• Important Chinese Ceramics and auction at Christies

    Sale 2731

    Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art

    1 December 2009, Hong Kong

  • Lot 1895


    Price Realised  



    Finely potted, the gently rounded sides delicately painted in various shades of cobalt-blue to depict one of the eight 'Immortals of the Wine Cup' Su Jin, kneeling in prayer before a statue of Budai placed on an altar table, the reverse side with an inscription ending with a seal, Shang, 'Appreciation'
    2 3/4 in. (7.1 cm.) high

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    On the back of the cup is inscribed the verse from Du Fu's poem relating to Su Jin:
    Su Jin has made a vow of abstinence before the embroidered Buddha,
    But in his drunkenness he often likes to abandon the ritual.

    The image of Su Jin is graphically depicted to reveal the two sides of his nature. On the one hand, when sober he was a devout Buddhist, practising abstinence and faithfully undertaking Buddhist rituals, however, when drunk, he delighted in flouting religious proscriptions. Although Du Fu's poem speaks of an embroidered Buddha, which would have been an embroidered scroll depicting the Buddha hanging above an altar, the ceramic decorator has chosen to show Su Jin kneeling on a mat before a large three-dimensional sculpture of Budai. The statue appears to rest on a table in an alcove, which seems to be in a garden with plantain to one side. Su Jin has his head slightly bowed and an open sutra in front of him, which would be appropriate when kneeling before a Buddhist statue, but he also appears to have a wine cup and wine jars, which would not.


    T. Bushell Collection, previously sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 22 May 1979, lot 162
    The T.Y. Chao Private and Family Collections, Part II, previously sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 19 May 1987, lot 266

    Pre-Lot Text


    The poem Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup (Yinzhong baxian ge) was written by the famous Tang dynasty poet Du Fu (AD 712-770). Like many Tang dynasty men of letters, Du Fu derived considerable enjoyment, and possibly inspiration, from drinking wine. He chose to celebrate the drinking habits of other literary men of his time, including that of his great friend Li Bai, in a poem. The eight literati that he chose to celebrate were He Zhizhang (AD 659-744), Li Jin, nephew of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712-756) and prince of Ruyang, Li Shizhi (d. 747) who was also Duke of Qinghe , Cui Songzhi, Su Jin, Li Bai (AD 701-762), Zhang Xu (active 710-750), and Jiao Sui.

    These Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup appeared as a subject for paintings from the Yuan dynasty onwards, and a handscroll by Zhang Wo (active c. 1340-1365), dated to AD 1363, which depicted the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup was offered at Christie's Hong Kong in May 2008, lot 1201. The Eight appeared as decoration on porcelain as early as the Ming Wanli reign (1573-1620). A wucai bowl in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (illustrated by R. Scott & R. Kerr in Ceramic Evolution in the Middle Ming Period, London, 1994, p. 19, no. 13) depicts the Eight Drunken Immortals but does not specifically allude to the Du Fu poem. Interestingly an earlier fahua double-gourd vase, dating to the late 15th or early 16th century, sold at Christie's Hong Kong in May 2008, lot 1864, depicted Eight Drunken Immortals, but showed the usual group of the Eight Daoist Immortals (Lu Dongbin, Li Tiegui, Cao Guojiu, Zhang Guolao, Zhongli Quan, Lan Caihe, He Xiangu and Han Xiangzi) in an inebriated state, rather than the Tang literati of Du Fu's poem. This version of Eight Drunken Immortals appears on textiles in the 17th century, and one such kesi was illustrated by Feng Zhao in Treasures in Silk, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 10.10a.

    The Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup, as described in Du Fu's poem certainly seem to have been a theme for porcelain decoration in the reign of the first Qing emperor Shunzhi (1644-61). A Shunzhi square-section vase in the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, which was probably originally one of a pair, is decorated in underglaze blue with four of the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup - one on each side - (illustrated by S. Little, Chinese Ceramics of the Transitional Period: 1620-1683, China Institute in America, 1983, no. 44. Octagonal blue and white bowls of the Kangxi reign are known with one of the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup on each facet. A foliated blue and white Kangxi bowl, with a spurious Chenghua mark, from the Wong collection is decorated with the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup on the exterior and a scholar with a weiqi chess board on the interior (illustrated by C. Brown, Chinese Ceramics: The Wong Collection, Phoenix Art Museum, 1982, pl. 91). A Kangxi wine cup decorated in overglaze famille verte enamels with one of the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup - He Zhizhang - was sold at Christie's Amsterdam in May 1994, lot 729, while two wine cups decorated in underglaze-blue with the same subject were sold at Christie's Amsterdam in December, 1998, lot 283. The current blue and white wine cups are particularly fine, and would have come from a set of eight, each one depicting one of the characters from Du Fu's poem with the relevant verse inscribed on the reverse of the cup along with a seal reading: shang, meaning 'appreciation' or 'reward'. These three cups depict Li Jin, Su Jin and Jiao Sui.

    The other five of the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup were all known for particular characteristics. He Zhizhang was born in present-day Xiaoshan in Zhejiang province, and was a distinguished calligrapher, who could write wonderful prose and poetry when drunk, but could not do so when sober. Du Fu's poem describes him riding his horse as if he were riding in a boat, and with his vision blurred by drink falling into a well, where he falls asleep in the water. Li Shizhi served as chancellor to Emperor Xuanzong, and was known for his ability to drink great quantities without appearing to be drunk. He enjoyed entertaining and spent his nights with his guests, and his days on affairs of state, but always managed to complete his work. He is described by Du Fu as spending ten thousand cash on wine every day and drinking like a whale swallowing a hundred rivers. Cui Zongzhi is described as an elegant young man, who, when drunk, would stand still looking up at the heavens and looking like a jade tree swaying in the wind. Li Bai was one of the great poets of the Tang dynasty, but was also famous for being somewhat unpredictable and for his love of wine. Du Fu describes his as being able to write a hundred stanzas of poetry for each gallon of wine he consumed and relates the story of his falling asleep in a Chang'an wine shop and missing the boat which should have conveyed him to court to take up an official appointment, at which point he retorted that he was a drunken immortal. Zhang Xu came from Suzhou and held office during Emperor Xuanzong's reign. He was a great calligrapher, particularly known for his cursive style, which was exceptional when he was drunk, but which he could not produce when sober. In the former state he was also known to use his own hair as a brush. Du Fu notes that he needed three cups of wine before he could write.

    Three unique examples of the 'immortals of the wine cup' are offered in the proceeding lots 1895-1897.



    S. Moss, Between Heaven and Earth, 1988, no. 40