Sotheby's Hong Kong, 23rd October 2005, lot 391.
This zitan scroll box was originally made to hold a copy of Zhang Zeduan's Qingming Shanghe tu ('Ascending the River at the Qingming Festival') commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor sometime in the first year of his reign. Zhang Zeduan was a member of the Imperial Academy and active during the Zhenghe (1111-1117) or Xuanhe (1119-1125) period of the Northern Song dynasty. The scroll depicts the Spring festival in progress along the Bian river as it runs through Bianliang, the capital of the Northern Song dynasty (modern day Kaifeng). The wealth of detail in showing costumes, buildings, craftsmen and boats is unparalleled in the field of genre painting, which explains why so many painters in the following dynasties have attempted to reproduce or re-visit the scroll. The Kangxi and Qianlong emperors indeed ordered their own copies to be painted at the court. One of the Qianlong Emperor's versions is presently in the National Palace Museum, illustrated in Emperor Ch'ien-lung's Grand Cultural Enterprise, Taipei, 2002, cat. no.1-5 and the present box, which is of matching size, may have once protected that very scroll. The original painting is currently housed in the National Palace Museum.
A related zitan scroll box, made to preserve the Qianlong Emperor's essays on his military achievements, was included in the exhibition Qing Legacies: The Sumptuous Art of Imperial Packaging, Macau Museum of Art, Macau, 2000, cat. no. 4. It is noted, ibid., p. 72, that simple and elegant wooden boxes of this form were the favourite packaging material of the Emperor who used them to preserve his poems and essays. Compare also a later pair of zitan scroll boxes, densely carved in relief with dragons, but lacking the panel with the title, sold at Christie's New York, 16th September 1998, lot 231. Scroll boxes were also made out of carved cinnabar lacquer, with similar meandering dragons flanking the title panel, see for example a box in the National Palace Museum, illustrated ibid., pl. 14.
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