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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 12 

Lot 12


Lot 12
Treasury 2, no. 303

The Belfort Speckled-Potential Cameo

Chalcedony; very well hollowed with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding broad, flat footrim; carved with a cameo design of a horse haltered and tethered to a ring set in a brick-based post with a lotus-flower-shaped finial, both horse and post set on rocky outcrops carved out of the paler ground colour, the back with three butterflies carved in low relief
Official school, 1750–1830
Height: 6.36 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.72/2.0 and 2.40 cm (oval)
Stopper: coral; gilt–bronze collar

Lot 12 Provenance:
Hugh Moss
Joan Wasserman
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1980)
Belfort Collection (1986)

Moss 1971, p. 50, no. 125
JICSBS, December 1977, p. 22, fig. 39
Snuff Bottles of the Ch’ing Dynasty 1978, no. 209
Jutheau 1980, p. 98
Le Figaro, Paris, 31 May 1982
Arts of Asia, September-October 1982, p. 149
Jutheau 1980, front cover, announcement card (two sizes) and exhibition poster
JICSBS, Summer 1984, p. 15, fig. 22
Kleiner 1987, no. 169
Treasury 2, no. 303

Hong Kong Museum of Art, October–December 1978
L’Arcade Chaumet, Paris, June 1982
Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993

Lot 12 Commentary
Like Treasury 2, no. 302, this is one of the finest of all chalcedony horse-bottles. The generously proportioned form is superbly hollowed, detailed and finished, and the use of an area of naturally dappled darker colour for the horse, separating it entirely from the ground plane, is masterly. It is also unusual in having a defined setting for the beast, which stands on a rocky outcrop different from that which supports the post, but they are joined by implication beyond the picture frame, since the lines of each curve around to suggest continuity before disappearing near the foot. Some darker markings on the opposite main side have been cleverly and artistically used to form three butterflies in low relief.

The enormous variation in artistic and technical genius within the broad Official school suggests not only many artists involved over a long period of time, but probably the involvement of different workshops. A comparison of this example with a bottle of similar proportions, subjects and style but far less artistic merit sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 3 May 1995, lot 458, for instance, shows very clearly the sort of range we are dealing with. The lesser bottle may represent a nineteenth-century decline in standards within the imperial workshops, whether at Beijing or elsewhere (Suzhou, Guangzhou, or wherever the court ordered hardstone bottles made over the years); or there may simply have been wide variation in quality produced on a regular basis to accommodate different levels of gift. If, as we are assuming, the court produced reasonably large numbers of gifts suitable for the official class, made at different workshops and to different standards, they may have been stockpiled, allowing the selection of a range of quality depending upon the importance of the recipient, family connections, or other factors. The possible reasons for such variations are themselves so varied that to even guess at them becomes a somewhat empty exercise. Until we know more about the production of this school we can only guess, and until we have greater access to the imperial archives, where any such imperial manufacture and gifts should be recorded, we are working very much in the dark. As further snippets from these archives are published by such scholars as Yang Boda, who enjoys a unique combination of access and interest in the subject, we are already scrambling to correct past misinterpretations of the evidence.

Horses are often symbols of the talented person. In Hugh Moss Records, there is one snuff bottle showing two horses tied to hitching-poles with a relief regular-style inscription on the bottom that may be translated ‘It is time to ride!’ And in China Guardian, Beijing, 21 October 1996, lot 1936, there was a bottle with the same subject, inscribed with ‘Heaven does bring talent to fruition’. The designs on these bottles also make us think of an important feature of villages in certain areas of Shaanxi province: stone hitching posts. They seemed to have been erected to show that there were people of substance and accomplishment in the community, and were sometimes decorated with human figures in Manchu or Mongolian dress. Could there be a relationship between this and gifts from the Manchu court bearing the hitching-post depiction? It is also interesting to note that in the Shaanxi region called ‘North of the Wei River’, when a post was erected in front of a south-facing house, it was invariably to placed to the right, to anchor or ‘hold the house’—and this is exactly the position seen on Treasury 2, no. 302. Future research may tell us whether there is a relationship between the stone hitching pillars and these bottles. See Jia Fuyi 1988 and Gao Minsheng 2000 for information in Chinese on the pillars; they are also discussed and illustrated on numerous web sites.


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