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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 51 

Lot 51


Lot 51
Treasury 2, no. 351 (‘The Great Heart Plain Agate’)

An inscribed agate snuff bottle

Agate; very well hollowed, with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; incised on one side in seal script with ‘Its sense of elegance excels the common lot; its divine lustre is especially exquisite’ followed by the two seals Da and xin (together: ‘Enlarging the mind’)
Probably imperial, Official School, probably palace workshops, Beijing, 1730–1840
Height: 7.17 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.7/1.4 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Private European collection
Sotheby’s London, 7 June 1990, lot 31

Treasury 2, no. 351

The inscription on this snuff bottle is of a type often added to courtly bottles where the material has prompted a poetic response. Often these were composed by the emperor himself when viewing a bottle or other work of art. Such inscriptions were not exclusive to the court, and any aesthete, moved by a piece of material, could have added a poetic response. However, it is more likely to have been done at the imperial workshops, where the court maintained artists specifically to add inscriptions at the behest of the emperor. It seems less likely that a workshop owner would include such an encomium as part of the original design, particularly on a far-from-rare material, whereas it was standard at court where the Qianlong emperor had hundreds of his works of art inscribed during his reign. A second reason for an imperial attribution is that the form of this bottle, while unusual for the quartz group, would be common in glass bottles that can be attributed to the palace workshops (see, for instance, Hall 1991, no. 82, for a rather similarly shaped turquoise-coloured glass example, and no. 92 for a ruby-red and milky-white bottle, which may be an example of unfinished overlay glass).

For the meaning of Da xin, please see Sale 1, lot 82. Although the essay by that title quoted there helps us understand the meaning of ‘enlarging the mind’, we did not offer an explanation of why this phrase should be used as if it were a signature identifying the pedigree of the bottles that bear it or the composer of the inscriptions on the bottles. We suspect that this is an as-yet unidentified studio name or hall name from one of the imperial precincts. The phrase is inscribed in a manner standard at court, although certainly used elsewhere as well, which appears to have been done using a spinning disc. The scripts chosen for this bottle and Sale 1, lot 82, are different, but the style of incising is identical.


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Hugh Moss |