From the same collection as the Qianlong period enamelled bottle of this sale, lot 98, the present bottle displays in material, style and quality the classic output of the Suzhou school, but it would appear no other bottle of this exact type has been published to date. The white relief is skilfully carved to form a self-contained rockwork ground, perhaps representing the dongtian, 'cave heaven', inhabited by Immortals, and the black inclusions well employed to depict figures within, giving an impressive cameo quality.
The inscription on the reverse, unusually carved within a raised panel, is an excerpt from and in the calligraphy style of the well-known Shupu, 'The Treatise on Calligraphy', composed and written by the great calligrapher and calligraphy critic Sun Guoting around 687 AD. This text, written on a scroll of almost nine meters long and containing over three thousand and five hundred characters, has become a classic within the corpus of the critical writings on the art of Chinese calligraphy, and is itself a fine example of this art. The text centres on the art of Wang Xizhi and starts with two quotations of this highly-respected artist, one of which forms the inscription on this bottle:
Compare my calligraphy with that of Zhong You and Zhang Zhi, Zhong is at an equal level with me--some might even say that I surpass him. Zhang's cursive style, however, is ahead of mine. However, Zhang was skilful and practised; the water of his pond had all turned to ink (from his practice). If I were to indulge in it like so, I would not necessarily be inferior to him.
The monkey, hou, on the bottle can be interpreted as a pun on marquis, also pronounced as 'hou' in Chinese, and the peach symbolises longevity. There is a possibility that the figure here represents Wang Xizhi, or the overall representation may be simply a lexitu, 'happiness' picture for the owner.
An example signed by Shi Xiang in the Monimar Collection, illustrated in C. Lawrence, Miniature Masterpieces, no. 66, pp. 144-145, has inscriptions quoting the immediate following section of the Shupu.
Compare two more examples also signed by Shixiang, one in the Seattle Art Museum, illustrated in Stevens, The Collector's Book of Snuff Bottles, no. 433-434, p. 121, and the other in the Schoen Collection sold in our Hong Kong Rooms, 1 May 1994, lot 901.
For other fine Suzhou black and white jade snuff bottles see examples illustrated in H. Moss et al., A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles: the Mary and George Bloch Collection, nos. 126-131
For black jade bottle with raised panels see R. Hall, Chinese Snuff Bottles II, London, 1989, no. 130; R. Hall, Chinese Snuff Bottles V, London, 1992, no. 16. A hornbill example with raised panel decoration is illustrated in R. Hall, The Art of an Imperial Addiction, London, 1995, no. 2