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photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2010: Lot 46 

Lot 46

   

Lot 46
Treasury 6, no. 1158
HK$408,000

Inspiration Yixing

Gold and metallic-brown enamel on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a flat lip and slightly convex rectangular foot; painted on one main side with a country residence amidst trees on the far bank of a stretch of water, behind which stands an open pavilion on open ground, behind which rise five hills, two with pine trees, and on the other side with a poem inscribed in regular script, preceded by Qianlong yuzhi (By imperial command of the Qianlong emperor) and followed by two seals, Qian in negative seal script, and long in positive seal script, both panels surrounded by a frame of continuous leiwen (thunder pattern) design; the narrow sides and neck with a formalized floral design; the foot inscribed in gold seal script Qianlong nian zhi (Made during the Qianlong period); the lip painted gold; the glaze extending into the inside of the lip; the interior unglazed
Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 1760–1799
Height: 5.12 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.54/1.59 cm
Stopper: malachite; gilt-bronze finial; gilt-bronze collar

Lot 46 Provenance:
Ko Collection
Christie’s, London, 14 June 1971, lot 98
Hugh M Moss Ltd., London, 1971
Margaret Prescott Wise
Edgar and Roberta Wise
Robert Kleiner (1995)
Published:
Sin, Hui, and Kwong, 1996, no. 93
JICSBS, Autumn 1998, p. 17, fig. 55 and p. 18, fig. 55a
Treasury 6, no. 1158

Lot 46 Commentary:
A few bottles are known with gold enamel designs on a brownish ground and have traditionally been thought to imitate gilt metal. Their true inspiration is far more likely to be found in such a bottle as lot 90, (Treasury 6, no. 1447) made of the brown stoneware of Yixing and decorated with a gold-enamelled design. The reason why Yixing may not previously have presented itself as an obvious inspiration for this type of bottle is that Yixing snuff bottles were considered to be a predominantly nineteenth-century type, while the few known porcelain bottles with gold decoration on brown mostly predate the nineteenth century. The exceptional Yixing bottle in the Bloch collection, lot 90, however, can now be dated to 1763, rather than sixty years later, as previously thought. This alters the picture radically. Together with a group of Qianlong-marked Yixing vessels in the imperial collection that have been recently published, the Bloch bottle establishes the existence of imperial orders placed at Yixing during the second half of the Qianlong period.

Yixing bottles made for the court might have inspired the ordering of copies from Jingdezhen from around 1763 on, then. That still leaves us with a fairly broad dating range for this bottle, for although the initial urge to imitate an exciting new type at Jingdezhen might well follow immediately upon receiving the Yixing prototype, it is also possible that the urge (and/or the actual orders) happened many years later. Indeed, the unglazed interior discourages us from ascribing it to as early as the mid-1760s — although it must be reiterated that we have no clear indication of exactly when the shift from glazed to unglazed interiors began at Jingdezhen (discussed in Treasury 6, as a significant phenomenon in dating Jingdezhen porcelain snuff bottles).

Ambiguity often arises in distinguishing glazes from enamels on finished ceramics, since both are forms of glass and they are very closely related. This piece illustrates the problem. The monochrome ground beneath the gold enamel decoration might be reasonably identified as a brown glaze. Wear at the lip, however, reveals that beneath the silvery-brown colour is a colourless glaze, indicating that the bottle was first glazed, then covered with brown enamel.

The stopper here may well be the original. If not, it is an original eighteenth-century, palace-workshops stopper of a type that occurs on a range of imperial snuff bottles. It is distinguished by the heavily gilt bronze collar and finial, the latter being on a threaded dowel that goes through the cabochon and into the collar to hold the cabochon in place. We know from the imperial Archives (see Treasury 6, Chronological List for 1743, eleventh month, twenty-first day) that bottles were sometimes ordered without stoppers, which were to be made at the palace workshops once the bottles arrived in Beijing. There are references to stoppers being made separately even as early as the Yongzheng reign. (Also recorded in the archives, during 1727, for example, a total of 455 chased, gilt-bronze snuff bottle stoppers, complete with ivory spoons, were ordered see Treasury 6, Chronological List) The present bottle is one of those cases in which the stopper is of the correct type, fits perfectly, and looks ideal, allowing us the rare opportunity of proposing that it may be the original, even though it is of a different material.

The poem, one of the thousands written by the Qianlong emperor throughout his adult life, reads:

From the end of the sky comes a tiny boat
Arriving in an instant at the rush-grown cove.
Pagoda and monastery: sound of the evening bell;
The traveller’s boat: rain the whole night through.

For a related bottle, of the same shape but decorated in iron red with chrysanthemums and an imperial poem, see Sin, Hui, and Kwong, 1996, no. 90, and for another, also of this shape and with a remarkably similar frame of leiwen, Wen Guihua 2006,p. 219, nos. 224-226, where the poem is dated to 1777, endorsing our view that the present example dates from the second half of the reign.

 

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