J.J. Lally & Co., Oriental Art / New York City, New York

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Current Exhibition

ELEGANTLY MADE: Art for the Chinese Literati

March 13-27, 2020

AN INLAID ZITAN ‘PRUNUS’ BOX AND COVER
7.
AN INLAID ZITAN ‘PRUNUS’ BOX AND COVER

By Sun Kehong (1533-1611)

of rectangular cushion shape with rounded corners, the cover decorated with blossoming branches of prunus with gnarled bark carved from wood and bone stained dark brown bearing numerous white blossoms and tight buds of mother-of-pearl and coral, all finely carved in relief, framed by three poems written in seal script inlaid in silver wire and signed by the artist with a two character seal inlaid at one side: 克弘 (Kehong), the squared rim of the cover inlaid in silver wire with undulating wave scroll repeated on the squared rim of the box, fitted with an inner tray inlaid on the rim with wan characters in running fretwork.

The three poems on the cover may be transcribed as follows:

挺挺蒼枝冒雪開   Stiff and stubborn gray branches brave the snow
                                and bloom,
江南北糧是華魁   From South of the Yangzi to Mongolian Beiliang it’s
                                the premier blossom of all.
而問有意憐幽獨   But ask, are we inclined to pity such hidden solitude?
持遺陽枯致早梅   The deadlike branches hold remnants of yang,
                                thus to them early prunus blossoms arrive.

老幹含春意 Thoughts of spring inhere in the old trunk
疏枝吐玉花 For its sparse branches spew forth jade blossoms.

玉質含消痩 Jade-like substance inherently fragile,
冰姿帶雪眉 Icy demeanor, eyebrows flecked with snow,
華妝香獨暗 Made-up faces suffuse a lonely seclusion with scent.
月色睆霜寒 Color of the moon, they glow beautifully in frosty cold.

Seal of the artist, lower-right: Kehong 克弘

Length 10 inches (25.3 cm)
Width 6 inches (15.2 cm)
Height 4 18 inches (10.3 cm)

Provenance
Christie’s London, Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 8 November 2011, lot 235
Shuisongshi Shanfang Collection

Sun Kehong (孫克弘 1533-1611), zi Yunzhi (允執), hao Xueju (雪居), was a native of Songjiang (part of present-day Shanghai) and the son of the Minister of Rites, Sun Cheng’en (孫承恩 1481-1561). During his lifetime Sun Kehong was highly regarded as a painter, calligrapher, and book collector. His skill as a maker of wood scholar’s articles particularly renowned for his wire-inlaid calligraphy is recorded by Wu Lüzhen (吳履震, active circa 1650) in 五茸志逸隨筆 Wurong shiyi suibi (Notes Gleaned from the Record of Marvels of Wurong): 孫雪居以紫檀仿古製 刻三雅杯銀絲填嵌漢篆字 which may be translated as “Sun Xueju used zitan to emulate ancient craftwork and once carved a ‘Three Elegances Cup’ with silver wire inlaid Han zhuan characters.”

Compare the zitan square brush pot in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, inlaid with very similar blossoming prunus branches and silver-wire seal script calligraphy with text matching one of the poems inscribed on the present box, followed by the artist’s signature Xueju 雪居 (Owner of Snow Dwelling), illustrated in Zhongguo meishu fenlei quanji: Zhongguo zhu, mu, ya, jiao qi quanji (Compendium of Chinese Art: Chinese Carving of Bamboo, Wood, Ivory, and Horn), Vol. 3, Beijing, 2009, p. 223, no. 180, with a very brief biography of Sun Kehong.

Compare also the zitan covered cup and the zitan hexagonal cup in the Palace Museum, Beijing, both with very similar silver-wire inlaid calligraphy, key-fret borders and signed with Sun Kehong’s various names, illustrated in Gugong diaoke zhencui (The Palace Museum Collection of Elite Carvings), Beijing, 2002, pp. 98-99, nos. 63 and 64, described as late Ming dynasty.

明 孫克弘製 紫檀銀絲詩文百寶嵌梅紋蓋盒 
  長 25.3 厘米 寬 15.2 厘米 高 10.3 厘米
  「克弘」款

來源 倫敦佳士得 2011 年 11 月 8 日,拍品第 235 號
   水松石山房藏

Additional Images (Touch to enlarge)

7.
AN INLAID ZITAN ‘PRUNUS’ BOX AND COVER

By Sun Kehong (1533-1611)

Length 10 inches (25.3 cm)
Width 6 inches (15.2 cm)
Height 4 18 inches (10.3 cm)

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