Description & Technical information

These charming objects in the shape of crabs, were originally intended for on the scholars desk. They would have been used as water containers for wetting calligraphy brushes. Finely modelled, they are decorated all-over with the splashed Egg & Spinach enamels.

The traditional Confucian framework of society, dictated many aspects of the way people lived and worked in China for hundreds of years. There was a strict ethical code which applied to many areas of civil life. One important aspect concerned looking after ones family – parents in particular. It also prescribed a strict form of conduct to all aspects of working life. Scholar-gentlemen were expected to pass a series of provincial and imperial examinations, so they could take up their place as a civil servant in the vast and bureaucratic governmental system. An officials’ duties included collecting taxes, administrating a particular region, settling disputes and meeting out punishments.

Chinese scholar-gentleman, known as wenren, aspired to an ideal existence - a leisurely life dedicated to the Four Arts: painting, calligraphy, chess and playing the qin or lute. This idealistic view of a reclusive life devoted to the arts, nature and contemplation, was inspired by Daoist principles. Some wenren were wealthy landowners of noble birth, but most of them held positions as civil servants. The reality was that, even though their work provided a good income, there was generally little time left for the artistic pursuits which they so idealized.

The crab (xie) is a symbol for harmony, as well as a symbol for success in passing civil examinations. These are therefore a fitting object for the scholar’s desk.

Date:  1662-1722
Period:  1600-1750, 17th century, 18th century
Origin:  China
Medium: Enamel
Dimensions: 5 x 7 cm (2 x 2³/₄ inches)
Provenance: Private Collection, France
Literature: • Terese T. Bartholomew Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, San Francisco, 2006, p. 42

• Regina Krahl, The Anthony de Rothschild Collection of Chinese Ceramics, The Eranda Foundation, 1996, p.406 nr 229

• Maura Rinaldi, Ceramics in Scholarly Taste, Exhibition Catalogue, Southeast Asian Ceramics Society, Singapore, 1993, p.17-21

• Manuele Scagliola, Nera Laura (coll.Rose Kerr & Luisa Mengoni), East Asian Ceramic: The Laura Collection, Turin, 2012, nr. 272

Categories: Oriental and Asian Art