Lot 328. An extraordinary, fine and large inscribed famille-verte brushpot, Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period (1662-1722). Diameter 7 1/4 in., 18.4 cm. Estimate: US$80,000 - US$120,000. Lot Sold 572,000 US$. Courtesy Sotheby's.
the cylindrical form superbly enameled with a literati scene depicting a Tang dynasty poet-scholar leaning against the railing from the upper terrace of an elegant pavilion, gazing thoughtfully up at a full moon emerging from colorful cloud wisps, with two young attendants standing nearby, all within a lush, verdant setting of wutong, pine and plaintain trees amid rockwork, a two line poetic inscription on the reverse, signed Xin Yeqiao, and with a Zhu Shi Ju seal mark, coll. no. 189.
Provenance: Christie's London, 6th June 2000, Lot 357.
A. & J. Speelman, Ltd., London, 2001.
Exhibited: The Colors of Earth, Kangxi Era Porcelain from the Stamen Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2002, cat. no. 13.
Embracing Classic Chinese Culture, Kangxi Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection, Sotheby's New York, March 2014, cat. no. 12.
Literature: Jeffrey P. Stamen, Cynthia Volk with Yibin Ni, A Culture Revealed, Kangxi-Era Chinese Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection, Bruges, 2017, cat. no. 30.
Yibin Ni, ‘Tang Poet Wang Changling Thinking of His Muse by Moonlight’, Reader’s Taste, (Mar. 2017).
Gazing at the Same Clear Moon: A Timeless Tribute to the Literati Aesthetic
The present brushpot, an essential item for a scholar, is aptly decorated with an aspirational depiction capturing a moment of poetic inspiration. The imagery is reiterated in the inscription by the Tang dynasty poet, Wang Changling (698-756), who was renowned for his atmospheric poems set in the far reaches of the empire. The inscription may be translated as follows:
Standing on the high tower under the moonlight, I listen to the pure sounds coming from the Southern Mountains
Yesterday, the shadow of Chang’e appeared, and the sound of her subtle laughter was audible
Signed Xin Yeqiao, with two seals; Wang and Zhu Shi Ju
As with many Kangxi porcelains, the present scene is directly inspired by a woodblock print illustration. The source for the imagery and poem is from Tang shi hua pu, ‘Illustrations to Tang poems’, compiled by Huang Fengchi, a scholar who was active early 17th century (fig. 1). Interestingly the poem as it appears on this vessel is not ascribed to the poet Wang Changling but signed Xin Yeqiao about whom no information has been recorded. An inscribed, famille-verte dish in the West Lake Museum, Hangzhou is also signed by Xin Yeqiao indicating the intriguing possibility that he may either have been an artist working at the Zhu Shi Ju workshop in Jingdezhen or perhaps the person who commissioned these pieces.
Scholarly-themed luxury wares enjoyed considerable popularity among the wealthy elite of the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. During a time of considerable political and social turmoil, the long-held traditions and values of the literati provided both reassurance and inspiration not just to scholar-officials but to the emerging wealthy merchant class and members of the foreign Manchu imperial court seeking to strengthen their claim to rule. This unique historical confluence of upheaval, new wealth and new governance gave impetus to a series of remarkable technological and artistic advancement in the production of porcelain at Jingdezhen. Literati-themed wares provided a tangible connection to an ideal realm and would likely have been understood and appreciated by the fortunate few who could afford them as both spiritual inspiration and as a resounding statement of wealth and social status.
The use of three-dimensional surfaces to convey traditional two-dimensional formats reached new and innovative heights in the Kangxi period. Elaborate figural scenes appear in the Yuan dynasty and again in the Ming but not in conjunction with calligraphy and never with such immediate reference to scroll painting. The multi-layered contrivance of a scholarly scene painted in imitation of the layered greens and blues of a Tang dynasty palette and inscribed with a Tang dynasty poem on the theme of finding a muse in nature, all wrapped around a cylindrical vessel designed for the storage of brushes to create the aforementioned work, appealed intellectually and materially to luxury buyers of the early Qing.
