art collection

Chinese artifacts

Baruma (Bodhidharma) ; 28th patriarch after Buddha; rootwood C14: 1


Scholar rock [Gongshi] ; 石 or paleolithic? stone

hardstone; 天上的锤子 heavenly hammer; 42x30 cm;

Scollars rocks according to Christies:

Collecting Guide: Scholars’ rocks

The fantastically-shaped stones that have inspired China’s poets and painters, as seen in December 2015 at Beyond White Clouds — Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collection

What are scholars’ rocks?

Leading expert Robert D. Mowry, who is Harvard Art Museum’s Curator Emeritus and a senior consultant to Christie’s, describes them as ‘favoured stones that the Chinese literati displayed in the rarefied atmosphere of their studios’. The Chinese scholar drew inspiration from the natural world; he did not go out into nature to paint or compose poetry, explains Christie’s specialist Pola Antebi. Rather, he worked within the seclusion of his studio and used these ‘representations of mountains’ as inspiration for his work.  

What do the various forms represent?

‘Like a landscape painting, the rock represented a microcosm of the universe on which the scholar could meditate within the confines of his studio or garden,’ says Robert D. Mowr., ‘Although most scholar’s rocks suggest mountain landscapes, these abstract forms may recall a variety of images to the viewer, such as dragons, phoenixes, blossoming plants and even human figures.’

A few of the mountainscapes may recall specific peaks but most represent imaginary mountains such as the isles of the immortals believed to rise in the eastern sea. However, more than anything it was the abstract qualities that appealed to the Chinese literati, an idea that resonates with the modern collector who will see parallels with the avant-garde forms of Brancusi, Moore and Giacometti. 

An inscribed Lingbi scholar’s rock. This piece was offered in Beyond White Clouds — Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collection on 2 December 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

Are they natural or man-made?

They were found in nature and on occasion enhanced by carving and piercing the stones, or making inscriptions.   

Where were they found?

The rocks were often brought to the scholars from remote places, the finest coming from riverbeds or mountains. Some of the most prized examples came from Lingbi, in the northern Anhui provenance of China. ‘Because of their density, Lingbi stones are naturally resonant,’ Mowry explains. ‘The best Lingbi stones are deep black in colour; often only lightly textured, their surfaces appear moist and glossy.’

More common are the rocks originating from Yingde, in the Guangdong province. ‘Ying rocks are traditionally prized for their intricately textured surfaces which are often characterised as “dimpled” or “bubbled”,’ says Mowry. ‘At Yingde, rocks were harvested from caves; tradition asserts that the best pieces came from caves filled with water, which imparted dark, glossy surfaces.A Qilian ‘stream and grottoes’ stone. Qing dynasty. Sold for $1,120,000 in Beyond White Clouds — Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collection on 2 December 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

When were they first collected, and by whom?

From as early as the Neolithic period — nearly 7,000 years ago — prized stones and jade have been found buried in tombs. However it was not until the late Tang dynasty (618-907) that scholar’s rocks were collected in earnest.


In the Song dynasty (960-1279) we begin to see their influence on Chinese literature. ‘Mi Fu (1051-1107) and others composed essays on rocks,’ explains Christie’s specialist Pola Antebi, ‘and Du Wan (12th century) compiled the first comprehensive catalogue of stones, Yunlin shipu, attesting to the growing appreciation of fine stones.’

This fascination lasted for centuries and the breadth of the collection in this sale testifies to the rocks’ continuing appeal. ‘Collectors from all over the world find them appealing once they have been introduced to the category,’ confirms Antebi. ‘One prominent collector who helped introduce the category in the United States was the late Robert Rosenblum, an artist based in Boston.’

What are the criteria for a scholar’s rock?

In his mid-19th century book Tanshi — or Chats on Rocks — Liang Jiutu stated that ‘in collecting, it is the choice of rocks that comes first. If the rock does not seem like a painting by the powers of nature, then you shouldn’t choose it.’

Many factors contribute to the perfect scholar’s rock — or ‘fantastic rocks’ as they were once known — ranging from its geographic origin to the colour and texture of the stone. ‘Rocks of sombre colour are typically appreciated for their sensuous shapes, while rocks of bright colour are generally valued for their massed forms, which best showcase their colours,’ says Antebi.

A number of terms were created to describe the desired qualities in a scholar’s rock, from shou (meaning thin) to tou (conveying ‘openess’). Hollows in the rock, meanwhile, were prized for their dramatic contrast to the solidity of the stone — and light. Other terms denote the rock’s age: gu means ancient but also elegant, while jue is the ultimate accolade, translating as ‘perfect’.

 A small Japanese Furuyaishi rock mountain accompanied with a mounted album of commentaries by various connoisseurs. Japan, late Edo period. Sold for HK$300,000 ($38,891) in Beyond White Clouds - Chinese Scholar's Rocks from a Private Collection on 2 December 2015 at Christie’s in Hong KongWhat do these pieces tell us about the cultural exchange between China and Japan?

‘This particular collection was primarily sourced in Japan,’ says Pola Antebi. ‘Many of these treasured pieces were acquired in China by Japanese dealers and transported back to Japan in the 19th century.

Robert D. Mowry elaborates on the differences between Chinese and Japanese taste when it came to the shapes of the rocks: ‘In creating paintings and in collecting rocks, the Japanese followed Chinese models in certain periods, while embracing native Japanese styles in others.’

