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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 75 

Lot 75

Lot 75
Treasury 5, no. 720 (‘Black Gold’)

Semi-translucent, dark green glass (appearing as black in normal light), with surface inclusions of aventurine-glass; with a flat lip and protruding concave foot
Attributable to the imperial glassworks, 1723-1780
Height: 4.91 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.81/1.22 cm
Stopper: glass; glass collar

Private collection
Sotheby’s, London, 6 June 1988, lot 41

Kleiner 1995, no.126
Treasury 5, no. 720

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

This is probably the most spectacular example known of aventurine-glass fragments laid into a dark, transparent emerald-green. The inlays are delightfully varied, spread through the dark ground, and well integrated. Several of them have a thin halo that occurs when the edges of the fragments melt to transparent olive-green. Although obscured by the green ground, the gap between these outer lines and the aventurine-glass fragments is a separate area of green.

On its last outing this snuff bottle was compared to the Bloch Qianlong-marked example (Sale 4, lot 88), with the suggestion being made that they are identical in shape, colour, and the composition of the glass. The two latter points have some validity, and notwithstanding the significant differences in form, the two bottles are obviously related. Thus, we can be certain from the smaller one that the type was made during the Qianlong period and, since it bears a palace-style mark, at the court. We have left an earlier possible dating range lest black-ground versions began in the Yongzheng period. We know that the Yongzheng emperor favoured black grounds on his painted enamel on metal wares; the vast majority of known black-ground painted enamelled wares date from his reign. Only one or two bear Qianlong marks, and those are stylistically appropriate to the very early years of the reign. Thereafter, the black ground dropped out of use almost completely.

Certain of a Kangxi origin for gold-splashed blue glass, we can assume that it would not have taken the imperial glassworks long to produce similarly splashed wares in other coloured grounds. Such wares were of considerable interest to the Qianlong emperor early in his reign. Only five years after assuming the throne, he is recorded as having ordered, in the third month of 1741, sixteen snuff bottles ‘with gold splashes in black, green or blue glass’. We also have an indication of the time required to produce that modest number of relatively plain bottles; the glassworks are noted as taking over three months to complete them (Xia Gengqi 1995, p. 26). No doubt this order was in response to the Jesuits d’Incarville and de Broussard successfully producing both blue glass and aventurine-glass in the same year.

This bottle is as impressive formally as it is technically, with its lovely subtle variation from the simple compressed sphere, and elegantly detailed mouth and foot. Based on the colour of the ground and the reign mark on the smaller version (Sale 4, lot 88), an imperial glassworks provenance seems almost indisputable. It is even possible that this was one of the sixteen bottles ordered by the emperor in 1741, since there is no indication from the records whether or not they would have been reign marked, and a great deal of plain glass made at court was not.


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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