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The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 14 

Lot 14

 
   

Lot 14
Treasury 5, no.950 (‘Green Peas’)
HK$375,000

A green and lavender-blue glass 'garden scene' snuff bottle

Semi-transparent green and dark lavender-blue (appearing as dark cobalt- blue in normal light) glass, both with scattered air bubbles of various sizes; with a flat lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; carved as a single overlay with a continuous garden scene with a praying mantis on a pea vine with two pea pods on one main side and a katydid on a cabbage, with an ear of millet emerging beside a lotus leaf, the narrow sides each with a cockscomb growing from behind a rocky outcrop
1750-1790
Height: 6.21 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.73/1.46 cm
Stopper: coral, carved with a coiled chi dragon

Provenance:
Hugh M. Moss Ltd.
Paula J. Hallett
Sotheby’s, New York, 27 June 1986, lot 25 (cover)

Published:
Kleiner 1987, no. 115
Treasury 5, no.950

Exhibited:
Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May-June 1993

Although the ground colour here has the appearance of an opaque cobalt-blue, with the aid of internal lighting it is revealed to be of a dark lavender colour and semi-transparent, the bulb of a tiny torch inserted into it being clearly visible through the walls. This belongs to a group of spectacular bottles probably produced at the court during the mid- to late Qianlong period. They display unusual colour combinations and are so striking that it seems strange they were not produced more often.

Owing to the Daoguang imperial output of katydids (usually described as crickets) on enamelled porcelain, there is a tendency to consider all such creatures as indicating a nineteenth-century date. This little insect first became popular as an imperial decorative motif in the Qianlong period, however, and there are many eighteenth-century examples of it, including at least two from the series of enamelled glass bottles with Guyue xuan marks made for the court after 1767 (see, for instance, Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 201) and probably being produced in the 1770s or 1780s. The sole hint of a mid- to later Qianlong period is the very slight undulation of the ground plane on a bottle otherwise so perfectly controlled, although the footrim may provide a suggestion of problems to come. The matching of the footrim to the overlay colour, while remarkably impressive, leaves a perfectly even ring of blue at the upper edge, where it meets the body. It is sufficiently even to suggest there was insufficient depth of colour for the size of footrim required by the carver, who was thus obliged to compromise on colour rather than depth. If this were indeed the case, he achieved this end with admirable aplomb.

The praying mantis (tanglang), in common with other insects which lay large numbers of eggs, is a symbol of fertility, such symbolism being reinforced by the sound of the second character (lang) which is identical with that of one of the characters meaning a son. A pea pod swollen with seeds provides another fertility symbol, while the blue (lan) background further emphasizes the desire for male (nan) children. The katydid is yet another symbol of fertility, as is the cabbage - since vegetables grow quickly and proliferate rapidly - although in other contexts it can mean high integrity. The ear (sui) of millet might be intended to link with the shape of the bottle (ping) to form a further rebus for peace, year after year (suisui ping’an). At the same time, it is possible for the ear of millet together with the lotus (lian) leaf to constitute another common saying, suisui niannian, imparting the wish for good things to happen year after year. In addition to these multiple layers of symbolism, the two stems of cockscomb (jiguan) are imbued with the wish for promotion to a higher rank (quanshang jiaquan).

 

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