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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1006 

Lot 1006
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Lot 1006
Treasury 5, no.864 (‘A Jesuit in the Works’)

Colourless glass, lightly crizzled; with a rounded lip and recessed, slightly convex foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim with a bevelled outer foot rim; the upper bulb engraved with two bands of joined fylfots enclosed between single line borders, the lower bulb with a central band of floral decoration flanked by two further bands of fylfots
Imperial glassworks, Beijing, 1696-1750
Height: 6.22 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.67/1.09 cm
Stopper: glass with integral finial and collar

Robert Kleiner (1998)
Clatworthy Collection (1999)
Robert Hall (1999)
Hugh M. Moss Ltd., Hong Kong (1999)

Treasury 5, no.864

This example is a rare bottle we can confidently date to the early phase of glassmaking at the court. The bottle is lightly crizzled, whereas very early colourless glass attributable to the court is usually heavily crizzled - including the only known colourless glass piece with a Kangxi reign mark (Yang 1987, p. 79, fig. 1). The same should not be assumed of all colourless glass, however, for there must also have been some improvement between 1696 and the end of the Kangxi reign, a period of a quarter of a century. Here, the crizzling is not immediately obvious, but is seen throughout the inside surfaces and may also extend to the outside; extensive natural wear from centuries of use makes this difficult to judge. Also indicating an early date is the decoration, which does not seem to be by a Chinese hand and might have been executed by a European at the imperial glassworks, perhaps even the illustrious Kilian Stumpf himself, who was known to have been skilled in this art. In 1720 Ignatius Kögler wrote of Stumpf that he could colour and shape glass, and that he exercised his ‘cutting art in engraving and polishing on the turning disk’ (Curtis 1991, p. 130). Although the motifs of a fylfot and a floral scroll are both typically Chinese, their style is not; the fylfots are not formalized into any of the usual Chinese schemes for such symbols but are rather strangely joined, alternately at the top and the bottom, with an additional and rather inelegant short line. Nor would a Chinese artist typically cover the upper bulb with two borders of these fylfots, one above the other. Such borders were commonly used as neck and base bands but not, as a rule, as the main decoration. The artist here has simply doubled up the usual neck band style, which again looks awkward for a Chinese design. The band of formalized floral scroll round the lower bulb is obviously not rendered by an artist steeped in a culture that has employed scrolls for decorative purposes over centuries. The flowers here are not continuous, as they would be in a Chinese version, but are introduced from either the top or bottom of the band in a repetitive and rather clumsy design.

Rare in that it can be tentatively attributed to the European Jesuits working at the palace workshops in its earliest years, this is also among the very few snuff-bottles that can be reasonably attributed to the Kangxi period. An obviously closely related bottle is found in the Emily Byrne Curtis Collection (JICSBS, Summer 1991, front cover). We find another related colourless glass dish with strangely un-Chinese looking decoration in the Shorenstein Collection (Asian Art Museum of San Francisco 1995, p. 46, no. 20 and Brown and Rabiner 1990, no. 10, where no. 11 is a pair of similarly decorated small cups). Note there, for instance, the dispersal of grapes on the vine, quite unlike those depicted in the Chinese tradition, as well as the stiffness and linear awkwardness of the main vine, once again surely not the handiwork of a representative of a culture that had been communicating in the esoteric language of line for millennia.


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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