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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 82 

Lot 82

Lot 82
Treasury7, no. 1616 (‘Bronze Integrity’)

Bronze; with a flat lip and flat, square foot; made up various segments joined with solder
Height: 5.56 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.91/1.26 cm
Stopper: bronze, with integral collar; probably original

Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1987)

Treasury 7, no. 1616

Plain bronze bottles are relatively rare. This unpretentious one is spectacular not only for its unusual form and stopper (which is probably the original) but also because of the care with which it has been constructed. An incredibly neat, thin line of solder of military precision joins the base to the four sides of the main body, and the same is evident for the slightly bulging shoulder panel that has been soldered over the edges of the four walls. The neck is a separate segment, also soldered into place. The mystery is how the four sides were made. There is not the slightest hint of a join on either exterior or interior surfaces, and the interior surface is very slightly curved where each face meets, all suggesting the four sides may have been cast as a single unit rather than beaten into shape from flat panels of bronze. However it was made, the care apparent in its construction is unexpected with a simple bottle in a relatively cheap and functional material.

Could this be a blank awaiting embellishment by a scholarly artist? The historical landscape of the snuff bottle has been altered somewhat by the fact that we see most of the bottles only after they have been decorated, regardless of whether the blanks were made intentionally as such for literati artists or were turned into scholarly works of art after they had enjoyed existence as plain bottles for many months or years. With Zhou Honglai (see Sale 1, lot 99; Sale 2, lots 25 and 64; Sale 3, lot 8; and Sale 4, lots 21, 26, 32, and 111) and a range of simply constructed coconut-shell bottles, we have clear examples of the blank-for-decorating option. But perhaps more often we are dealing with plain bottles that were already of considerable age at the time they were decorated. It would have been typical of a literatus, skilled with the iron brush of the seal carver and finding himself at an elegant gathering of artists, to respond to a spontaneous request to decorate a plain snuff bottle being passed around by adding a brief ‘painting’ or poetic inscription. Many plain bottles in lacquer, wood, horn, metal, soapstone, turquoise, coral, or any other materials soft enough to be worked directly with the iron brush must have been transformed into decorated ones. At that instant of transformation, the decoration eclipses the plain bottle, and the bottle is removed from the body of plain wares. The four flat, blank panels here would have been ideal for a pictorial and calligraphic addition by a scholar-artist, and it is perhaps surprising that they did not attract one.

The patination on the surface and the interior of this bottle both suggest some age, but a plain bronze bottle of this sort is difficult to date accurately, particularly when it is formally unique. We have left a wide margin.


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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