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photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2010: Lot 36 

Lot 36

   

Lot 36
Treasury 5, no. 853
HK$192,000

Lavender Abundance

Translucent, lavender-blue glass, with an inner layer of paler, whitish lavender-blue; with a flat lip; carved on one main side with a frog on a lotus leaf growing from a group of severed, tied stems, with a lotus flower, a lotus pod and a stem of polygonum, one of the stems supporting the leaf which encloses the base to form a naturalistic foot, the other main side with a fenghuang in a bamboo grove, also, seemingly coming from the lotus leaf at the base
1740–1790
Height: 5.19 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.80/1.68 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; silver collar

Lot 36 Provenance:
Hugh M. Moss Ltd., Hong Kong (1993)

Published:
Kleiner 1995, no. 143
Treasury 5, no. 853

Exhibited:
British Museum, London, June-October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July-November 1997

Lot 36 Commentary    
A bottle of identical subject and similar quality is published from the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 374), although it was a red and green double overlay on a bubble-suffused colourless ground. The distinctive satiny polish on this bottle, combined with impeccable quality of carving and extraordinary integrity of the ground plane also link it to Treasury 5, nos. 841 and 848, for both of which we proposed a palace origin. This particular style of carving, with its perfect control, superbly even ground plane, high level of artistry and soft, satiny polish appears in other examples. Some of these are in imperial yellow, suggesting the entire group may possess a courtly link more difficult to derive from any single example. While the imperial glassworks seems a sensible provenance for the group, a series of further comparisons face us with the familiar dilemma: if we attribute this one to the court, we end up attributing just about any fine glass in the same way.

None of the related carvings is less than masterly and this is no exception, but it brings to the equation a colour of the same range as Treasury 5, no. 690, rare in glass generally, and even more so in carved glass. A Qianlong date for the group seems entirely reasonable and it may even be from the earlier part of the reign, if the evidence of Treasury 5, no. 848, with its crizzling, is to be relied upon. Yang Boda believes that early Qianlong represents the peak of palace glass production, and we agree that it is rarely surpassed. We also believe, however, that in the production of glass snuff bottles - notably in their carving - very high standards were sustained to the end of the century and even beyond, while other palace arts, particularly painting with enamels, declined from their early Qianlong perfection. It is worth emphasizing, yet again, the difference between glassmaking and lapidary carving. The early Qianlong period may have seen the zenith of glassmaking skills at court, but lapidary skills were maintained at a very high level into the early nineteenth century.

The lotus (lian) leaf and frog (wa) constitute a rebus for ‘continuous (lian) offspring (wa),’ while the fenghuang and bamboo (zhu) stand for abundance (fengzu). Apart from being one of the finest of carved glass snuff bottles in a gorgeous and rare colour, this bottle is also endowed with encouraging symbolism - mutual love, progeny, and abundance.

 

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Hugh Moss |