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AN IMPERIAL FINELY-CARVED AND RETICULATED SPINACH-GREEN JADE BRUSH POT
AN IMPERIAL FINELY-CARVED AND RETICULATED SPINACH-GREEN JADE BRUSH POT
AN IMPERIAL FINELY-CARVED AND RETICULATED SPINACH-GREEN JADE BRUSH POT
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AN IMPERIAL FINELY-CARVED AND RETICULATED SPINACH-GREEN JADE BRUSH POT
8 More
AN IMPERIAL FINELY-CARVED AND RETICULATED SPINACH-GREEN JADE BRUSH POT

QIANLONG PERIOD (1736-1795)

Details
AN IMPERIAL FINELY-CARVED AND RETICULATED SPINACH-GREEN JADE BRUSH POT
QIANLONG PERIOD (1736-1795)
The brush pot is exquisitely carved and pierced with a continuous scene of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo grove in a mountainous landscape, raised on five bracket-form feet. The stone is of a rich spinach tone with mottled black and light inclusions.
6 7/8 in. (17.5 cm.) diam.
Provenance
Spink & Son, Ltd., London (according to label)
Acquired in London in the 1960s & 70s

Brought to you by

Marco Almeida (安偉達)
Marco Almeida (安偉達) SVP, Senior International Specialist, Head of Department

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Lot Essay

Scholarly Idyll of the Seven Sages
An Imperial Qianlong Reticulated Jade Brush Pot
Rosemary Scott, Senior International Academic Consultant, Asia Art

The decoration on this elegant brush pot depicts a group of scholars in a bucolic setting accompanied by servants. One scholar sits at a table in a pavilion under a pine tree with brush in hand inscribing a scroll. On his right is a brush pot containing auspicious objects. Two more scholars approach the pavilion along a rocky path above a flowing mountain stream – one scholar rests his hands on the shoulders of the gentleman in front of him, presumably for stability. A further scholar sits on the banks of the stream, resting on a rock, while an acolyte stands beside him holding a brush and scroll. Further around the sides of the brush pot four more figures process along a rocky ledge. A scholar carrying a scroll is followed by a servant carrying a wrapped qin. Behind this figure is a gentleman dressed as an official, who is, in turn, followed by an elderly man carrying two cups on a tray. On a further rocky ledge another servant is depicted carrying three cups on a tray. On a larger flat area four wine jars stand under a plantain and a scholar stands watching two servants, one of whom appears to be offering a tray with three cups. Behind this servant is a zun-shaped vessel. These vignettes within the rocky landscape are set against a background of a bamboo forest, in which individual stems of bamboo provide very effective frames for reticulation.

The figures depicted on the brush pot are the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, sometimes known as the Seven Worthies. The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (Zhulin qixian ????) were supposedly 3rd century literary recluses, who in a period of political strictures and social injustice emerged to advocate freedom and spiritual independence. The period of some 400 years following the fall of the Han dynasty in AD 220 was one of political and social chaos, and the Seven Sages became famous for their reactions to the world in which they found themselves – rejecting certain aspects of both Confucian and Daoist teaching. Stories about the Seven Sages and others of similar mind are recorded by Liu Yiqing ??? (AD 403-44) in the Shishuo xinyu ???? (New Examples of Contemporary Tales). They are believed to have met in a bamboo grove in??Shanyang, now in Henan province. While the Seven Sages attempted to remove themselves from politics and concentrate on leisure activities such as music and poetry, as well as philosophical discussion with those of like mind, they were also known for their prodigious consumption of wine. They became symbols of the struggle of scholars against corrupt court politics, dynastic usurpation, restrictive Confucian rules of propriety, and magical Daoism. Thus, in the 17th century they became models for the Ming dynasty yimin (??leftover subjects) and were popular subjects in the arts of both China and Japan thereafter.

The group was composed of Xi Kang ?? AD 223-262, Liu Ling ?? c. AD 221–c. 300, Ruan Ji ?? AD 210–263, Ruan Xian ?? AD 230–281, Xiang Xiu ?? AD 228–281, Wang Rong ?? AD 234–305 and Shan Tao ?? AD 205–285. Xi Kang, also known as Ji Kang, is often considered the leader of the group, and the bamboo grove in which the group met was reportedly near his home. In addition to being a philosopher and author, Xi Kang was a skilled exponent of the guqin??and composed music for that instrument. Having defended a friend against false charges, and fallen foul of Zhong Hui – a follower of the Sima clan, Xi Kang was sentenced to death by Sima Zhao. Just before Xi Kang’s execution, he asked for his qin and played the masterpiece known as Guangling san???, but left no record of the melody. On the current brush pot Xi Kang is depicted as the scholar followed by a servant carrying a qin in a cloth bag.

While it is not possible positively to identify each of the members of the group with a specific figure on this jade brush pot, the lapidary has very skilfully captured the spirit and leisure activities of these remarkable scholars from China’s ancient past. The accoutrements depicted on the jade brush pot all relate to writing, music and drinking wine. Each of the Seven Sages had both literary and musical talents, and they met to discuss problems and how they could behave in a sincere way and avoid co-operation with their rulers. On the one hand they satirised social inequity in their writings and behaviour, while on the other they behaved in rather eccentric ways in order to avoid being executed. This latter ploy was not always successful. However, their free-thinking and independence inspired men of culture for generations.

The current brush pot belongs to the prestigious group of jade brush pots carved in the second half of the Qianlong reign. Although the early part of the 18th century saw a shortage of jade stone arriving at the court ateliers, the successful campaigns against the tribes of Yutian (modern Xinjiang province) in 1760, the middle of the Qianlong reign, presaged a new era, when significant quantities of good quality nephrite jade were sent to the court as tribute. As Ming Wilson has noted (Chinese Jades, V&A Publications, London, 2004, p. 48), this ready supply of high-quality jade stone ushered in a golden age of jade production. One of the developments in jade carving to be particularly encouraged by the Qianlong emperor was that of huayi or carving jade to produce a picture. As a painter might use his brush and ink to create a two-dimensional picture, particularly a landscape, on paper or silk, so the skilled lapidary could use his tools to create a three-dimensional picture in jade. This required even greater skill when applied to a cylindrical object and was combined with reticulation, as on the current brush pot.

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