19th May, 2023 13:00

Asian Art I
  Lot 58

清十八世紀 碧玉竹林七賢筆筒


Qing Dynasty, 18th Century

清十八世紀 碧玉竹林七賢筆筒

Of cylindrical form raised atop four short, curved feet, the exterior carved in relief to depict the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, with four of the wise men in discussion gathered around a handscroll as two curious boys look on, another group of sages in a rocky grove playing a game of weiqi, the landscape dotted with trails of clouds swirling around bamboo, gnarled pine trees and jagged rocky outcrops, the stone of a rich spinach-green tone streaked with dark inclusions and scattered russet-coloured flecks,

16cm high, 13.4cm diameter



Previously in the Collection of Roger Meffreys (1899-1976), French Ambassador to China between 1936 and 1946;

Private Collection, France

Roger Meffreys (1899-1976) was a French diplomat stationed as General Consul in Shanghai from the late 1930s, and subsequently served as the top-ranking French diplomat in China whilst in Beijing until 1946.


Roger Meffreys (1899-1976) 舊藏,1936年至1946年任法國駐華大使;


Roger Meffreys (1899-1976) 為一位法國外交官,自 1930 年代末起擔任駐上海總領事,隨後在北京擔任法國駐華高級外交官直至 1946 年。


Between the 22nd and 24th years of the emperor Qianlong's reign, the Qing army victory in the Dzungar-Qing wars led to the subjugation, and eventually extermination, of the Dzungar peoples. Following this, Khotan was ruled directly as part of the empire, and the supply of raw jade, which was bountiful in this region, was no longer obstructed. The 25th year of the Qianlong reign saw the sending of tributary jade to the court, which repeated in the spring and autumn of every following year. Now flush with high-quality, larger-sized raw jade, the imperial workshops quickly set to work to satisfy the emperor's desire for new jade objects, and kickstarted the golden age of jade.

The period following the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 A.D. was marked by political and social turmoil, especially during the bloody Three Kingdoms period. The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove were a group of scholars who had grown disillusioned with governmental service, and renounced their official status and career in protest against corruption, instead choosing to withdraw to the serenity of nature. The sages advocated for freedom of individual beliefs which were inspired by Daoist philosophy, and dedicated their lives to philosophical discussion, practicing music and poetry, playing weiqi, drinking tea and, sometimes, something stronger. For centuries people have been inspired by the idealism of these sages, inspiring countless works of art in the following centuries.

The Qianlong emperor was fond of the Seven Sages, drawn to the embodiment of the incorruptible scholar and their unwavering artistic integrity. See a similar spinach-green jade bitong, imperially-inscribed, offered by Sotheby's New York, 19th March 2007, lot 50. The inscription on this brush pot, dated to 1776 and the 41st year of his reign, displays the emperor's fondness of the Seven Sages - likening them to precious jade that is hidden amongst gems, admiring the two sages who choose to remain recluse from the world while the other five are engaged in composing poetry.

c.f. A related brush pot in the Sir Joseph Hotung collection, on loan in the British Museum, London, is illustrated by Jessica Rawson in 'Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing', London, 1995, pl. 29:18. The author notes that the creator of the British Museum bitong used carving techniques to produce the effects of painting, rather than utlising the inclusions and quirks of the stone in the design.


Sold for £8,750

Includes Buyer's Premium


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