zhou Honglai', with one seal of the artist in positive seal script, Zhou.
6cm high.


  • Provenance 來源:
    Gerd Lester (1986)

    Illustrated 出版:
    Hugh Moss, Victor Graham and Ka Bo Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles. The Mary and George Bloch Collection, Volume 5, Hong Kong, 2002, no.1049.

    It is fitting that the earliest dated bottle by Zhou Honglai in the collection should be an earlier overlay glass bottle that could, conceivably, have been produced at Yangzhou. We are thus invited to make a serendipitous progression from the Yangzhou-school overlays to Zhou's works. The matching of overlay colour to footrim is poor, with the green bleeding extensively into the foot. It exhibits a surface as well-worn as that of any glass bottle in the collection, but since the wear does not encroach upon the engraving, we may be sure it was already there when Zhou carried out his work.

    Zhou Honglai's works are calligraphy and painting executed with a diamond point, the bottles being simply a 'canvas' for the art, and the focus remains firmly on the art of Zhou Honglai rather than the art of the snuff bottle. In that respect, these are similar to the works of Zhou Leyuan and Ding Erzhong, for while it is a bonus to find a fine old crystal bottle serving as a 'canvas' for their paintings inside snuff bottles, the bottle is never the main feature.

    Zhou Honglai was among the finest of the artists who specialized in micro-engraving at the end of the Qing dynasty. He worked mostly on glass, but occasionally on porcelain (see Jutheau 1980, p. 95, also illustrated in Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, no. 244). Although Zhou was a native of Baimen (an old name for Nanjing), some works are inscribed as made at other places, including Hangzhou, which he describes visiting (see Sale 3, lot 8). Qiandaoren may be his name, or it may be an artist from whom he borrowed the image of the horse. The scholar and calligrapher Wang Naizheng (1861-1933) also adopted the name in his later years, but since this bottle is dated 1898, when Wang was still under forty years of age, we suspect this is no more than a coincidence.

    The subject matter here is unusual, for Zhou customarily limited himself to those typical of literati paintings - landscape scenes, often including scholars enjoying themselves in a relaxed manner, sometimes with the scholar as the main subject of the 'painting' - all rendered on a tiny scale. Apart from these he produced a fairly standard scholarly range of flora - often blossoming prunus branches - or, less often, birds in branches. This is the only picture of a horse by Zhou that we have found, this one symbolizing a gifted person, whereas an unsaddled horse indicates potential and the desire for a bright and prosperous future.

    The text Zhou has chosen is by Mi Fu (1051-1107) one of the four great calligraphers of the Northern Song dynasty. Many calligraphers and intellectuals have copied the text in their own hands, including figures as disparate as the great Ming artist Dong Qichang and the late Qing reformer Kang Youwei.

    The short preface, which is not included here, reveals that Mi Fu was inspired to write this eulogy after seeing a Tang-dynasty painting of a powerful steed and being overcome by sadness that such spirited horses were no longer to be found. We have resisted attempting a translation of the text—we are unaware of any rendering in any Western language—but we have taken time to provide the text, with punctuation but not collated with the text on the bottle, in the Chinese version of this commentary.

    1898年作 周鴻來 白套綠玻璃天馬賦鼻煙壺



    周鴻來是清末微刻藝術家最早的之一。他主要用玻璃刻,但有時候用陶瓷 (見Jutheau 1980,頁95,同壺也發表於Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty,編號244)。他是白門(南京)人,但有的作品是在杭州等地作的(見瑪麗及莊智博鼻煙壺珍藏第三場拍賣會,拍賣編號8)。


  1. Chinese Art (HK)
    Auction Administration - Chinese Works of Art
    Work +852 2918 4321
    FaxFax: +852 2918 4320
Similar items