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A rare chengxiang wood 'Scholar' teapot and cover, Ming dynasty. Photo:Sotheby's

carved from a gnarled section of chengxiangmu (eagle wood), with slender tapered sides rising to high shoulders and a flared neck, set with an 'S'-shaped spout opposite a loop handle and a small protruding stump on one side, carved in low relief with a continuous scene of scholars among jagged rocks and verdant trees, one side with three sages conversing near two others engaged in a game of weiqi, the reverse with a group gathered at a table listening to their companion playing on a qin, all below undulous mountains and clouds encircling the shoulder, the handle and spout detailed with prunus branches, the neck decorated with a further scholar on a rocky path, the flat cover of conforming irregular outline surmounted by two rows of chrysanthemum petals culminating in a fruit knop, the base, rims and spout mounted in metal, the interior fitted with a metal liner; 22.2 cm., 8 3/4 in. Estimate 1,500,000 — 2,000,000 HKD

Note: This teapot is extremely rare for its large size as such substantial pieces of chenxiangmu were difficult to find. Chenxiangmu was one of the most valued types of wood in China due to its aromatic and medicinal qualities. Extremely brittle and difficult to carve, the properties of the wood have been discussed in several publications, including Robert Ellsworth in Chinese Furniture. Hardwood Examples of the Ming and Early Ch’ing Dynasties, New York, 1970, p. 46, who describes it as lignaloes, a succulent wood from a species sometimes considered a tree, sometimes a shrub; and Sheila Riddell in Dated Chinese Antiquities 600-1650, London, 1979, p. 228, who calls it gharu wood (aquilaria agallocha), a highly-esteemed type with the best quality sourced from Cambodia, according to Chau Ju-Kua, the renowned 12th century traveller. Furthermore, Gerard Tsang and Hugh Moss in the catalogue to the exhibition Arts from the Scholar’s Studio, Fung Ping Shan Museum, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1986, p. 216, comment that chenxiangmu was frequently used for burning incense.

For libation cups carved from chenxiangmu, see a set of four sold in our London rooms, 15th May 2013, lot 203; two further examples sold in these rooms, 29th October 2001, lot 682, and the other, 10th April 2006, lot 1640; and another, from the Robert H. Blumenfield collection, sold at Christie’s New York, 22nd March 2012, lot 1298. A carving of scholars within a boulder, in the National Palace Museu, Taipei, is published in Jiangxin yu xiangong Ming Qing diaoke zhan. Zhu mu guohe pian, Taipei, 2009, pl. 26; and another depicting two phoenixes, from the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, was sold in these rooms, 8th April 2013, lot 119. See also a brush rest carved from this wood, included in Robert P. Piccus (ed.), Wood from the Scholar’s Table, Hong Kong, 1984, pl. 41.

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art. Hong Kong | 08 Apr 2014 -www.sothebys.com