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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1062 

Lot 1062
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Lot 1062
Treasury 5, no.686 (‘Sapphire Seduction’)

Transparent, slightly streaky dark sapphire-blue glass sparsely suffused with air bubbles of various sizes, including some quite large and some elongated; with a flat lip and flat foot
Height: 7.1 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.52/1.20 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Robert Kleiner (1996)

Sin, Hui, and Kwong 1996, no.1
Treasury 5, no.686

Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, October 1996

Sapphire-blue glass was among the earlier colours produced by the imperial glassworks after 1696. A famous and oft-quoted passage by Wang Shizhen 王士禎 (1634 – 1711) from a collection of jottings he made after returning to the capital at the beginning of 1703 lists only the colours ‘red, purple, yellow, white, black, and green’, but those are surely general rubrics under which more specific hues could be given, for the archival records of the Yongzheng era that began two decades later contain twenty-nine colour terms (not counting overlay and other combinations). It may be that sapphire blue belonged under the general rubric of ‘purple’ (zi 紫) in Wang’s thinking. We cannot be sure that Wang Shizhen saw colours the same way his contemporaries did (blues and greens are perceived differently and named differently by different people and in different lighting conditions), let alone the way we see and name them today.

Sun Tingquan 孫廷銓 (1613 – 1674), in his Boli zhi 玻璃志 (Records on Glass) speaks (in rhyme) of a bead curtains made at Boshan 博山in the early Qing period from ‘crystal’ (clear glass) mixed with Moslem blue (huiqing 回青; Xia 1995, p. 24). Moslem blue almost certainly refers to sapphire-blue glass, since it is the term used also in ceramic manufacture for the imported cobalt that provided the richest colour for underglaze-blue. It is of a colour range similar to that of sapphire-blue glass, although this particular example is of unusually dark and intense colour. It is probable that cobalt, whether imported or native to China, was a colouring agent in at least some sapphire-blue glass.

With this distinctive colour, the dating indication provided by the absence of crizzling might suggest it was manufactured after about 1730. Many of the transparent colours produced by the palace glassworks in its early phase of production appear to have been prone to crizzling. Two known sapphire-blue glass snuff bottles datable to the early years of these workshops are extensively crizzled (lot 1041 in the present auction , and the one with a credible Kangxi reign mark in a private Canadian Collection, Curtis 1994, p. 97, fig. 2). This dating clue should be used with some caution, however. Although the vast majority of extensively crizzled glass can be attributed to the imperial glassworks from the Kangxi into the early Qianlong period, there are also enamelled glass pieces on crizzled clear glass that can be dated to the 1760s or later (see for instance The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle, no. 192). In the Bloch Collection, Sale 6, lot 155 can be confidently dated to around 1780, while Sale 2, lot 84 may be two or even three decades later. There is some evidence that imported glass was stored for future use once it had been successfully copied at the imperial glassworks, although we have no way of knowing for how long. It is possible that crizzled imperial glass bottles from the Qianlong era or later might have been made from earlier glass batches. Another problem is presented by the fact that although a great deal of glass of susceptible colours from the Kangxi and Yongzheng periods was crizzled, this cannot be taken to mean that all of it was. The few pieces that are unquestionably Kangxi glass of transparent colours are crizzled, but by the Yongzheng period some are not. Whatever the case, we may be sure that the problem was not solved overnight. While crizzling can manifest quite soon after production, some time may elapse before the improper mix is discovered, so the makers might not have known which batch was suspect. It is possible that from the late Kangxi period onwards, and certainly during the Yongzheng reign, some production in the more susceptible colours would have been free of crizzling.

None of this provides great assistance in the accurate dating of this bottle, a process no easier in this case than in that of most other plain glass examples. The form is supremely elegant but suggests no particular period, although the eighteenth century seems the most likely. It has evidently been much used, and its surface was severely abraded and covered with myriad random scratches until it was recently re-polished. Fortunately, the re-polishing has not been sufficiently severe to obliterate all traces of this natural patina, which is still visible without being obtrusive. Re-polishing, common practice with glass bottles so prone to abrasion, does nothing to diminish their appeal. It is a process akin to cleaning and re-varnishing an old painting, returning it as closely as possible to the condition in would have been viewed by its original audience. The sole problem with this otherwise beneficial process lies in the fact that if all signs of ancient use are obliterated, there is a danger, particularly with plain bottles, that suspicion of recent manufacture arises. Where there are no decorative features other than the basic material and form by which to judge age, the complete removal of any patina can be detrimental.

The fact that this elegant form was blown is demonstrated by the elongated bubbles radiating from the neck. As in the majority of cases, the exterior has been detailed and polished by the lapidary, although the inside retains its natural fire-polish. This is not a difficult shape for an experienced glassblower to manipulate freely on the blow-iron, and in all probability this is how it was made.


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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