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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 92 

Lot 92


Lot 92
Treasury 5, no.836 (‘A Side Order of Dragons’)

An amethyst-purple glass 'chi dragons' snuff bottle

Transparent amethyst-purple glass with a few small air bubbles; with a slightly concave lip; carved with chi dragons on each of the narrow sides, their tails curling beneath the bottle to form a naturalistic footrim
Attributable to the imperial glassworks, Beijing, 1740-1800
Height: 4.92 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.65/1.7 cm
Stopper: plastic; plastic collar

Julie and Al Stempel
Sotheby’s (PB84), New York, 11 October 1979, lot 51
Gerd Lester (1986)

Treasury 5, no.836

This is an uncommon colour for snuff bottles carved from solid blocks of glass and featuring chi dragon images, usually mainly on the narrow sides. There are, however, many illustrated in various publications to identify the standard type (see, for instance, Geng and Zhao 1992, no. 48; Sotheby’s, New York 23 March 1998, lot 14, and Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 2 May 1996, lot 1118).

Quite apart from its unusual colour, this bottle is also rare in being of drum shape, and its dragons are also more compactly composed, being entirely confined to the narrow sides and the foot. The bottle is still clearly part of the same overall group, although it may be an early prototype, perhaps made before the influx of precious stones from Xinjiang after 1759. (Xinjiang here means the general area of the ‘new frontier’, as it was called informally before the creation of the province. That came only in 1884, following the suppression of a twenty-year Muslim rebellion.) But although Xinjiang, Shandong, and Shanxi all produce amethyst, with the best coming from Shanxi, the best deepest colour is found in amethyst imported from abroad, and that is the material with for which the glass makers probably intended to make a substitute.

Although rather more discreet than the usual dragons from the group, these are superbly carved, with unusually fat bodies of distinctly feline nature. In fact, without the extensive, bifid tail and long curl of hair behind the head, they would pass for a pair of cats. Particularly impressive is the pose, evidence that whoever designed these creatures knew how felines stalk, keeping a low profile until they can pounce—a movement that has been captured perfectly. Having seen the rather disjointed chi dragons that began to appear in the mid-Qing, awkwardly twisted and with legs akimbo, one can appreciate the extraordinarily life-like quality of these beasts. A common feature of the group as a whole is that the tails of the dragons form the footrim, although, as illustrated here, they are not always joined to complete the more usual footrim.


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Hugh Moss |