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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 94 

Lot 94


Lot 94
Treasury 5, no.893 (‘Glad Tidings’)

An inscribed ruby-red glass overlay 'bannerman' snuff bottle

Transparent ruby-red, with a single small air bubble, and translucent white glass; with a flat lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding flattened footrim; carved as a single overlay on one side with a galloping bannerman, his banner streaming in the wind behind him, and on the other with an inscription in regular script, followed by two seals Xiao and lian (?) in negative seal script, the foot engraved in seal script with ‘A present specially given by Jisheng’
Height: 5.16 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.78/1.35 cm
Stopper: coral; vinyl collar

Galia Baylin
Sotheby’s, New York, 3 October 1980, lot 19
J & J Collection
Hugh M. Moss Ltd.
Paula J. Hallett
Sotheby’s, New York, 27 June 1986, lot 23 and cover

JICSBS, Autumn 1986, p. 25
Kleiner 1987, no. 112
The Illustrated London News, Summer 1990, p. 48
The Orient Express Magazine, Summer 1990, p. 48
Prestige, Summer 1990, p. 48
Treasury 5, no.893
JICSBS, Autumn 2002, p. 10, fig. 21a

Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May-June 1993

At one time this bottle was in the J & J Collection alongside one with the same subject and bearing nearly the same inscription, although different names were found on the seals and beneath the foot (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 375). We proposed under the J & J entry that the subject was linked to the conquest of Xinjiang, completed in 1759 (though the subsequent Qing presence and control in the area varied dramatically by location), and represented tidings of victory being rushed back to the court by a bannerman on a post-horse. We have since enlarged on this idea with an agate example of the subject in this collection (Treasury 2, no. 305), where we cite many other examples, including counterparts in glass. Further glass examples are found in Gugong bowuyuan 1995, no. 82, and Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 3 November 1994, lot 851, both of which are of red overlay on a snowstorm ground; Hall 1989, no. 50, for a strangely crude version, and Denis G. Crow Ltd. 1994, 1992, no. 35, for one on a white ground (with a contrasting style of carving, and the bannerman galloping in the opposite direction).

The inscription reads:

‘Wherever the majesty of Heaven turns, the fog of wickedness is swept clean away.’

The J & J bottle uses a graphically similar character in the second position to make ‘Wherever the halberd of Heaven turns…’. This is a phrase found thirty times in the Veritable Records of the Qing, and it is distributed rather evenly from the Kangxi era down to the Tongzhi reign, which weakens considerably our case for associating it with the extermination of the Zunghars in the mid-eighteenth century. The wording on this bottle, on the other hand, occurs only in the Daoist cannon, in connection with the powers of a god in the northeast. Interestingly, ‘the halberd of Heaven’, besides meaning the army of an emperor, is also the name of a star that rules the north. For the Manchus, coming from the north of China, the double meaning of the wording on either bottle would have been quite satisfying, no matter what victory (real or envisaged) was meant.

Xiaolian is not an uncommon courtesy name in the nineteenth century, nor is Jisheng. We have found no basis to connect these names with any particular individuals. Although the imperial glassworks seems the most likely provenance in view of this subject matter, style of carving, and quality, we remain puzzled by these private names appearing on this and the J & J example (which has different, equally puzzling names) . It may be that, in view of the general jubilation attending whatever victory this bottle celebrates, this might have been popular for courtly gifts exchanged at lower levels of the hierarchy. If the imperial glassworks and palace workshops were accessible to these lower ranks, then such bottles may have even been gifts between high officials. They could also represent the output of private workshops, probably in Beijing, intended for use as gifts at court - although we are viscerally opposed to such a conclusion. While painfully aware of how much time we spend exploring issues without reaching definite conclusions, we believe it preferable to examine possibilities rather than give up in the face of lack of sufficient evidence.


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