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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 39 

Lot 39

 
   

Lot 39
Treasury 7, no. 1649

A carved and embellished ‘three friends’ amber snuff bottle

(‘Imperial Friends’)

Semi-transparent brown amber with slight cloudy inclusions, turquoise, and coral; with a flat, naturalistic foot and naturalistic lip; the amber carved in the form of a cross section of a mature pine trunk with a branch growing from it that divides into two further, foliated branches, the main branch carved free of the body at one point, the gnarled and knotty surface of the pine embellished with a flowering prunus tree in coral, and three stalks of bamboo with coral stems and turquoise leaves
Probably imperial, perhaps palace workshops, 1720–1780
Height: 5.95 cm
Mouth: 0.53 cm
Stopper: turquoise, carved in the form of a melon; coral finial

Lot 39 Provenance:
Christie’s New York, 3 June 1993, lot 380
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd
J & J Collection
Christie’s, New York, 29 March 2006, lot 50
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (March 2006)

Published:
Oriental Art, vol. XLIX, no.2 (2003), p.65
Treasury 7, no. 1649

Exhibited:
Empress Place, Singapore, 9 April 1994–7 August 1994
Christie’s, Los Angeles 2003

Lot 39 Commentary
Embellished wares are so firmly associated with early-twentieth-century Japanese made snuff bottles that the extraordinarily high-quality and rare early Chinese examples have tended to become eclipsed by, and even mistaken for, later Japanese works. Embellished work, however, was a popular standard of the Ming and Qing decorative arts and a staple at the palace workshops. There are no Kangxi records of palace workshops production in Beijing, but embellished snuff bottles are mentioned in the first year of the Yongzheng reign. The earlier references suggest that not many materials were used on any single bottle, so this example, with only two different embellishment materials, would be typical of early production. We also have reasons to believe that bottles in the form of bamboo stems were a popular palace type during the Yongzheng reign. There are the famous enamelled glass bottle of this form in the imperial collection (Chang 1991a, no. 28) and an undoubtedly early screw-top ivory bottle from the Count Blucher Collection that may also be from the Yongzheng period (Moss 1971a, no. 134). If bamboo forms were popular, then it is likely that other naturalistic forms may date from the same period; this bottle has such a form, along with a simple embellishment technique, so we have allowed for a possible early date.

Embellished work requires a multi-skilled workshop environment, such as that of the imperial workshops. Even though such work was certainly produced at Guangzhou and Yangzhou, in the case of a snuff bottle, the palace workshops would be more likely to offer the range of expertise necessary for this kind of production. This bottle ranks among the most spectacular of all early embellished bottles; its lovely soft materials are very well suited to each other, and their tasteful combination is combined with an extremely unusual naturalistic form. It is also in miraculously good condition, with all of its original embellishment in place, despite the natural wear that speaks of a long period of use: one can imagine that it gave many years of service to a single owner who appreciated its qualities and treated it with care.

 

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