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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 36 

Lot 36


Lot 36
Treasury 2, no. 229 (‘The Portly Mandarin’)

A carnelian-agate snuff bottle

Carnelian-agate; very well hollowed, with a flat lip and protruding concave foot surrounded by a flat footrim
Height: 5.21 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.55 cm/1.2 cm
Stopper: agate, with integral finial and collar

Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1993)

Kleiner 1995, no. 255
Treasury 2, no. 229

British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, July–November 1997

This is an example of the rare form in which the egg shape is not compressed in any one direction, although it is slightly elongated. The foot and neck are flared and, unusually, equal in size. A sphere with a cylindrical foot and neck of the same diameter tends to look a trifle inelegant, which may account for the decision to flare them. By flaring the neck, however, the artist has resolved a formal problem at the cost of severely limiting the choice of possible stoppers that would be in harmony with the form. The flared neck would look awkward with anything that continued the direction of the flare, which in any case would make for a totally unwieldy stopper, and even a straight-sided one would clash with the outward flare of the neck. Good taste seems to dictate a form that immediately curves inwards again, balancing the outward flare of the neck. If a stopper that achieved this were simply a shallow cabochon, however, dictated by the need to return the flare immediately, it would be too shallow to balance the shape. The answer is the official’s-hat stopper. It recurves immediately above the line of the neck, with only the thickness of its integral collar separating the neck from the more conventional bulging curve of the stopper itself. It then has a finial to give it the extra height required to balance the elongated, oval form. Quite by chance, this particular stopper, which was matched to the bottle only in the 1990s, is also of similar coloured agate to the white banding of the bottle, consummating the marriage with conviction and making future divorce highly unlikely.

The material here is as extraordinary as the shape, and has been used with genius. It is properly described as carnelian-agate, since one area is a rich, if dark, red colour, while the distinct banding defines it as agate. From one view, it is almost all carnelian, framed in grey chalcedony. From the opposite side, it is all grey chalcedony framed in the white of the banding, and from in between, it is a striking banded agate with the striations brilliantly aligned to link neck and outer footrim and to lend the impression of much greater flaring of the foot than there is, bringing to the form greater visual sturdiness than it has functionally.


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Hugh Moss |