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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 69 

Lot 69

Lot 69
Treasury 1, no. 46 (‘King of Beasts Jade’)

Nephrite; very well hollowed and carved in the form of a crouching tiger, the character wang (‘king’) incised upon its forehead
Length: 7.18 cm
Mouth: 0.51 cm
Stopper: garnet; aquamarine collar carved as a flower head

Hugh M. Moss Ltd., (Hong Kong, 1994)

Treasury 1, no. 46

This is the only tiger recorded from the broader group of white jade animal-form snuff bottles of which Sale 1, lot 19; Sale 2, lot 113; Sale 3, lot 118, and lot 59 in this sale are examples. It is likely that the animal-form was conceived early in the evolution of the snuff bottle. The long-standing tradition of small jade animal-carvings in Chinese art, as playthings, miniature sculptures, paper-weights, etc., began thousands of years before snuff was introduced to China. To adapt these well-established forms to use as snuff bottles would have been a very obvious innovation. We may expect, therefore, that some of the animal-form snuff bottles date from the earlier part of the Qing dynasty. It is currently impossible to date the Qing output of animal-form snuff bottles with any degree of accuracy, since none of them are signed or otherwise identified and their standard style was well established long before the Qing. It is possible that they could have been made as early as the Kangxi period. Extant examples, however, are probably mainly from the Qianlong period through to the latter part of the nineteenth century, simply because that was the period of the greatest snuff-bottle production and because the earliest snuff bottles have had more time to be broken or lost.

The hollowing of this tiger bottle, although excellent, is not as super-fine as on the bear, for instance, of Sale 2, lot 113. The carving is also closer to the animal-carving tradition of the past than to the core group made specifically as snuff bottles represented by the bear, although there is no question that it was conceived as a snuff bottle and is not a conversion. Even though the cutting of the bottle mouth through the details of the animal’s mouth is similar, as are the use of white jade and the high level of sculptural quality and incised fur markings, the detailing is different. The stripes on the tiger, though formalized, are more realistic than on the core group, which tends to use just a series of sparsely placed, incised lines to denote fur or hair. Here the entire tiger is covered with a series of similarly shaped double incisions to indicate irregularly-shaped stripes.

As sculpture, it is as finely conceived and carved. The head of the animal is exaggerated in size, standard in the long-standing tradition, resulting in a rather friendly and unthreatening-looking beast, although this is offset to some extent by the alert, tense pose.

The character wang (‘king’) on its forehead is standard for the depiction of tigers in Chinese art. The tiger was considered the king of the jungle, there being no lions indigenous to China to contest the title.


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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