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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VI  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2013: Lot 137 

Lot 137

Lot 137
Treasury 2, no. 284 (‘The Marquis and the Daoist Chalcedony’)

Dendritic chalcedony; very well hollowed, with a recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; the natural markings in the stone edited on one side to create a scene of a monkey, seated on the back of a horse, reaching towards a bee in flight while the horse grazes in front of a rocky outcrop beneath a tree, the other side with two layers of different colour carved as a cameo of a man, wearing only trousers and sandals, holding a basket on a pole over one shoulder
Official School, 1750–1860
Height: 5.82 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.75 cm/2.15 and 2.10 cm (oval)
Stopper: jadeite; coral finial; vinyl collar

Robert Hall (1985)

Treasury 2, no. 284

As is often the case with this silhouette group, the carver has extensively edited the thin plane of dendritic brown colouring in the stone. Only the upper foliage in the tree and the large rock and the smaller one beneath the tree are not edited.

This is a rare example where a well-defined, equally powerful subject is found on each main side. It also endorses the assumption that both cameo and silhouette chalcedony bottles would have been made in the same workshops, the choice being dictated largely by material and market demand. The cameo style of one side here takes full advantage of two planes of colour in the stone. Such multiple planes are often found in chalcedony, and particularly in agate, where any striated material if cut at right angles to the planes of striation would provide multiple layers. The identity of the figure is ambiguous, since, dressed only in sandals and trousers, he might be taken for a peasant, but his hair is tied up in a bun on top of his head and there might be a cloth cap tied around it (the basket obscures this detail). Various elements of the subject have been imaginatively picked out in the different planes of colour, the genius of which is exemplified in the lower body, where the trousers and shoes are in a slightly milky beige colour, while the ankles, showing between the two, are left in the lower plane of honey-brown, separating the legs from their enclosing garments, making them a realistic colour for a weathered sojourner and even placing them in lower relief in a realistic manner.

Although the hollowing here is well done, even into the shoulders, the foot is of the easier, recessed convex type, although unusually well carved. This combination may indicate that the bottle was produced relatively early in the general decline of carving standards or that it is a nineteenth-century work on which the carver took special care because of the unusual material. Figure subjects of this type, although usually in silhouette rather than cameo, seem to have been a later development, perhaps beginning in the Qianlong era but flourishing during the nineteenth century; or at least we so theorize, based on the fact that they are so frequently combined with more careless hollowing and detailing of the foot.


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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