The screen is carved from a thick ivory section in relief and covered with a well-polished black lacquer ground depicting in reverse on one side a river scene amidst a rocky landscape while the back is inscribed in semi-cursive script with a poem reading:
|客路青山外||This traveler’s route outside the verdant mountain|
|行舟綠水前||Has brought his boat before a stretch of green water,|
|潮平兩岸闊||Where high tide expands between the two banks,|
|風正一帆懸||And wind now just right to raise our single sail.|
|海日生殘夜||As sun rises from sea broads to dispel vestiges of night,|
|江春入舊年||So this river springtime shall join all those of yesteryear.|
|鄉書何處達||But where shall I have my letters for home delivered?|
|歸雁洛陽邊||Oh, you returning geese, it’s out on the edge of Luoyang!|
|唐句||Lines of Poetry from the Tang|
The title of the poem is Ci Beigu shanxia 次北固山下 (Moored below Mount North Bastion), by
Wang Wan 王灣 (693–751); see Quan Tangshi 全唐詩 (Complete Poems of the Tang) (Beijing:
Zhonghua shuju, 1960), 115:1170. Mount North Bastion is north-east of Zhenjiang, in the
Jiangsu Province. The mountain is surrounded on three sides by a bend of the Yangzi, and is
the ‘verdant mountain’ of the poem; while the city of Luoyang mentioned in the poem, located
in the Henan Province, was considered the Eastern capital of the Tang Dynasty. This is probably
Wang Wan’s most famous poem, as it appears in many anthologies.
The sides of the ivory panel are decorated with a scrolling chilong dragon motif. The screen rests on a matching ivory base with a similar scroll along the edge, while the apron and sides are decorated with archaistic bronze motifs within a stylised keyfret design. The screen and stand are well patinated to a warm tone.
Table screens of this type are exceedingly rare, but brushpots similarly decorated can be found, such as an example published in Chinese Ivories from the Shang to the Qing, 1984, p. 154, Catalogue No. 182. A slightly later example of a table screen with black and cinnabar lacquer ground on carved ivory, dated to 1771, is illustrated by R. Soame Jenyns, Chinese Art III, 1982, p. 149 and 152, Catalogue No. 98.