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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 6 

Lot 6

Lot 6
Treasury 2, no. 321 (‘The Ink-play Master’s Buddhist Lion’)

Dendritic agate; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; the natural markings on one main side edited to create a design of a Buddhist lion, the other side carved with a partly cameo continuation of the subject, with a beribboned brocade ball and a rocky outcrop, the narrow sides with mask-and-ring handles
The Cameo Ink-play Master, possibly imperial, possibly palace workshops, Official School, 1770–1860
Height: 5.44 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.70/1.85 and 1.77 cm (oval)
Stopper: malachite; silver collar

Arthur Gadsby
Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 2 May 1991, lot 94

Hong Kong 1977, no. 192
JICSBS, Autumn 1997, p. 11
Treasury 2, no. 321

Hong Kong Museum of Art, October–November 1977

This extraordinary bottle is another pillar of the reputation of the mysterious Cameo Ink-play Master. It is identifiable as his not only by the high gloss and delightful, wholly untrammelled interpretation of the inherently fascinating material, but by the rockwork style. This distinctive style of carving rocks, similar to the Suzhou serrated line, but broader and in a grander, in a more stylized manner, appears on at least three other of his works: Treasury 2, no. 322; Sale 4, lot 11; and China Guardian, Beijing, 21 October 1996, lot 1932. His unctuous rock style combined with the high gloss gives the impression that the rocks are beginning to melt and will, given a few degrees more, collapse into a puddle of liquid silica.

Another feature of his works is also very evident here. It is the use of every nuance of colour to extraordinary effect, equalled only by the Zhiting school at Suzhou. The rocks are obviously not a necessary part of the subject here, since it is self-sufficient with the Buddhist lion and the brocade-ball. They are there because every bit of colour demanded interpretation, and the markings in the stone were ideally suited to a rocky outcrop.

The other detail on the rocky side is a brocade ball, again beautifully rounded and superbly carved to make use of every nuance of colour to the utmost effect. This identifies the subject of the main side beyond doubt as a Buddhist lion. The beast itself represents inspired use of the natural material, which, although on a microscopic scale, qualifies as dendritic. The single darker inclusion has been taken as the animal’s eye, while the entire body is dappled with exquisite and complex agate markings. Under a magnifying lens the markings come alive as a spectacular dance. The carver has left the main beast almost entirely in silhouette, using the design inherent in the material, but has carved undulations into the stone across the body, providing a sense of musculature that gives it an enormously realistic quality for so abstract a rendering.

The mask-and-ring handles on the present example are typical of one imperial standard. Buddhist lions playing with brocade balls appear to have been a popular imperial subject of the mid-Qing period, even if not exclusively so (see discussion under no. 354, Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993 where they appear on an apparently imperial realgar glass bottle). They also appear as one of the principal subjects on imperial moulded and other porcelain snuff bottles of the late-Qianlong and Jiaqing periods. There is even a distinct lip to the outer neckrim on this bottle, which is also a palace feature on hardstone snuff bottles.


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.


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1676&exhibition=12&ee_lang=eng


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