28.8 x 8.0 cm
Inscriptions on the top left corner read 'a copy of Yuan painting with Xihuang’s carving technique' ('Fang Yuan Ren Fa Xi Huang'). Xihuang here refers to Zhang Xihuang, a native of either Jiangsu or Zhejiang. He was active in the late Ming dynasty during the late 17th century. He excelled in the 'liu qing' technique in which the bamboo skin is left in relief. Zhang was also skilled in carving landscapes and figures. His style of carving, which depicted details in a refined manner, came to be known as the 'Zhe School' of bamboo carving and was imitated for centuries. This piece with its excellent carving technique, even if it isn’t really Zhang Xihuang’s original work, is still worth collecting. Another piece bearing the same inscription was in the collection of Liu Shiheng’s of the end of the Qing dynasty and early Republic era.
Asian Art Department, AGNSW, June 2012.
The earliest mention of a bamboo brush pot in literature appears during the Song dynasty (960-1127). Zhu Yizun of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) wrote in his 'Bi Tong Ming' ('On Brush Pot'): “Brushes that lie on the desk randomly are like people who don’t have proper deportment. When they are put in a brush pot, like guests finding a home, they become proper.”
Starting from the late Ming dynasty, the literati of the day stressed the cultivation of 'ya' (elegant, refined distinguished) style in their life. This style was expressed in their studies, carved bamboo ornaments, including brush pots ('bitong'), arm rests ('bige') and incense tubes ('xiangtong'). These were highly sought after because bamboo was considered as one of the four symbols for 'gentleman' whose integrity should be like the sections on bamboo trunks that go higher and higher.
The art of bamboo carving, probably started as early as the Tang dynasty, and became a unique art form. At its apogee in the early Qing dynasty (1644-1911), bamboo carving eclipsed all other similar forms of art and craft.