• Fine Chinese Ceramics and Work auction at Christies

    Sale 7762

    Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art

    3 November 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 102



    Price Realised  


    Of cylindrical section, the finial carved in the round with a recumbent bactrian camel turned facing the rear, the hair and features finely detailed, the underside carved in positive relief with a four-character inscription reading zhi bu zu zhai, the well-polished stone of an even pale white tone
    1¼ in. (3.2 cm.) high

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    This exceptionally well-carved jade seal bears the four characters Zhi bu zu zhai, which may be translated as Studio of Insufficient Knowledge. The name of this studio suggests that its owner wished to indicate his appreciation of the Confucian virtues, one of which was the continuous acquisition of knowledge. In the Lunyu or Analects, a collection of writings about Confucius and his thoughts, probably dating to the 5th century BC and possibly compiled by his disciples, there is extenisve discussion of the characteristics of 'the superior man'. In chapter two of the Analects is a section which has been translated by James Legge as reading: 'The Master said: "If a man keeps cherishing his old knowledge, so as continually to be acquiring new, he may be a teacher of others."' In chapter eight another section reads: 'The Master said: "Learn as if you could not reach your object, and are always fearful lest you should not attain it."' Hence the name Studio of Insufficient Knowledge indicates a continuous desire to learn.

    Camels are quite rare on seals, but two-humped Bactrian camels were valuable domestic animals in northern China for more than a thousand years. In the Han dynasty they were used in great numbers in the caravans that transported trade goods and military equipment across the deserts of Central Asia, and continued to play an important part in trade along the Silk Route. In the Tang dynasty camels were very highly prized and were sent as gifts and tribute to the emperor, and were also captured as spoils of war. Camels continued to be used to carry goods across central Asia into the 20th century, and indeed there are published photographs from the early 20th century showing camel trains entering Beijing.

    Camels were much valued and were frequently listed along with precious materials, such as silver and gold. Some were kept as fighting camels, some provided personal transport, and most importantly they were linked to wealth because of their part in trade. It has been said that some of the trade across the Gobi and Tasim would not have been possible without their ability to sniff out subterranean springs and provide early warning of deadly sandstorms. Significantly for the current white jade camel, living white camels were especially prized, and in Tang times often provided the means of transport for officials known as 'Emissaries of the Bright Camels'.

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