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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 130 

Lot 130

Lot 130
Treasury7, no. 1615 (‘Imperial Dragon’)
HK$25,000

Bronze; with a flat lip and protruding flared, flat foot, the inner neck with a clockwise screw thread; carved with a continuous design of a five-clawed imperial dragon, its body stamped to indicate scales, amidst formalized clouds, spewing forth a stream of vaporous liquid containing a flaming pearl
1800 –1920
Height: 7.75 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.70/1.33 cm
Stopper: bronze, with integral collar, screw-threaded cork and spoon; original

Provenance:
Unidentified dealer, Beijing (1924)
Ko Collection
Christie’s, London, 9 October 1974, lot 176
Drouot, Paris (Etude Jutheau) 13 October 1995, lot 183
Robert Hall (1995)

Published:
Treasury 7, no. 1615

Although this bottle is much heavier, with more substantial walls, the construction method here is the same as for the Cheng Rongzhang group (see under Sale 5, lot 69), with two halves made separately and soldered together at the narrow sides. Although it differs from the Cheng Rongzhang group in being carved as much as engraved, with deep oblique lines and some cutting away of the surface to give the impression of relief around the clouds, there is also an obvious connection between this bottle and the Cheng Rongzhang group in the decoration and style. It is decorated with a five-clawed imperial dragon that suggests that it was either made for the court or in the late-Qing period for a foreign collectors’ market. (Foreign collectors would have been informed early on that five-clawed dragons were reserved for the court and would have therefore coveted them all the more, prompting anyone producing bottles for them to make sure their dragons had the full imperial complement of five claws, the promise of profits overcoming any lingering fear of crimination from above.) Five-clawed beasts might also have appeared on non-imperial wares during the upheavals attendant upon the Taiping Rebellion as well, between 1851 and 1864. In some parts of central China during those years, the Qing were considered to have been overthrown, and the somewhat unhinged leader of the Taiping rebels saw himself as the legitimate ruler. Now that we can reassign the Cheng Rongzhang group to the late Qing dynasty, their imperial status loses credibility.

The original stopper with its clockwise screw thread is, unfortunately, of little help in dating. The late Schuyler Cammann, who was vehemently against an early-Qing date for the Cheng Rongzhang bottles all along, wrote in correspondence to the editors of the Journal of the International Snuff Bottle Society (JICSBS, Summer 1992, p. 30) that he recalled that some of the Shunzhi-dated bottles had screw-tops and that since these were not introduced to China until the nineteenth century, they clearly could not be from the early years of the Qing. We are not aware of any of the Shunzhi-dated bottles having screw-threaded stoppers, but we have not handled them all. However, this raises the larger issue of whether the presence of screw threads is of any help in dating. We believe this helical structure occurs in various arts throughout the Qing dynasty and therefore is of limited utility in establishing chronology. An ivory Buddha’s-hand fruit that can be tentatively identified as the one recorded in the imperial archives of 1725, has a screw thread, and it is a clockwise screw. The early ivory snuff bottle in the form of a bamboo stem from the Blucher Collection also has a screw thread (Moss 1971a, no. 134). The concept of the screw would have been introduced to China by Westerners from the seventeenth century onwards, if it had not travelled earlier via the Central Asian trade routes. With all the European gifts sent to the court in an ever increasing flood from the late Kangxi period to the late Qianlong, including scientific instruments, watches, and other mechanical devices, it is inconceivable that the court was unaware of the screw thread and its various uses. The screw may not have become common in China until the late Qing, but it is untenable to say it was unknown and unused at an earlier date.

Our contention that both clockwise and counter-clockwise screw threads occur in Chinese arts throughout the Qing dynasty is also an admission that screw threads provide absolutely no certainty about the date of this bottle. It is probably a late-Qing product, made for either the court or the foreign collectors’ market.

 

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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Hugh Moss |