A rare inscribed and dated 'duan' stone screen and stand. Dated by inscriptions to AD1795 and AD1801 and of the period
Finely and intricately carved on one side with a group of Immortals and deities on a tree-trunk raft floating down turbulent waters, skilfully depicted by undulating surfaces and incised wavy lines, located within a picturesque lakeside palace landscaped with rockwork and pine trees, the 'eye' of the stone used to depict the moon, with two cranes in flight above clasping arrows in their beaks ready to drop them into an 'arrow' vase below, with an inscription cyclically dated to 1795. The reverse, with six 'eyes', inscribed with an archaic inscription written in lishu script, cyclically dated to the xinyou year of the Jiaqing Emperor, corresponding to 1801, and signed 'Liu Yuan Bing', with carved wood stand. 83.7cm (33in) high. (2). Sold for £28,800
Provenance: purchased at auction in Continental Europe, on 17 May 1998 Bonhams. Fine Chinese Art, 14 May 2009. New Bond Street www.bonhams.com
Note: The inscription on the reverse is cyclically dated six years later than the inscription on the front. This suggests that the reverse was carved to commemorate a special occasion, either a re-dedication of the piece, with an inscription meriting its rarity and importance, as seen by inscriptions added by Imperial command, or possibly a presentation of the screen as a gift to a high ranking dignitary to mark a special occasion. The rarity of the subject matter of the carved inscription certainly points to a special commission by a person of the highest scholarly knowledge and appreciation.
The inscription on the reverse is taken from the Xi Yue Hua Shan Miao Bei, a memorial inscription from a temple stele from Mount Hua, which is originally dated to the 29th day, 4th month, 8th year of Yanxi, Eastern Han Dynasty, corresponding to AD165. The stele records official worship of the mountain spirit, repairing the shrine and praying for rain. The stele was originally destroyed during the Ming Dynasty, however, rare replicas and rubbings exist, see D.Wong, Chinese Steles: Pre-Buddhist and Buddhist Use of a Symbolic Form, Hawaii, 2004, p.35. One rubbing from a replica by Yoshihiro Horikoshi, which includes the same extract as inscribed on the present screen, was taken between 1912 and 1945 and is in the collection of the Harvard University Library (Hollis number 9614646).
Duan stone is a type of sedimentary rock quarried from the banks of the river Duanxi, northern Guangdong Province. The stone had been highly valued since the Song Dynasty when it was popularly used for inkstones. One of the stone's most distinct features, referred to as the mynah's eye, is the round or oval-shaped yellow inclusion, which has long been considered its most aesthetically pleasing aspect. These 'eyes' were incorporated into the design by the carver, leaving them standing prominent.
The present screen appears to be unique in its imagery and use of the stone. A slate screen dated to circa 1850 in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, is carved with a related depiction of cranes dropping arrows into a vase below: see R.Kerr, Chinese Art and Design, London, 1991, pp.122-122, pl.48. Another slate screen similarly carved with two cranes carrying arrows in their beaks above an ornate landscape is illustrated in Sydney L.Moss Ltd., Emperor, Scholar, Artisan, Monk, London, 1984, Catalogue no.76.
Bonhams. Fine Chinese Art, 14 May 2009. New Bond Street www.bonhams.com