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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VI  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2013: Lot 177 

Lot 177

Lot 177
Treasury 2, no. 204 (‘The Sunset Jasper’)

Jasper; well hollowed, with a flat lip and a flat foot
Height: 3.65 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.55/1.24 cm
Stopper: carnelian; vinyl collar

Robert Kleiner (1991)

Kleiner 1995, no. 283
Treasury 2, no. 204

British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

Jasper is of the crypto- or micro-crystalline form of quartz, like chalcedony, but heavily coloured with various oxides. The red material is due to ferric oxide, green to ferrous oxide and hydroxide, yellow to hydrated ferric oxide (limonite), and brownish to manganese oxide. A single specimen can frequently contain all four colours.

The material referred to by Zhao Zhiqian as mubianshi and translated by Lynn as ‘petrified wood’ seems to have colours and properties that set it apart from what is geologically known by that name, although Zhao may have been referring to a distinctive variety of petrified wood (see Richard John Lynn’s translation of Zhao Zhiqian’s Yonglu xianjie, JICSBS, Autumn 1991, p. 19). As a rule, jasper is opaque, although a single specimen may have areas of both jasper and other varieties of quartz, in which case the transparency or translucence of these materials may confuse the issue. The strongly coloured red, yellow, brown, or green areas that are properly jasper, however, will be opaque to all but extremely powerful transmitted light, providing one useful practical test between, say, carnelian and red jasper, or yellow chalcedony and yellow jasper.

In its solid-coloured form, or in swirling varieties, jasper can easily be mistaken for glass. Apart from the difference in temperature between glass and quartz, noticeable to the discerning as long as both materials have been standing in the same atmosphere for a while to settle at their own temperatures, and the surface difference between the polish accepted by relatively soft glass and the much harder jasper, a simple test with a good blade will reveal the difference. A sharp steel point will not affect quartz of any kind, unless applied to a degraded and softened area or a fragile flaw, whereas it will scratch glass quite easily under firm pressure. Another way to distinguish between the two is to examine closely the surface-markings for the sort of flow-lines created by blowing, or stirring molten glass or, of course, for air-bubbles which are common in glass.
The sometimes similar flow lines in jasper are usually more complex under magnification and much more natural-looking.

Jasper is found all over the world and China would have been no exception. It was a popular material in the snuff-bottle world, although like so many stones popular with Qing snuff-bottle makers, its occurrence in earlier times and in other objects is extremely rare. It was widely used for plain snuff bottles, providing an infinite variety of patterns and a wide range of possible colours and combinations of colours. It was also used as a parti-coloured hardstone, the finest of which form a series of mid-Qing bottles of the Official School, discussed under no. 258 and following examples where their Imperial connection is explored.

The brilliant, variegated markings in jasper provided a wealth of potential for the Chinese love of abstract markings capable of transformation through imagination into a variety of subjects (see discussion under no. 274). This example is one of the more spectacular in terms of colour combination and markings, but see also Sale 1, lot 33.

Formally, although of small size, this is a typical flattened spherical bottle which probably existed throughout much of the snuff-bottle period, but was certainly a popular mid-Qing staple.


This is not the Sotheby’s sale catalogue. This is a product of Hugh Moss for the purposes of this website. For the catalogue details please refer to Sotheby’s website or request a copy of a printed sale catalogue from Sotheby’s


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