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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 35 

Lot 35


Lot 35
Treasury 7, no.1483 (‘Moon Flask’)

A bamboo and bamboo veneer snuff bottle

Bamboo and bamboo veneer; with a flat lip and protruding, slightly arched, flat foot; the bottle in the form of a compressed moon flask made up of sections of cortex covered with bamboo veneer, the outer lip rim scorched dark brown
Imperial, possibly Jiangxi province, 1720–1800
Height: 6.01 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.58 (square)/1.35 and 1.37 cm (rectangular)
Stopper: bamboo, bamboo veneer, coral, and wire; decorated with four panels of formalized lingzhi design in a self-defining frame; coral-bead finial held in place by wire; with integral collar and ivory spoon; original

John Ault
Robert Kleiner (2005)

Treasury 7, no.1483

Bamboo veneer (tiehuang—literally ‘pasted yellow’, sometimes also known as zhuhuang—‘bamboo yellow’) is made by stripping and flattening the thin inner lining of the cortex. It is a distinctively less grainy material than the outer skin of the cortex, and usually of a paler colour. It is an art form that was possibly developed in Jiangxi province, although once the art form was developed, it could also have been employed anyplace that enjoyed a plentiful supply of bamboo and a little technical know-how. Jiangxi, if not the birthplace of the technique, was definitely a place where it was considered a local specialty, as may be deduced from the fact that, according to Yang Boda, Sale 3, lot 69 from this collection was presented to the emperor by the governor of Jiangxi province.

Because veneer usually completely covers any form, there is often some question as to what lies beneath it, but in this case there is no doubt: it is also bamboo, but carved from the cortex. It is clearly visible on the interior and as the ‘cork’ emerging from the core material of the original stopper.

There is a series of snuff bottles in the material, most of which appear to be imperial, cited and discussed under Sale 3, lot 69 (another extraordinary example is Sale 2, lot 99). The present bottle distinguishes itself by being completely plain, although there is some decoration on the stopper, which is original. Bamboo veneer came into favour because very thin layers could be superimposed upon each other in low relief to provide design elements, as on the other two examples in this collection. The unembellished material, however, is itself quite lovely, resembling a piece of almost grainless boxwood in texture and colour; it is perhaps surprising that it was not left plain more often. Plain wares are very much the exception to the rule, nevertheless, and we know of no other undecorated snuff bottles in the material.

In another unusual decorative departure for this material, the upper neck rim, or outer lip, has been scorched dark brown to provide a contrast, and the decoration on the stopper is stained, presumably for the same reason.

A third departure from usual standards is in the shape of the foot, which is arched in the opposite direction to the curve of the lower body, thus setting up an elegant formal counterpoint. It is obviously intentional and not the result of warping, since the entire foot is cut very carefully and evenly to accommodate it. It means that the entire bottle rests, in fact, only upon the narrow outer edges of the rectangular foot.

This form is known as a moon flask, but probably derives originally from the form of water flasks devised by nomadic people to the north and west of China to hang against the side of a horse or camel comfortably. Somewhat similar forms are found in bronzes from the Han dynasty, and the moon flask became a standard ceramic form from the beginning of the Ming dynasty. By the Qing, it was one of many popular forms reproduced frequently across a wide range of wares made for the court.

Here again we find confirmation of a regular feature of some early imperial snuff bottles: the stopper is more than a millimetre larger than the lip all around, making it easier to remove, and the obviously original ivory spoon reaches to within a couple of millimetres of the bottom of the hollowed area inside the bottle.


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Hugh Moss |