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    Sale 1977

    The Meriem Collection Important Chinese Snuff Bottles, Part II

    19 March 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 225



    Price Realised  


    Of compressed form with slightly concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a footrim, carved on one main side using the dark brown markings with Shoulao in flowing robes holding a staff in his left hand, with a twelve-character inscription in seal script above which reads, "The Old Man of the South Pole (another name for Shoulao) brings luck, longevity, prosperity and peace throughout the land," the stone of pale greyish-beige tone, tourmaline stopper with gilt-metal collar
    2½ in. (6.4 cm.) high

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    Canopus, the second-brightest star in the southern hemisphere, served as a southern pole star for travelers in the northern hemisphere until magnetic compasses became common. Depicted on a map found in Dunhuang, Gansu province, believed to be from the reign of Emperor Zhongzong (r. 705-710) of the Tang dynasty, Canopus is part of a nine-star constellation (Gan Shi or Tian Pu) representing the garden where Shoulao grew his herbs of longevity (xian cao).

    This bottle falls into a group of agate bottles where the variations in color in the stone provide all or part of the design, with or without surface editing. In a lecture before the 1996 ICSBS convention in Hong Kong, Hugh Moss proposed the term "ink-play" to relate the adaptation of principles of ink painting to particolored chalcedony (reproduced JICSBS, Autumn 1997, pp. 4-16). "Ink-play" in the painting tradition refers to the interpretation of random markings made by the free expression of the artist's brush, ink, water and surface. With respect to hardstone carvings, this effect is achieved firstly by reading the markings as representational imagery, and secondly, by achieving a balance between the natural markings and subsequent enhancements by the artist. See Moss, Graham and Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, Vol. 2, Quartz, no. 274 for further discussion of this genre of snuff bottles.

    The present bottle is an excellent example of this art form, where the artist has created the figure of Shoulao from the natural brown coloring of the stone by the addition of simple incised lines. The restraint of the design is in harmony with the Daoist subject. See also, Moss, Graham and Tsang, Quartz, no. 275, for a similar "ink-play" bottle inscribed with an auspicious wish.

    Special Notice

    Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory and tortoiseshell. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country.


    Robert Hall, London.