Collecting taste of the Kangxi period was set both by traditional literati ideals and by a contemporary desire to emulate the emperor's personal dedication to scholarly pursuits. Literati art inspired by deeds and artifacts continually revitalized the past and served to immortalize not just the artists but literati traditions as well. The literati aesthetic was held to the most exacting standards and therefore attractive to eager enthusiasts ascribed to a scholarly lifestyle. The artisans of Jingdezhen proved particularly apt and able to create porcelains uniquely pairing the beauty of imagery as painted by famous artists and the poetry penned by renown poets on a three-dimensional objects as exemplified by the present brushpot.
As with other related pieces of the period, the inscription on the brushpot ends with a seal mark not of the poet but of a workshop, Zhu Shi Ju. This mark appears on other porcelains of superlative quality and belongs to a very select group thought to be associated with one or more small private workshops in Jingdezhen, operating during the late Ming and early Qing dynasty. The present mark bears a striking similarity to the Mu Shi Ju mark and is considered by many to be a variant from that studio. These porcelains share not only related marks but material, stylistic and iconographic characteristics that are sufficiently distinctive to indicate shared production of limited, likely commissioned, works of art by an elite group of exceptionally talented craftsmen. These workshops specialized in the production of refined, scholarly wares that would appeal to both the imperial court and wealthy enthusiasts who aspired to the literati lifestyle. There is a good deal of speculation surrounding these very distinctive superlative porcelains regarding identity and what, if any, was their level of contact with the literati, imperial artists, and representatives from the imperial household. Notable scholars such as Julia Curtis in Chinese Porcelains of the Seventeenth Century: Landscapes, Scholars’ Motifs and Narratives, The China Institute, New York, 1995; Yibin Ni in ‘Tang Poet Wang Changling Thinking of His Muse by Moonlight’, Reader’s Taste: (Mar. 2017); Professor Wang Qingzheng in Kangxi Porcelain Wares from the Shanghai Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1998, pp. xxiii-xxv and again in ‘The Seventeenth Century: A Turning Point in Porcelain Production in Jingdezhen’, Seventeenth Century Jingdezhen Porcelain from the Shanghai Museum and the Butler Collection, London, 2006, pp. 50-54; and Lu Pengliang in ‘Where Potters Met Poets, A Kangxi Vase with a Poetry Gathering in Jingdezhen’, Arts of Asia, vol. 47, no. 2 (Mar – Apr. 2017), pp. 98-104, have all written on the topic and it is to be hoped that time and further research will throw clear light on this opaque and fascinating area.
Brushpots of this large size, in the famille-verte palette bearing inscriptions are exceptionally rare. A closely related famille-verte brushpot with a two-line poetic inscription bearing the same Zhu Shi Ju seal mark but of smaller size and a depiction of the Tang poet Li Bai set within a black double lines, is in the Shanghai Museum and illustrated in Kangxi Porcelain Wares from the Shanghai Museum Collection, Hong Kong, 1998, pl. 111. The Palace Museum, Beijing has a deep U-form jar depicting two scholars conversing on a bridge along with an inscription and a Mu Shi Ju seal mark illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures in the Palace Museum, Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 93. A large bird and flower decorated famille-verte brushpot, dated to 1709 with a Mu Shi Ju seal mark in the Musée Guimet, Paris is illustrated in Oriental Ceramics The World’s Great Collections, Vol. 8, Musee Guimet, Tokyo, 1976, pl. 53. An inscribed famille-verte brushpot of smaller size with bird and flower decoration was sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 29th-30th November 2018, lot 324. Another, of smaller size, similarly bird and flower decorated, inscribed and bearing a Mu Shi Ju seal mark, from the Jie Rui Tang collection sold in these rooms, 20th March 2018, lot 310.