CATALOGUE NUMBER 0055
OPENWORK CYLINDRICAL PERFUMER
KANGXI PERIOD (1661-1722)
Height: 7 ¾ inches
A.J. Speelman, London, 1995
Sotheby’s Monaco, 4th March 1990, lot 338
The continuous narrative depicts the departure scene from Xi Xiang Ji or 'The Romance of the Western Chamber'. The young hero/scholar Zhang Gong bids farewell to his beloved Cui Yingying as he heads off to the Tang dynasty capital, Chang'an to take the imperial examinations. If he passes, Yingying’s mother will allow the couple to marry. Needless to say, the stakes are high and the moment is redolent with meaning. The significance of the scene, easily recognizable to all at the time, would have been understood on a deeper level as well. The pressure for scholarly accomplishment was intense. Success meant a better life for oneself and one’s family.
As the leader of a conquest dynasty, the onus was on the Kangxi emperor to integrate the old with the new. Loyalism among the Ming literati was an ongoing issue and to reassure the scholarly aspirants of his respect for the system, and to fill vacant staff positions, The Qing government moved quickly, holiding examinations in 1646, 1647, 1649 and triennially thereafter. However, many of the Ming era scholars remained reluctant to serve the Qing so in 1679, the Kangxi empreror held a special examination in Beijing. Many of these reticent scholars were 'invited' to participate; several opted out for various 'health' reasons. Of the two hundred or so who were expected, only fifty degrees were awarded. But this small group constituted a much needed core group of highly ranked Ming era scholars who now publicly served the Manchu dynasty. This produced two results, reassurance through the continued practice of examinations and, more importantly, it ensured that vacant posts would be filled with scholars loyal to the emperor.
A valued luxury item, cylindrical filigree perfumers would have been filled primarily with delicate floral-based scents. The flowers, aromatic woods and plants would have been carefully selected to reflect the moods of the seasons as well as their symbolic aesthetic, spiritual and mystical significance. Porcelain examples are very rare. Reticulated jade and bamboo perfumers are more common. For an example of each both dated to the Kangxi period see A Special Exhibtion of Incense Burners and Perfumers Throughout the Dynasties, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1994, nos. 106 and 107.
Text and images on this page appear courtesy of
Sotheby's New York and are excerpted from:
Sotheby's New York. Embracing Classic Chinese Culture: Kangxi Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection. March 14, 2014, p. 46. [exhibition catalog].