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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1043 

Lot 1043
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Lot 1043
Treasury 2, no. 261(‘The Courtly Taotie Agate’)

Agate; very well hollowed; with a concave lip and flat oval foot
Official School, probably palace workshops, Beijing, 1730–1830
Height: 5.92 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.64/1.78 and 1.63 cm (oval)
Stopper: carnelian; silver collar

Chinese Porcelain Company, New York (1992)
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1993)

Chinese Porcelain Company 1992a, no. 46
Kleiner 1995, no. 267
Treasury 2, no. 261

Chinese Porcelain Company, New York, 1–23 December, 1992
British Museum, London, June–October 1995

Based on similarly shaped snuff bottles with credible reign marks, we can be certain that this form was associated with the palace workshops of the Qianlong era and perhaps earlier and later periods, as well. The shape is defined by a heavily compressed, sometimes almost flattened pear shape, which sits either on a flat or recessed oval foot and has its formal weight concentrated in the lower part of the body.

Wherever this example was made (we cannot exclude non-palace workshops), it is a spectacular example of the qualities of agate imaginatively incorporated in a superbly controlled and very well hollowed form. The design is entirely natural in the material and has simply been disposed appropriately by cutting the material to place the subject on one main side of the bottle. We see a taotie mask there, but that is not the only possible interpretation.

At first glance, the shortness of the neck in comparison with the standard version of this form might suggest that a chip has been removed by reducing its height. A common way to deal with chips in the outer neck or lip is to reduce either the diameter or the height of the neck, but this can be extremely difficult to detect. With snuff bottles, where the number of possible variations on a given shape is theoretically limitless, it is often difficult to judge whether or not a bottle has been adjusted formally. Just because some examples of a particular form have a neck of a certain height does not necessarily mean that this is an inviolate standard.

In fact, evidence that there has not been any re-carving of the neck here is offered by the neatly carved concave lip. As a rule, if a chip has to be removed by reducing the height of the neck, it is far easier to do so leaving a flat lip, even if the original was concave. Until very recently, when concave lips have been noticed and valued, it would hardly have occurred to a restorer to go to the extra trouble of reforming the concavity of the lip. Moreover, if the repair were done recently, there would be no signs of wear on the lip itself, whereas here there are. The lip is covered with convincing wear consisting of random scratches, particularly on the tiny rim, which actually makes contact with the stopper. All of these tell-tale signs would have been removed had it been re-carved in recent years.


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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