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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 2 

Lot 2

Lot 2
Treasury 7, no. 1634
HK$50,400

Mongolian Gift

Silver and gold; with a slightly concave lip and protruding flat foot; an inner, plain container enclosed within a reticulated outer body, decorated on each main side with an identical circular panel containing a four-clawed dragon amidst formalized clouds, surrounded by a formalized floral scroll pattern repeated with different formulations in vertical bands on the narrow sides, and around the outer footrim and neck, the lower and upper neck with serrated bands, the main panels, neck, foot, and side bands all gilt
Imperial, attributed to the palace workshops, Beijing, 1750–1810
Height: 6.6 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.58/1.92 cm
Stopper: silver, gold, and turquoise, with turquoise beads framed in serrated rings and with a serrated collar, the metal gilt, with integral metal finial of formalized floral design inset with a coral cabochon; original

Lot 2 Provenance:
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd. (1985)

Published:
Kleiner 1987, no. 247
Arts of Asia, September-October 1990, p. 96
Treasury 7, no. 1634

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

Lot 2 Commentary
Only one solid gold bottle can be attributed to the palace workshops at present; a magnificent one made, apparently, to be presented to a Mongolian prince since it is in Mongolian style and is decorated with a four-clawed dragon (Hugh Moss Records). It allows us to place and date the group to which the present example belongs. The bottles of this group have, in the past, been largely dismissed as late and Mongolian. The gold bottle is decorated with an identical design to the present example, also with a four-clawed dragon, is of identical construction, with its reticulated outer body enclosing an inner container, and also has its original stopper. It can only have come from the same workshop at the same time. The gold bottle is inscribed on the foot with an impeccable, four-character Qianlong reign mark of the highest standard of calligraphy and engraving, and is unquestionably imperial and probably made in the palace workshops. The reason so magnificent a gold bottle, complete with its reign mark, should be decorated with four-clawed dragons, rather than the imperial five-clawed beast, throws considerable light on the entire group. As does the publication in more recent years of some of the artefacts from the imperial collection, including arms, saddles and the like, where some similar metalwork is in evidence from the eighteenth century, and from the imperial workshops.

This group of bottles was designed to suit Mongolian taste, particularly evident here in the stone-encrusted stopper with two of their three favourite inlays (the third being malachite). And the probable reason for their manufacture was to curry favour with Mongolian princes and dignitaries, many of whom were granted noble titles by the eighteenth-century Qing emperors.

The vast areas of both inner and outer Mongolia were a constant thorn in the side of the Chinese Empire, seldom far from rebellion when under Chinese control and always a threat when independent. Apart from the Russian threat on the Western borders of Mongolia, the area consisted of a host of shifting tribal loyalties and a proud, war-like people - the recipe for trouble was never far from the boil. The Qianlong emperor, with his famous campaign to the West in the late-1750s brought the troublesome tribes of Turkestan and Mongolia under control, and imposed an uneasy peace. To keep it, the Qianlong emperor treated the more important local leaders with great respect, ennobling them, granting them Chinese ranks, inviting them to meet him regularly at his hunting grounds to the north of the Great Wall (they fared badly in the relatively unhealthy climate of Beijing, falling often ill) and showering them with gifts. The gold bottle with its reign mark, and the best of the silver and gilt bottles which are never marked and which are represented by the present example, would almost certainly have been made to present to ennobled Mongolians permitted the use of the four-clawed dragon as a personal emblem of status.  
                    
The quality of these early Mongolian style imperial presentation bottles has never been in doubt, but it has taken a little while for them to be separated from later-Qing wares of similar, but devolved style and quality. At one time the best of them were even thought to have been part of Beijing production as part of the Communist revival of the arts, when masterly technical control was re-established across a range of traditional arts.

For a remarkably similar bottle, but missing its original stopper, see Geng Baochang and Zhao Binghua1992, no. 393, where it is correctly dated to the Qianlong period. Three others were in Sotheby, New York, 22 November 1988, lot 79; Sotheby’s, London, 5 December 1983, lot 251(a similar bottle, but with a formalized shou character in the central panel on the side shown), and Kleiner 1994, no. 79. For other related bottles, see JICSBS, Winter 1999, p. 15, figs. 20 and 21, and p. 16, figs. 22 and 23 (one of which is a bottle in brown glass cased in silver, with gilding, formerly in the Eric Young Collection - Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 28 October 1993, lot 1168 - and now in the Carl Barron Collection.) Casing bottles with filigree work was a method used elsewhere on bottles made at and for the court. There is, for instance, a magnificent amber bottle cased in gilt metal with a watch on one side which is of somewhat similar workmanship (see Christie’s, Hong Kong, 31 March 2005, lot 2122). A related imperial bowl for the Qianlong emperor’s own use, dated to 1766, is also illustrated in the above mentioned article ( JICSBS, Winter 1999, p. 16 fig. 22) suggesting that work in this style was already being made at the court in the mid-reign.

 

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