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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VI  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2013: Lot 138 

Lot 138

Lot 138
Treasury 1, no. 71 (‘The Emperor’s Six Embellished Magnolias’)

A set of six imperial white jade 'magnolia' snuff bottles
Nephrite with artificial colour; all six carved in the form of magnolia buds, the petals of each with artificial staining in one area, the calyxes carved from separate pieces of more transparent material, stained from the underside and glued on
Imperial 1736–1810
Height: 6.05, 6.08, 6.10, 6.18, 6.19, and 6.38 cm
Mouths: 0.4 cm
Stoppers: nephrite; carved in the form of stalks; original

Fitted case:
Soft wood, hexagonal with a hinged cover fitted with a clasp; the inside with a rigid lining; apparently Western, 1930–1960

Rare Art, Inc. New York (four bottles)
Sotheby’s, London, 23 March 1988, lot 397 (two of the set only)

Treasury 1, no. 71

No other magnolia buds are recorded from the series of apparently imperial orders made for the court, probably during the Qianlong period. The fact that this is clearly not an original Chinese fitted case offers the possibility that this was not originally a set of six; it may have been a set of ten, and perhaps more individual examples will one day turn up. For another magnolia-bud snuff bottle, see lot 165 in this sale. They are all clearly related to the better-known eggplant-form sets, of which a single example is in this collection, Treasury 1, no. 70, where references to other related eggplant-form snuff bottles are given.
Only the court appears to have ordered snuff bottles in sets, usually of ten or twenty bottles, and several such sets still exist in the imperial collection. The court had a massive, on-going demand for snuff bottles for the many members of the imperial family and for gifts, whereas individuals would have had fewer reasons for requiring sets at all, let alone of ten or twenty bottles. This clearly indicates an imperial origin for these sets, quite apart from their heavy concentration in the imperial collection today and the convincingly imperial boxes in which many of them appear.

The hollowing of this set and of the individual example of lot 165 in this sale represents typical palace-workshop style, with adequate but far from painstaking hollowing stopping well short of the foot to leave a heavy base area.

This set is distinguished by being of exceptionally artistic quality. Each bud is individually conceived as a separate work of art. The disposition of the petals is different in each case, and in the case of one, a single petal is folded back on itself to almost half its total length. The individual nature of the works of art is also emphasized by the difference in height of each bud, no two being identical, although the mouth size is identical throughout. This is intriguing, since the calyxes are, again, different in every case. Presumably, while allowing for individual artistic variety, it was felt that a uniform size for the mouths would make it easier for fitting stoppers with corks and spoons and would have had no sculptural impact.

Each calyx is carved from nephrite that is much more transparent than the petals. Once carved, the calyx was stained brown, but with the colour concentrated, apparently, on the inner surface.


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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