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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 3 

Lot 3

Lot 3
Treasury6, no. 1153 (‘Stoned Bat’)

Black, brown, and gold enamel on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a flat lip and naturalistic concave foot; the compressed double-gourd form moulded in relief with branches, tendrils, fruit, and a bat and painted to simulate limestone conglomerate; the base inscribed in gold seal script Qianlong nian zhi (‘Made during the Qianlong period’); the lip painted in gold enamel; the interior covered with a colourless glaze; the base with four spur-marks
Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 1740–1775
Height: 6.16 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.70/1.27 cm
Stopper: mother-of-pearl; glass collar

John Ault

Treasury 6, no. 1153

We are willing to bet that no other example of this design will ever be found. It is obviously a rare moulded-porcelain bottle that misfired, prompting the decision to salvage it by turning it into an imitation of another material. When enamelling, a ceramic form must first be fired either with or without glaze. Enamels can then be added either to the biscuit (unglazed ceramic body) or to the glaze covering it. The initial firing requires a higher temperature and far longer kiln-time than for the firing of added enamels. It involves stacking the large kiln, bringing the temperature up to the necessary level to fire the wares successfully, and then allowing a gradual cooling so as not to damage the fired wares. Enamelling, on the other hand, is done in a much smaller muffle kiln, and the process is faster. Enamelling often involves more than one firing in the muffle kiln, as different coloured enamels are fluxed to melt at different temperatures, and it might also be necessary to build up certain enamel effects layer by layer. Neither firing process is entirely free of danger.

The original intention here was to represent a bat in flight in front of a gourd, with the gourd’s branches in relief and tendrils and fruit growing from them. There are no recorded examples of successful bottles made from this particular mould, but the idea would have been the same as for Sale 2, lot 121, where the relatively realistic moulded design works in combination with the enamels. The original firing saw the bottle stood on an unusual four-point spur; we can see where the glaze stuck to the spur and had to be ground flat, leaving four roughened areas. This was to be expected with the use of a spur. Unexpected was the fault that occurred in the upper bulb, leaving a gap and a small lump beneath a relief branch. All this could probably have been disguised by the enamelling, but the blank form must have looked flawed enough to prompt a unique alternative solution, resulting in the earliest known imitation of puddingstone in a porcelain snuff bottle. The jumbled and confused pattern of the natural limestone conglomerate that inspired the eventual design was obviously chosen because it would disguise the firing-flaws and spur marks. This is a role the change of design achieved with some success, since it was only the anomalous combination of puddingstone and the fruit form that prompted the closer examination that revealed the flaws and the reason for the anomaly. The change of design was obviously considered rather successful, since the director of the imperial kilns decided to proceed with a reign mark in gold enamel, implying presentation to the emperor.

The imitation in porcelain of other materials was in itself not new. It seems to have begun in the Yongzheng reign at Jingdezhen, and Tang Ying, who was director of the imperial kilns during the early decades of the Qianlong reign, can be associated with just such a puddingstone ground on a strangely shaped brushpot in the Beijing Art Museum, suggesting that he may have had something to do with this bottle. If it can be confidently dated to the early part of the reign, before 1756, then his involvement becomes likely. In support of such a dating, the original design concept is clearly related to the famous series of double gourds represented by Sale 2, lot 121. It is also glazed on the inside, as were all of the bottles we have been able to associate with Tang Ying’s supervision so far.

The spur-marks are an unusual feature of this bottle. If you put a glazed surface down in a sagger (the container in which refined wares are enclosed for firing) the glaze will stick to the sagger and leave an unsightly mark when broken free. This is not a problem with ceramics with an unglazed footrim or other unglazed area on which the bottle can rest, since biscuit porcelain does not bond to the sagger as molten glaze does. Where no such biscuit area existed, the traditional solution was to set the vessel on small cradles where only a few tiny points (spurs) actually touched the vessel, minimizing the area of compromised glaze. Spurs would have become unnecessary, of course, once unglazed interiors were standard, as a bottle could be suspended upside down on a rod if it lacked an unglazed footrim or lip.


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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