145
145
AN INLAID ZITAN BOX AND COVER
ATTRIBUTED TO ZHOU ZHU
MING DYNASTY, JIAJING PERIOD
Estimation
300 000400 000
Lot. Vendu 1,360,000 HKD (Prix d’adjudication avec commission acheteur)
ACCÉDER AU LOT
145
AN INLAID ZITAN BOX AND COVER
ATTRIBUTED TO ZHOU ZHU
MING DYNASTY, JIAJING PERIOD
Estimation
300 000400 000
Lot. Vendu 1,360,000 HKD (Prix d’adjudication avec commission acheteur)
ACCÉDER AU LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection, Scholarly Art III

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Hong Kong

AN INLAID ZITAN BOX AND COVER
ATTRIBUTED TO ZHOU ZHU
MING DYNASTY, JIAJING PERIOD
of small rectangular form, decorated on top in finely inlaid mother of pearl, carnelian, malachite, soapstone and bronze wire, depicting Su Wu in a loose-fitted robe wearing a scholar’s hat with a sheathed sword hanging from his belt and holding a long staff, tending a flock of goats beside him, receiving an official messenger having just arrived by horse, all surrounded by bamboo and lingzhi fungus issuing from craggy rocks in the foreground and a goose in flight above, the rims of the box and cover finely inlaid in silver wire with continuous bands of foliate scrolls, the dense wood of a deep purplish-brown tone
7 by 14.7 by 11.7 cm., 2 3/4  by 5 3/4  by 4 5/8  in.
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Provenance

Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 15th November 1989, lot 514.
Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, June 1999.

Exposition

Escape from the Dusty World. Chinese Paintings and Literati Works of Art, Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, 1999, cat. no. 63.

Description

The present small box belongs to a special group of inlaid containers, typically produced in the precious zitan wood and occasionally in huanghuali, attributed to the Ming master carver Zhou Zhu and his workshop. The most comprehensive group of related inlaid boxes can be found in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Bamboo, Wood, Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn Carvings, Hong Kong, 2002, cat. nos. 219-248. This box, while small in size, is of fine workmanship and quality. Zhou became famous for his invention of the technique of inlaying a wide variety of precious stones and other materials on wood and lacquer. What distinguished his works from others was his use of a much broader range of materials and the complexity of his inlay designs. His inlay technique is multifaceted as he deployed inlay upon inlay and not just setting different material next to each other. He created three-dimensional designs with an eye-catching effect.

A box from this group was sold in these rooms, 4th April 2012, lot 179, where the maker and his wares are discussed in detail (p. 139). A further box, also sold in these rooms, 8th October 2010, lot 2192, and dated to 1537, may have been made in the same workshop and around the same time as the present example. It is of similar style and inlay decoration, with an almost identical horse and trappings. Further compare a small box inlaid with a scene of boys at play illustrated in Wood from the Scholar's Table. Chinese Hardwood Carvings and Scholar’s Articles, Hong Kong, 1984, pl. 58; another small box with a figural scene of Shoulao riding a deer and accompanied by a crane and a bat, last offered at Christie’s New York, 2nd June 1994, lot 20.

The decoration on the cover depicts Su Wu who was an official under emperor Han Wudi (r.141-29 B.C.). Wu was captured by the nomadic-tribe in the north called Xiongnu and after proving himself of considerable fortitude by surviving in prison without food or water for many days, he was sent to tend goats. The king of the Xiongnu tried to make him change allegiance to him but without success. When a Han diplomat was sent to meet with the Xiongnu, the king claimed that Su was already dead. Su’s attendant later secretly met with the diplomat and told him the opposite. Encouraged by the attendant, the diplomat confronted the king and accused him of lying by telling a story: the emperor of Han shot down a goose, which had a message slip tied to its leg saying that Su and his company were still alive. Surprised and probably embarrassed, the king released Su Wu after nineteen years of imprisonment. The scene depicted here may be the king’s messenger informing Su Wu of his release, although the goose in the sky is far from shot, but it may be an encapsulation of the legend, or the messenger begging Su Wu to change allegiance.

Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection, Scholarly Art III

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Hong Kong