An Imperial octagonal ink cake Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period
Acquired in Hong Kong, 1985.
This fine ink cake was made to commemorate the famous Ziguangge (Hall of Purple Splendour) in Beijing. Ziguangge, a two-storey building on the western shores of the Central Lake in Zhongnanhai, located west of the Forbidden City, was where the Qianlong emperor received envoys from foreign countries and where he gave banquets to celebrate the victories of his ten military campaigns. It was also where war trophies, such as banners and weapons, were displayed and portrait paintings of the meritorious banner officers as well as battle scene paintings were hung. Di Chuqing in Pingdengge biji (A Notebook of the Pingdengge Studio), Shanghai, n.d., n. p., records his visit to the Ziguangge in the summer of 1900, and describes how paintings depicting the victory of the Nien and Muslim Rebellions were still on the walls on the ground floor.
The seal on this ink cake, Jixia yiqing, which can be translated as 'when does one have the leisure to delight the heart?', is recorded in Victoria Contag and Wang Ch-Ch'ien, Seals of Chinese Painters and Collectors, Hong Kong, 1966, pp. 586 and 593, no. 71, as one of Qianlong's seals.
An ink cake from the same mould as the present piece, but with a Qianlong reign mark raised on one edge, is illustrated in Zhen Shaoliang (ed.), Qingmo tancong, Beijing, 2000, pl. 343, no. 23, together with another ink cake of similar design on the front and of the same form and size, but the back inscribed with a date corresponding to 1737. A further example, possibly of the same mould, also with a Qianlong reign mark on the edge, is included in Works of Decorative Arts I. Gems of Beijing Cultural Relics Series, Beijing, 2006, p. 183, nos. 199-201.
See an ink cake dated to 1771, of similar elongatedl form carved with a scene from Lanting xu ('Ode to the Orchid Pavillion') on one side, and the characters Yanqu lou zhencang ('Precious Collection of the Yanqu Pavilion') on the other, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 30th May 2006, lot 1222. The Yanqu Pavilion, part of the Ningshou Gong (Palace of Peaceful Longevity) within the Imperial Palace compound, was constructed in 1771, suggesting that Imperial ink cakes of this type were possibly made to commemorate the completion of a new pavilion or building.
See another ink cake dated to 1780 with an inscription Suichu Tang cang mo (Ink from the Collection of the Suichu Tang), sold in these rooms, 15th November 1989, lot 545, and later in the collection of Mary and George Bloch. The Suichu Hall was one of Qianlong's favourite studios in the Forbidden City.