It is finely inscribed with the text of Shengzhu de Xianchen Song (Ode to the Finding of Virtuous Officials by the Divine Ruler).
The poem, written by the Western Han poet Wang Bao (90-51BC) for the Xuan Emperor (91-48BC), instructs a sage ruler on the need to appoint able ministers.
Brush pots and vases of this type (similar vessels are known decorated with Ode to the Red Cliff by Song dynasty poet Su Shi) speak of a key moment in the history of the Manchu Qing dynasty that – half a century after the overthrow of the Ming in 1644 – were still yet to win the loyalty of the Han intellectual elite.
Kangxi made efforts to cultivate their support by modelling his rule on that of a traditional Confucian monarch and promoted classical texts like this to gain legitimisation for his reign.
The use of a copper-red seal reading Xi Chao Chuan Gu (literally ‘transmitting antiquity from the court of Kangxi’) adds to the impression that the Qing emperor was part of a continuous line reaching far into Chinese history.
In the China trade
The piece came for sale on November 5 in good condition from a private collection in Suffolk: the vendor’s ancestor was thought to have acquired it while working in the China trade in the 19th century.
The pot was given a guide of £2000-3000 – a modest sum given that a very similar piece (referenced in the catalogue description) had sold at Christie’s in November 2019 for £150,000. Sworders’ example made £125,000, the top price of the firm’s Asian Art sale.