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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1061 

Lot 1061
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Lot 1061
Treasury 2, no. 200 (‘The Icy River-bank Quartz’)

Quartz (dendritic chalcedony and crystal); well hollowed; with a flat lip and recessed, slightly uneven flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim
Probably Official School, 1750–1880
Height: 6 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.81/2.44 cm
Stopper: coral, carved with a chi dragon; inlaid jadeite finial.

Hugh M. Moss Ltd.
Robert Hall (1984)

JICSBS,Autumn 1997, p. 6
Treasury 2, no. 200

Musée de la Miniature, Montelimar, 2000

This type of chalcedony, with variegated brown, sometimes almost black markings in a grey-beige or pale brown matrix, is one of the standards for the snuff-bottle maker that seems to have remained popular throughout the Qing dynasty. For whatever reason, however, it was extremely rare in works of art prior to the invention of the snuff bottle at some time in the seventeenth century.

The appeal of this sort of stone is obvious, with its endlessly intriguing markings allowing powerful and evocative representational subjects. There is one area that is quite obviously crystalline, suggesting that this piece of chalcedony formed in association with crystal and that perhaps this area of the stone may originally have been attached to relatively large crystals of colourless quartz.

As with so many chalcedony bottles where natural markings in the material are the main subject and the editing of them by the human hand merely a means to reveal them at their most powerful, the formal integrity of this example is necessarily flawed. It is not perfectly symmetrical, the surface having been cut through unevenly on one side to bring out the markings to their best advantage. Parts of the dendritic markings are slightly diffused beneath a thicker layer of slightly milky chalcedony, leaving it indistinct (although back lighting helps to overcome this). It may have been left that way as a foil to the foreground diagonal line of dark, dendritic markings, which seems to float closer to the viewer.

Although there is something magical about a perfect natural design that has been brought out to maximum advantage without compromising formal integrity, such as Sale 1, lot 82; Sale 4, lot 95; Sale 6, lots 126 and 164, and lot 1097 in this auction, in practice this is seldom realisable, and many of the most exciting of naturally marked chalcedony bottles of this group are formally compromised to some extent. But while the carver of this bottle might have preferred to present his subject in a more symmetrical shape, faced with the inevitability of an irregular one, he has arrived at a very positive use of the irregularity in order to make it an asset rather than a liability. The bulge visible in the side views, accentuated by the sharp angle at which the crystal area of the stone is cut back to the foot rim, gives the bottle considerable character. When seen from the side with the diagonal yellow-brown inclusions in the stone, this dynamic profile is further accented by those inclusions.


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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