LATE MING DYNASTY
The present seal is cut with the eight characters fu tian li se, nai yi you qiu, which can be translated as 'work hard in the fields to reap good harvest in Autumn'. This is a quote from the chapter, Pan Geng Shang (Pan Geng, volume 1), from the classical historical document, Shangshu (Esteemed Document) also known as Shujing (Classic History). Pan Geng was the 17th emperor of the Shang Dynasty. During his reign the country experienced several flooding of the Yellow River. In order to avoid flooding Pan moved the capital to Yan (present day Anyang) and encouraged his people to work hard so that the country can prosper in the future.
The exceptional richness and translucency of the tianhuang stone and the skilled and naturalistic carving of the creature make this seal special and rare. The treatment of the lion with its subtly defined muscles and strong muscular body testifies to the consummate skills of Ming seal carvers, possibly from the Shoushan area in Fujian province, where the precious tianhuang stone was mined. The soapstone, known as tianhuang, has long been considered as the rival material to the finest and purest jade used for making items for Imperial use. The word shou from Shoushan means ‘longevity’ and the word fu of Fujian means ‘fortune’, hence tianhuang conveys the message of good fortune and longevity . It is also worth noting that tianhuang was traditionally valued according to its weight rather than its size, making it one of the most expensive materials for works of art.
See the two tianhuang carvings in this sale and a later tianhuang seal carved with a lion sold in these rooms, 25th April 2004, lot 26.
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