Domestic or Continental Market, circa 1700-1722
Height” 5 ½ inches (14cm)
Length: 6 ½ inches (16.5cm)
Ionides Collection, Sotheby’s London, 14 July 1964, lot 400, page 25
Bahr 1911, plate XLIII, page 84
Morgan Collection, illustrated in Bushell/Laffan 1911, plate XLII, number 777.
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Salting bequest.
This charming figure of the famous drunken poet of the Tang Dynasty is and unusual model of the subject. The more common version depicts Li Po in a reclining position, leaning heavily on his pot fo wine, and sometimes even embracing it (see related examples listed above). Typically shown in a slovenly guise, our figure, beautifully enameled in the famille verte palette on the biscuit, is finely rendered with a sweet and pensive countenance.
Li Po, whose imagery can be likened to Western mythology’s drunken Bacchus, was known to contemporaries as a great master of his art, and his life and death revolved around the Imperial court of emperor Ming Huang (712-756). The emperor and his notorious concubine Yang Kuei Fei, vied with one another in distributing emoluments of the various literati and artists at the court. The famous story continues, “ A predilection for talent broke down the strict barrier of rank [at court]. Li Po, king of poets, though half a foreigner, was a favorite in spite of his quaint ways and his addiction to wine. His poem, Swan in Flight, a paean to Yang Kuei Fei’s beauty of form and spirit, remains a monument more imperishable than historic truth itself. Chinese lore would have this much beloved genius end his days by trying to embrace the moon’s reflection in the water, when drunk one night, and drowning.