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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 54 

Lot 54

Lot 54
Treasury 2, no. 232 (‘The Belfort Rectangular Crystal’)

Flawless crystal; with a slightly concave lip and recessed flat, rounded-rectangular foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim
Height: 6.93 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.52/1.60 and 1.54 cm (oval)
Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar

Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1980)
Belfort Collection (1986)

Snuff Bottles of the Ch’ing Dynasty, p. 131 (bottom right)
Jutheau 1980, p.46, fig. 1 and p. 111, fig. 4
Treasury 2, no. 232

Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1978
L’Arcade Chaumet, Paris, June 1982

The lapidary who made this bottle had to reconcile certain problems. The balancing of a cylindrical neck with a rectangular body was one, and the shape of hollowing another.

The first problem was solved by superimposing the cylinder of the neck on the rectangular body with only the slightest softening of the join as the one blends into the other. The diameter of the neck is only slightly less than the width of the narrow-side profile, allowing the rectangular shape to be extended visually into the neck from this view, creating a single unit set on a narrower foot while the main view reads as two elements set on a narrower foot, the rectangle of the body and the cylinder of the neck.

With a transparent material, where the inside profile is clearly visible, the shape of interior hollowing becomes an important aspect of the art. The hollowing of the interior here is not rectangular to match the outer profile, but curved. This is at once a practical solution and aesthetically a nice balancing act. It allows for one further form to be introduced, the inverted-funnel shape of the interior shoulders, which pick up the cylindrical form of the neck and blend it into the rectangular body. From the main-side view, the inner shoulders are sloping, to pick up the slope of the outer shoulders, but a more intriguing formal game has been played with the tapering of the inner form. From the main side the inner taper matches the outer exactly, while from the narrow-side view the hollowing tapers towards the foot in the opposite direction and is more distinctly rounded at the base, giving the impression of a bubble within a rectangular form.

The tapering of the main form towards the neck is an intriguing formal element, and without callipers virtually invisible, which raises the question of why it was done. It is done so evenly and with such accuracy that it can only have been intentional. Snuff bottles would usually have been seen below the viewer’s eye level, particularly if set down on a table. When the viewer looks down on this form, the base recedes away from the eye, cancelling out the slight taper in the other direction, thus making the form appear strictly rectangular.

We have left an extended date range on this example, since it was a relatively popular form for early Ye Zhongsan inside-painted snuff bottles at the turn of the last century, and we have no way of knowing whether he used new or old 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.


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