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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 16 

Lot 16

 
   

Lot 16
Treasury 5, no. 1033

A ruby-red glass overlay snuff bottle

(‘Weak Water Wonderland’)

Transparent ruby-red and semi-transparent, milky-white glass, the latter with a few, scattered air bubbles of various sizes; with a flat lip and recessed, convex foot surrounded by a protruding, flattened footrim; carved as a single overlay with a continuous landscape scene featuring two immortals in a log boat, one possibly He Xiangu, and the luohan, Cudapanthaka, a halo around his head, accompanied by a Buddhist lion, the , inscribed in relief seal script, Sanqian ruoshui (‘Three thousand weak waters’) and with the seal, in relief, positive seal script, Xinwan (‘Heart’s delight’)
Yangzhou, 1830 -- 1890
Height: 5.75 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.65/1.55 cm
Stopper: jadeite

Lot 16 Provenance:
Kaynes-Klitz Collection
Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 16 November 1989, lot 13

Published:
Kleiner 1995, no. 177
Treasury 5, no. 1033

Exhibited:
British Museum, London, June-October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July-November 1997

Lot 16 Commentary
The carving displays all the hallmarks of Yangzhou overlay glass at its very best: superbly confident compositions being executed with masterly control of the lapidary tools. The two perforated, naturalistic rock formations, rising out of the rocky ground, are as fine as any in the medium, and typify the style. They are also found on Treasury 5, no. 1032, which bears the mark of Li Yunting (‘Junting,’ but to be read ‘Yunting’; see Moss and Sargent 2011). A corresponding rock formation appears also on a bottle in the J & J Collection that is remarkably similar in both material and style to this one (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 401), and is also decorated with immortals. In the Monimar Collection there is another, once more of the same colour combination and series, but with different immortals, also inscribed with the title that appears here (Lawrence 1996, no. 129). The footrim here displays only the slightest hint of irregularity where the outer footrim meets the base of the bottle, while the neck rim is perfectly matched to the overlay colour.

‘Three thousand weak waters’ is a complicated phrase, and the decoration on the bottle suggests several ways of interpreting it. In Ming times, it was identified with the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean, but, as Roderich Ptak notes in a 1987 article on the Maldive and Laccadive Islands in Ming records, ‘The “Weak Waters” represent a dangerous site; nothing is able to float upon these waters, not even a piece of paper; everything will immediately sink to the bottom. Chinese sources contain many references to this place[,] which was linked to various regions such as the K’un-lun Mountains. There also seems to be a connection between the [Weak Waters] and several legendary countries of women….and fairy islands in the West….A special study would be needed to disentangle all these fantastic accounts.” Ptak then lists a dozen ancient and recent references for ‘Weak Waters’. (Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 107, no. 4 [October – December 1987], pp. 683 – 684, n. 53.) To add to the possibilities, through its use in the Story of the Stone (the great Chinese novel also known under the title Dream of the Red Chamber), the phrase ‘three thousand weak waters’ has come to mean the ‘river of love and the ocean of passion’.

 

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Hugh Moss |