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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1045 

Lot 1045
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Lot 1045
Treasury 2, no. 334 (‘The Palace Buddhist Emblems Crystal’)
HK$275,000

Flawless crystal; extremely well hollowed; with a concave lip and concave foot surrounded by a narrow rounded foot rim; carved in low relief with the Eight Buddhist Emblems, four on each side
Probably imperial, probably palace workshops, Beijing, 1736–1830
Height: 5.9 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.75/2.29 cm
Stopper: coral, carved with a chi dragon; glass collar

Provenance:
Robert Hall (1987)

Published:
Hall 1987, no. 24
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 201
Treasury 2, no. 334

Exhibited:
Robert Hall, London, October 1987
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–January 1995

Another of the impeccable masterpieces of crystal carving decorated with auspicious symbolism of a type common at court, this bottle can be judged to have been made for the court for the same reasons that we proposed for Sale 5, lot 39. In this case, however, we have a more pressing reason to believe that it is not only imperial, but probably carved at the palace workshops.

One of our most valuable clues in identifying works from the palace workshops is the stylistic cross-reference between known palace arts and their less well identified equivalents. When one finds imperial glass wares carved with the same subjects and in the same style as jade or other hardstone bottles, we are alerted to a likely imperial source for the latter, for at the palace workshops artistic teams would have applied their skills to a range of materials more routinely than they would in private workshops, which apparently tended to specialize to a greater extent. A jade carver would also turn his hand to carving other hardstones and to glass, all of which were similarly worked by the lapidary method.
There is a series of glass snuff bottles of the well-established palace octagonal form and decorated with fish and lotus as the main design, with the other six Buddhist emblems decorating the six smaller facets (excluding the foot and, of course, the neck). One is in this collection (Sale 5, lot 23), another in the Friedman Collection (Friedman 1990, no. 13) and a third in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 355). Others are also known, all in a pale ruby or pink glass except one in the Natural History Museum in Chicago that is in yellow glass. The flat, low relief style of all of these is very similar to that on this bottle, and the subject matter is the same, although the glass examples take two of the formalized symbols shown here and use them as more realistic decoration for the two main sides. It is not difficult, indeed, to imagine this bottle as being made of clear glass, in which case a palace attribution would certainly suggest itself.

A further imperial connection for this example is found through one in the Victoria and Albert Museum (White 1990, Pl. 43, no. 2). Of identical shape and similar low relief style and surely from the same workshop, it is decorated with a formalized floral design derived from Mughal jades, for which the Qianlong emperor developed a considerable taste sometime after 1756 (see Sale 5, lot 74 and Sale 7, lot 120).

The Eight Buddhist Emblems are auspicious signs thought to appear in the footprints of the Buddha. They are the wheel of the Law, the conch shell, umbrella, canopy, lotus, jar, fish, and mystic or eternal knot. Here a brace of fish appears, which also symbolizes the joys of union. This subject is common decoration on gifts to the bride’s family at betrothals.

Flawless crystal was undoubtedly available to the Chinese from their own indigenous sources but possibly not in large pieces, but crystal is one of the materials mined in Turkestan, annexed to the Qing empire in 1759; and it is likely that ample supplies of larger pieces of pure crystal were available from then until several decades in the nineteenth century when the establishment of independent Islamic regimes in the region led to interruptions in trade. There is a series of large vessels of relatively flawless crystal that are stylistically appropriate for the mid-Qing period which probably owe their existence to this source, and it is possible that this influx of raw material in many stones other than the well recorded nephrite tributes was responsible for a great deal of the imperial hardstone carving that flourished from the second half of the Qianlong period into the first half of the nineteenth century.


 

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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