An Amber Pebble Shapped 'Meng Haoren'


2 1/8 inches

Provenance: A Maryland Collection


carved in high-relief in a continuous winter night-time scene with Meng Haoren warmly dressed atop his donke, the scene continues around the body, with his assistant carrying a massive branch of flowering prunus walking in front of the donkey, stopper


The subject of this bottle is the Tang dynasty poet, Meng Haoran and his assistant from the epic story Sanguo yanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms). He is usually depicted riding a donkey in a winter landscape, and wearing a hood to protect him from the winter elements. He is normally shown holding a whip, and his assistant is usually shown carrying a plum blossom (prunus) which he most evidently does here, whilst Huang Chengyan’s assistant is normally shown with a double gourd vessel of wine, it doesn’t appear to be the case in this example, though the figure is partially hidden by the massive branch of prunus. 


For a lengthy discussion of these figures and many more associated with this iconography, see Tsang, Who is the Rider on the Donkey? Some New Observations,’ JICSBS, Summer 1994, pp. 4-16, and also Hughes, The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, p. 116, no. 91 

Interestingly this bottle may belong to a distinctive group of irregular or pebble-shaped amber bottles as discussed by Moss, Graham and Tsang, The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottles, The J & J Collection, Vol. II, pp. 502-504, no. 297, which may all be the product of the same workshop, although they vary considerably in quality. It is interesting to note that the subjects depicted are often very similar, or at least have a similar Daoist or scholarly theme. t is possible, given the wide ranging Daoist subject matter of a lot of amber bottles that a particular workshop, perhaps part of a Daoist community, was the leading producer and that they found the mystical qualities of the ‘fossilized’ resin material some how in balance or accordance with their own alchemical leanings.