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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 70 

Lot 70


Lot 70
Treasury 5, no.915 (‘Palace Perfection’)

A pale olive-green glass overlay 'bat and chi dragon' snuff bottle

Transparent, pale olive-green and transparent milky glass that is very lightly crizzled, the former with a few scattered, small air bubbles; with a flat lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; carved as a single overlay with a continuous design of a chi dragon and a bat
Imperial glassworks, 1750-1790
Height: 5.5 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.7/1.2 cm
Stopper: glass; pearl finial

Fima and Lillian Ginzberg (prior to 1950)
Sotheby’s, New York, 26 November 1991, lot 77

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 106
Treasury 5, no.915

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March-June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994-February 1995

This bottle is superbly finished and polished. Only the faintest, almost invisible hint of a cutting mark can be detected on the ground plane, and the relief detail has all been impeccably and evenly carved and polished. The crizzling here is barely discernible, as shown by the fact that initially it went unnoticed. It is probably not particularly significant, since we know crizzling persisted in some palace glass into the latter part of the Qianlong period—from which this presumably dates—and may not have been caused only by glass disease resulting from an incorrect mix of ingredients. One of the features we have proposed as signifying a decline from the latter part of the Qianlong period onwards is poor definition of the overlay colour of a foot. It is significant that the overlay colour is not confined neatly to the footrim on any of those bottles with a recessed foot. Those we have already cited in the imperial collection as having this feature (see under Treasury 5, no. 911) display uniform carelessness in the application of the colour for the footrim. This one is exceptional, but not faultless, the colour stopping short of the upper foot. The more painstaking carvings may be earlier works by the carver - or carvers - responsible for this distinctive style, but it may be no more than a reflection of the time spent on individual bottles. The archives make it clear that many orders from the court for works of art specified a delivery period. Failure to achieve this often resulted in harsh punishment, which might include both cancellation of fees and severe beatings. Hardly, we would suggest, the best incentives to put in that final day or two needed to perfect the finish on a snuff bottle.

It is perhaps fitting that one of the transcendent masterpieces of the group should display an imperial-style stopper, complete with a half-pearl as a large finial - so large that it might be seen as the stopper to the collar of coral-coloured glass. If it were the original - and the spoon is certainly both early and of ideal length for the bottle - it might perhaps confirm our suspicion that these bottles were sometimes taken less seriously than other imperial products. Sale 3, lot 25, a yellow glass masterpiece, has a quite lovely, flawless piece of coral as a stopper to offset the half-pearl, whereas here more modest coral-coloured glass is used to simulate it. The majority of bottles of this type in the imperial collection that retain stoppers have gilt-bronze stoppers, which suggests another strong link between this group and the imperial glassworks.


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Hugh Moss |