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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 19 

Lot 19

Lot 19
Treasury 1, no. 43
HK$900,000

The Hallett Trotting Sow

Nephrite; extremely well hollowed; carved in the form of a trotting sow
1730–1850
Length: 4.92 cm
Height: 3.76 cm
Mouth: 0.48 cm
Stopper: coral, carved as a formalized bloom

Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

Lot 19 Provenance:
Hugh Moss
Paula J. Hallett (1986)
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1986)

Published:
Snuff Bottles of the Ch’ing Dynasty, no. 158
Kleiner 1987, no. 56
Kleiner 1995, no. 88
JICSBS, Spring 1995, p. 16
Treasury 1, no. 43

Exhibited:
Hugh M. Moss Ltd., London, September 1974
Hong Kong Museum of Art, October–December 1978
Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
British Museum, June–October 1995

Lot 19 Commentary
This is one of the group of animal snuff bottles discussed in Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993 under nos. 1–5, where other examples are cited together with their relationship to a similar series of amber animal-form bottles, some of which, at least, appear to be from the same school (see ibid., no. 288 for a bear very similar to the jade example no. 1, and to no. 42 in this collection). Of the animal forms, the pig is among the more popular, if we include the amber examples as part of the group (see Sydney L. Moss 1965, p. 36, no. 126, also illustrated in Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 2, back cover; Stevens 1976,  no. 709, and Christie’s, New York, 3 December 1993, lot 376), although these are not as closely associated with the jade examples as the bear, and may be linked more by subject-matter than by style. For other jade examples, see Moss, 1971a, no. 33; Hamilton 1977, p. 34, J–59, an unusual example in grey jade; Christie’s, London, 12 October 1987, lot 342, and Sotheby’s London, 3 February 1981, lot 179. Rabbits are also known in white nephrite, but usually of a less confident sculptural style and quality, although there is one which seems to come up to the standards of the broader group and may be a transitional piece suggesting that the rabbit occurred to animal-form carvers as a subject only as the art form was going into decline (see Sotheby’s, London, 6 June 1988, lot 67). Horses are also known which appear to be from the group (see, for instance, a sculpturally bizarre example, Sotheby’s, London, 24 April, 1989, subsequently offered by Butterfield and Butterfield, San Francisco, 19 March 1991, lot 663).

This is one of the finest of the jade pigs, in a class with the very best of the series of white jade animal-form bottles which includes the bear in this collection. It is the chubbiest, best carved and most animated of them all. It is also linked to the two bears mentioned above by the choice of material, exquisite carving, polish and extremely fine hollowing. Where they were made remains a mystery.

If the image was intended to represent pigs in general, it may be associated with symbolism representing the successful scholar. Starting from the Tang dynasty, successful candidates of the final civil service examination enjoyed the honour of having their names inscribed on the wall of the Wild Goose Pagoda (Yan Ta) in Ci’en Si (Monastery of Compassion) at the capital, Chang’an. Later, the phrase Yan Ta timing (having one’s name inscribed on Yan Ta) became a metaphor for gaining the highest scholastic achievement. In later times there developed another practice. The name of the successful candidate who received the highest government office would be inscribed in red (zhu). Gradually people made use of linguistic punning to express felicitous wishes for the candidates about to take part in the civil service examinations. They would give braised pig (zhu) feet (ti) to these scholars before they embarked on their journey to the capital. The delicacy itself would summon to the minds of the candidates the desire to have their names (ming) inscribed (ti) in red (zhu), forming a subtle allusion to the highest success. Replacing food, jade carvings of pigs also convey the same meaning (see Tsang 1995). If it is intended specifically as a sow, rather than a representation of pigs generally, then its symbolism refers to fertility.

 

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