THE COLLECTION OF DRS. KOOS DE JONG
Drs. Koos de Jong’s fascination with Chinese art began during his Art History and Archaeology studies at the University of Amsterdam. In the Netherlands, interest in Asian art traditionally focused on works of art intended for export, such as ‘kraak’ porcelain, Blanc de Chine and Chine de commande, but De Jong wished to look beyond this and began to collect early Chinese ceramics. Since his museum career was centered in the field of Western art and history, this remained a private hobby until his early retirement in 2009. A big advantage of his profession was that he was able to travel a lot: ‘During one of these journeys, in 1998, I bought a glazed Cizhou-type stoneware sculpture in an unsightly bric-a-brac shop in Macao. It depicts a little boy who, leaning on the broad back of a resting water buffalo, happily views the world. Further examination revealed that it is a water-dropper, part of calligraphy-, writing- and painting equipment, that would usually be found on a scholar’s desk. The dropper was used to sprinkle water on the inkstone, so that a piece of dried ink would dissolve. This touching image also has a deeper meaning since it refers to the classical philosophical theme of human ratio; that even a little boy is able to prevail over nature.’
What De Jong did not realise at the time was that this piece would be the first early Chinese miniature of his collection, which steadily began growing hereafter. ‘I only realised this when the miniature was joined by others I collected. I asked myself whether there was potential here for a special object category and especially wondered what the function of these miniatures was.’
Eventually these early Chinese miniatures (5000 BC until 1424 AD) would become the subject of De Jong’s PhD research. These miniatures were initially mainly made of jade, as well as similar types of stone, bronze, ceramics, ivory, amber wood, lacquer, gold, silver and later many other materials. This broad use of materials and techniques forced him to adopt a more synthetic approach; whereas most researchers now specialise. Combining these specialized fields of knowledge yielded surprising new insights. ‘This course of events helped me understand what it means to me to be a collector: it creates the possibility that my collection can provide a basis for the study of the materiality of art objects. These are studies that often lead to publication. In the long run it is easier to part from the objects because usually a new field of interest has prompted.
The combination of scientific knowledge and a good eye for exceptional pieces meant that a high quality collection of early, not purely miniatures, Chinese art was built up, as reflected in this part of the auction. The compilation of such an impressive collection is surely not a one-man job. But when asked about the role of Ingeborg de Roode, his wife, De Jong replied: ‘her role was limited to the payment for items that exceeded my budget. Of course she only did so if she found these pieces beautiful or interesting, but in terms of content she never interfered with the collection. After all, Ingeborg is, unlike me, not a real collector. She ‘collects’ eclectically; she buys special artefacts that vary in nature and date; ranging from a marble Roman Venus-head to a screen-print by Andy Warhol from the famous Reigning Queens series or a piece of contemporary jewellery.’
Of the works displayed in this auction, the most attention will undoubtedly go to the black glazed stoneware Jizhou tea bowl from the Song period. It was once acquired at the PAN trade fair in Amsterdam because its interior decoration, made using the gold-luster technique, intrigued de Jong. The decoration consists of painted bamboo bushes and a text in Chinese characters in between. ‘Through my studies of early Chinese miniatures, I discovered that bamboo symbolizes the officials who had to show the necessary inner strength and flexibility in dealing with rulers. I am pleased that the text was recently translated as well.’
This translation revealed that it is a jueju verse by the famous poet and neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi (1130-1200). The eighth verse of the ten poems, written in the year 1185 (Chunxi), about the River of the Nine bends (Jiuquxi) in the Wuyi Mountains in the Fujian province reads:
In the eighth riverbend the mist is on the point of rising,
while the water below the drum tower rock swirls around.
One cannot deny this is a place of perfect beauty,
a place where visitors cannot come.
From the bamboo painting and the text we can conclude that the bowl was most likely a gift for a scholar.
An equally special item is a second Jizhou bowl that was bought from a befriended antique dealer in Venice. This bowl is also made of black glazed stoneware, but the decoration is very different from the previous one. The red and blue speckled spots are probably an imitation of a colourful natural rock. ‘Although the bowl looked convincing, I did not manage to find a comparable copy for a very long time. A few years ago, however, I came into contact with a collector in Taiwan, who has an almost identically decorated example. Now the bowl can be attributed, with a high degree of certainty, to Jizhou in the Song period.’
Another striking piece is the gilt bronze tiger from the late Warring States period or the beginning of the Western Han dynasty (ca. 250-200 BC). This is almost certainly a weight, but scientists are still not sure whether these were used to straighten textiles or scrolls. Fortunately the ceramic core still present could be dated by a TL- test in Oxford and the authenticity of the corrosion and the turquoise stones with which the eyes are inlaid was tested in a laboratory of the VU in Amsterdam.
Drs. Koos de Jong is currently busy with his doctoral dissertation. It was partly due to an upcoming move and a regularly changing area of interest, that it was decided to sell his long-cherished collection. ‘At one point it is finished. And as I said before; that makes it easier to let it go.’