Expertly carved in high relief, the craftsman’s remarkable control of the blade is evident in the variety of textures he has successfully captured, such as the rocky mountains, flowing water and the soft features of the figure. The brushpot is inscribed with the mark of Zhu Zhizheng, also known as Sansong, the son of the celebrated carver Zhu Ying, and the best known of three generations of carvers. A native of Jiading and active during the first half of the 17th century, Zhu established a style of bamboo carving that was emulated throughout the late Ming and early Qing period. Known as the ‘reduced ground mass and sculpting method’, this style was particularly popular among bamboo carvers of the Shunzhi and Kangxi reign.
Compare a brushpot carved in high relief with a similar scene, from the collection of Dr Ip Yee, illustrated in Ip Yee and Laurence C.S. Tam, Chinese Bamboo Carving, vol. I, Hong Kong, 1978, pl. 73; another from the Simon Kwan collection, included in the exhibition Ming and Qing Bamboo, University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2000, cat. no. 31; another sold in these rooms, 25th May 1979, lot 874; a fourth sold in our New York rooms, 26th February 1982, lot 315; and a further example sold in our London rooms, 11th December 1990, lot 108. Compare also a brushpot made by Zhu Sansong, carved with the ‘Seven sages of the bamboo grove’, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Jiangxin yu xiangong Ming Qing diaoke zhan [Uncanny ingenuity and celestial feats. The carvings of Ming and Qing dynasties], Taipei, 2009, cat. no. 6.
The motif of an elderly scholar on a boating trip was popular among bamboo carvers of the Ming and Qing dynasties, as it alluded to the pastoral life away from officialdom that scholar officials longed for. Furthermore, depictions of rocky landscapes with scholars on a boat were suggestive of the famous work Ode to the Red Cliff composed by Su Shi (1037-1101), which was often depicted on objects for the scholar’s desk.