More than a Game / A CARVED BAMBOO 'SEVEN SAGES OF THE BAMBOO GROVE' INCENSE HOLDER 18th century
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A CARVED BAMBOO 'SEVEN SAGES OF THE BAMBOO GROVE' INCENSE HOLDER
Of slender cylindrical form, meticulously carved and pierced with a continuous scene depicting the 'Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove' in a winding landscape, one of them playing the qin surrounded by scholars, facing another scholar playing a pipa, two further scholars engaging in distance with the group, the setting accentuated with large looming boulders and jagged rockwork surrounded by pine and wutong trees, the bamboo with a smooth reddish-brown patina, mounted with a removable base and cap. 26.4cm (10 3/8in) overall high.
Games for the Chinese literati, meant not only engaging in a physical activity, but also something immaterial, such as composing poems, playing music etc, similar to what the 'Seven Sages' in the Jin dynasty did in their bamboo grove.
The 'Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove' were a group of learned men from the 3rd century (Eastern Jin dynasty). During a time of political upheaval the group distanced themselves from government service, choosing instead to spend time engaged in metaphysical discussions, poetry, and music, always while inebriated. There were three musicians in the group, the qin players Ji Kang ( 223-263), Ruan Ji (210-263) and Ruan's nephew, Ruan Xian (who played ruan, a pipa-like instrument). Ruan Ji was said to compose qin pieces while Ji Kang was an accomplished performer. Thus, it is easy to identify the figure playing qin as Ji Kang, and the ruan player in front of him as Ruan Xian.
This scene was widely depicted on various works of art thereafter and was particularly popular on bamboo carvings. Compare with a closely related bamboo incense holder with the similar scene, by Shi Tianzhang, in the Palace Museum Collection, illustrated in Bamboo, Wood, Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn Carvings. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2002, pl.56.