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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1075 

Lot 1075
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Lot 1075
Treasury 2, no. 354 (‘The Claar Imperial Command Chalcedony’)
HK$750,000

Chalcedony; very well hollowed; with a flat lip and recessed circular foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim; carved with a continuous design of two pairs of adorsed chi dragons laid out in a formalized pattern, the tails of each pair linked to those of the other and tied like a floral spray, the design bordered at top and bottom by raised bands, with formalized lotus petals at the foot, formalized lingzhi heads at the shoulders and pendant leaf lappets at the neck, the foot incised in regular script Qianlong yuzhi 乾隆御製 (‘Made by imperial command of the Qianlong emperor’)
Imperial, palace workshops, Beijing, 1760–1799
Height: 5.88 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.57/1.57 cm
Stopper: tourmaline with integral finial

Provenance:
Claar Collection
Parke-Bernet, New York, 2 December 1959, lot 103
Reif Collection
Christie’s, New York, 18 October 1993, lot 165

Published:
Kleiner 1995, no. 251
Treasury 2, no. 354

Exhibited:
British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

This is one of the series of Qianlong imperial agate bottles that we have suggested were made during the last part of the reign. They relate to other examples in glass, many of which have lobed bodies and incised poems. One bottle of identical material, similarly well made and thinly hollowed (albeit of different shape), is Sale 5, lot 77, which bears the hall name of Yongxing 永瑆 (1752 –1823), the eleventh son of the Qianlong emperor.

Their palace provenance seems confirmed, with so many typical features, including the frequent use of an upper lip rim, the excellent hollowing, the series of formalized borders inspired by palace enamelling and, of course, four-character marks. A further indication of palace production is found here in the design of the chi dragons and the manner in which they have been formalized and linked. Here they are close to formalized floral designs from the court where a common feature was to have various elements tied together with a simulated band, as a swag of flowers or leaves. These appear quite frequently on palace glass bottles, often as narrow side designs.

The hollowing, formal perfection, carving, and finishing of this bottle are all excellent, with the standard high-gloss polish of the group. The relief planes are conceived as raised flat surfaces, linking this group to other bottles probably carved at or for the court (including the lovely crystal examples, Sale 4, lot 45, and the present auction, lot 1045). The main surfaces, such as on the long bodies and tails of the beasts and on the raised bands that frame the design, are scalloped, with concave depressions. This must have been a painstaking additional process that one might think would barely repay the extra effort. In fact the difference it makes is enormous, not only in revealing the commitment involved but also in adding to the visual delight of the carving.

 

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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