There is a marked tendency for hollows and textured surfaces in Chinese rocks, while the Japanese prefer stones with a smoother surface, and tend to favour forms that suggest well-known peaks such as Mount Fuji.


ROOT CARVING (Gongshi,  石 ?)  Zoomorphic wood figurine ; Shòu xíng H. 43cm x D 15cm x 15cm; On base base hand made copper triangel, 22cm

wood H. 45 cm; copper socle; drilled hole , buddah(?)  Kmer bronze 12th cent.

Root carving is a traditional Chinese art form. It consists of carving and polishing tree roots into various artistic creations.

Using roots to make necessities has been practiced since primitive society. Like other artistic crafts, art of roots produced from primitive labor. The earliest root carvings are “辟邪” and “角形器” showing up in the Warring States period.

In the Sui and Tang dynasties, root carving works not only prevailed in folk, but they were also cherished by the governing class. In the Tang dynasty, people laid emphasis on the natural forms of roots, cleverly taking advantage of the effect of corrosion and moth-eaten.

In the Song and Yuan dynasties, art of root carving not only developed in the court and folk, but also appeared in grottoes and temples. Roots were used to carve the statues of the Buddha, always comparing favorably with the clay.

Root carving preserves natural beauty. Ancient artists created lifelike and vivid works by a special technique using expression based on the roots' natural forms. This kind of creation is not completely artificial, but created by both human beings and nature.

Root carving is different from engraving. It combines peculiarity with ingeniousness. Although its aesthetic principals share common ground with engraving, at the same time they are applied uniquely. The common ground is that they share expressive techniques of wood carving, sculpture, stone carving and so on, overcoming weaknesses by acquiring others strong points. The difference lies in the natural shape of roots. During the creative process, root carving mostly maintains the natural form of the root, adding some artificial polishing. In other words, root carving is guided by the inherent qualities of the root, rather than by shaping images merely through carving.

Scholar rock or Gongsi, 'wounded bull'  on rootwood socle H53 xw32  cm total.;The stone which is be displayed on a rosewood pedestal that has been carved specifically for the stone. The stones are a traditional subject of Chinese paintings. 

Metal Chinese censers; a pair of. in research

 STUPA Crystal (glass?) reliquary, 19th cent.+ another one; ask for details; The same Founding of Tang mark, with the latter characters. Is looks also as if it was machine carved. Hand carving does not look this way, but laser carving does

Squatting drummer

 Grey clay, traces remains of pigment; rustic fool drummer, Sichuan, Han period ( 25-220). H. 25 cm

Drummersstick not pictured;Rare this size.

Comical caricatures of performers were especially popular in Sichuan Province during the Eastern Han dynasty (A.D. 25-220). Used as tomb figurines, they provided entertainment in the afterlife, and an entire troupe might be interred with the deceased. Drummers like the one represented here specialized in a kind of storytelling that was part spoken, part sung. This one sings merrily, his brow wrinkled in laughter. His heavy body suggests he may be a dwarf. Performers of similar build appear on Han tomb tiles decorated with scenes of juggling and sword balancing. Although ceramic Han tomb figures were mass-produced, this type is surely one of the most engaging and expressive examples of Han dynasty figural art.'

Lit.: Onder dak in China, Nicole de Bisscop; exhibition catalog; Brussel 2007; p. 197>>217, ill.



Funarary urn ; tall Chinese Yingqing or Qingbai glazed ceramic  funerary urn decorated with molded serpent-dragon, zodiack(?) figurines , Song Dynasty (?), 960-1279 AD. Height approx 80 cm; Lid lackking.

A pair of cloisonne bras  pot with lid ; diameter 12 cm, seals.

Another one, sino - arabic cloisonné brass pot with lid

Suiseki (japanese) Gongshi with house; H 12 cm

Taka-ishi/kuzuya-ishi (tached hut  stone);   Color:  goshihi-ishi;
place of origin: kibune-ishi; 
references to classification: http://shimagata.tripod.com/suiclass.htm

What is a Suiseki? Answering this relatively simple question is actually quite a difficult task. Suiseki is not merely the hobby of looking at stones in a particular way, but is rather a complex and multi-faceted Japanese tradition whose understanding requires consideration from a number of different angles. For a brief look at how to consider stones in the terms of suiseki, please see the “Factors” section 'Suiseki association' (www.suiseki-assn.gr.jp/en/intro.html )

Note: To better understand the Japanese suiseki, a few examples of stones that, regardless of their physical characteristics, are of particular value because their history is documented. In Japan, in fact, when you have the opportunity to determine with certainty the origin of a suiseki but also to its daiza through reliable documentation, then the stone, while not a historic stone and therefore still marketable, takes on a special and this increases the appeal and cost.

For a full discussion of the significance of  (scholar) Lingbi rock (the Chinese variation): Hugh T. Scogin, Jr., A note on LIngbi in Mowry op. cit.  p.37-55                                                                               Lit.: Christies H.K.: Beyond White Clouds - Chinese Scholar's Rocks from a Private Collection ; Hong Kong, HKCEC Grand Hall 2 December 2015. ill.

Baruma (Bodhidharma) ; 28th patriarch after Buddha; rootwood C14: 1