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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 34 

Lot 34


Lot 34
Treasury 2, no. 277 (‘The Lotus-Life Agate’)

A dendritic agate 'lotus pond' snuff bottle

Agate; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim with rounded edges; the natural markings in the stone edited and with additional carving to depict a continuous scene of four ducks and two fish in a lotus pond, with mask-and-ring handles
Official School, 1760–1860
Height: 7.3 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.8/2.62 and 2.59 cm (oval)
Stopper: crystal with a thin sliver of pink glass glued beneath it to imitate tourmaline; silver collar chased with a continuous, simplified leiwen (‘thunder pattern’) design

Hugh Moss (1985)

Treasury 2, no. 277

Rather larger than usual, this is another of the more compelling ink-play agate bottles. The artist has used the dark blackish-brown markings in the stone, some of which are striated, to extraordinary effect by adding ‘drawn’ details for formalized waves, lotus stems, a large leaf, a seed-pod and a flower, the wing feathers of one duck, and two small fish. Most of this work leaves elements in low relief, but in the case of the larger lotus leaf it is simply incised with lines to represent the veins of the leaf. By using a simpler method for the interpretation of this large area of dark colouring, the artist allows us to see the rest of the darker, abstract markings at the shoulders and neck as lotus leaves in the distance, hence undefined with detail, lending considerable depth to the scene and a hint of mystery. This clever device also throws into contrast the details of life on the lotus pond and gives the impression of focussing on the main subject while its setting is allowed to fade out of focus, as the background does to any scene when we focus on one particular part of it. It is a perfect example of the integration of natural markings, carved details, low relief, and incising. It is another of the masterpieces of ink-play agate bottles, and the boldness of the design seems to lessen the impact of the unusually large bottle, giving it the appearance of more normal size. The size may be due in part to the dictates of the stone and the subject the artist saw in it.

The mask handles here are typical of a wide range of quartz-group, and particularly chalcedony, bottles of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of the type associated with the court, although they are unlikely to have been an exclusive court feature. The common occurrence of this type of mask handle on the group is one of our clues in identifying them with the court. It is quite obvious that on a great many bottles made for or at the court, catering to the archaistic taste of the Qing emperors, mask handles were added as standard. If one considers the design and its continuous nature, the mask handles add nothing artistically; indeed, they interrupt the scene with what would be considered incongruous details if we were not so used to them as a feature on snuff bottles. It seems that imperial taste for the archaic and archaism proved so powerful a driving force in the snuff bottle aesthetic as it was evolving during the eighteenth century that mask handles on certain imperial or official bottles often became almost as standard as a foot or a neck and were hardly intended to be read as part of the design at all.

This is another example of a superb bottle with impeccable hollowing, formal integrity, hollowing, and detailing of the concave lip that, nonetheless, has a hint of the lazier, recessed convex foot (see Sale 3, lot 11). Here it is only a hint, but again may suggest a date from the nineteenth century, but in any case no earlier than the later Qianlong period.

Dismantling the stopper to try to work out what it was made of provided some intriguing insight into the lengths to which stopper-makers would go to achieve an expensive look without using expensive materials. A piece of flawed crystal, with fissures somewhat resembling tourmaline, has had grafted to its underside a disc of purplish-pink glass that throws colour up into the crystal and gives it the appearance of tourmaline. This is then hidden by a silver collar. One wonders whether the extra time and different materials involved would have been worth the effort, but it does suggest that there was quite a considerable difference between the value of crystal and that of tourmaline, even in so small a specimen.


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1169&exhibition=9&ee_lang=eng


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Hugh Moss |