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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 22 

Lot 22


Lot 22
Treasury 1, no. 59 (‘Archaistic Cicada’)

A white and russet nephrite 'archaistic cicada' snuff bottle

Nephrite of pebble material; well hollowed and carved in the form of a cicada, the surface decorated with archaistic motifs, including birds on each wing
Length: 6.29 cm
Mouth: 0.43 cm
Stopper: coral, carved in the form of a cicada

Robert Hall (1984)

Kleiner 1987, no. 58
Treasury 1, no. 59

Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993

Because of its ancient origins in Chinese art, the cicada was frequently depicted during the Qing dynasty with archaistic elements, even if only hinted at in small, comma-like motifs taken from ancient bronze and jade decoration and confined to the head and upper back of the insect. Snuff bottles of cicada form are reasonably common and range from the almost entirely realistic to archaistic abstractions.

Of all the cicada-form snuff bottles known, this is the epitome of the application of archaism to a realistic subject. It is also one of the finest and most convincingly carved insect sculptures in the entire field of Chinese snuff bottles. The use of a natural pebble of nephrite has dictated the form to some extent, which is delightfully eccentric for a cicada-form snuff bottle. With complete and wholly confident control of the medium, the artist has carved the underside of the insect in as realistic a manner as can be found on such bottles. The lower part and the upper front of the head have also been realistically depicted. The rest of the upper portion, including the back of the head, the upper back and the wings are all carved with formalized, archaistic motifs, which include the very rare feature of complete birds on each wing replacing the usual formalized depiction of the skeletal structure of the wings. One other example is known with a similar feature, although the illustration does not allow distinction between archaic birds and the alternative kui or even chi dragons. It is in white nephrite and, because its form was not dictated to any degree by the original pebble material, it is less eccentrically shaped (JICSBS, Autumn 1988, p. 24, fig. 2, previously sold by Sotheby’s, London, 6 June 1988, lot 64). These birds are taken from bronze decoration of the Zhou dynasty and add immensely, not only to the visual charm of the bottle but also to its symbolism, linking a purely Qing art-form with long-established symbolism and a powerful reference to the material culture of a past golden age.

The stopper is a delightful crowning touch to a masterly bottle. It is of softly coloured and attractively striated coral and it is also carved in the form of a cicada, although entirely realistically. Among stoppers, it is a masterpiece in its own right.


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Hugh Moss |