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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1033 

Lot 1033
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Lot 1033
Treasury 7, no. 1573 (‘Formal Counterpoint’)

Flawless transparent orange-brown amber with extensive crizzling both inside and out; with a slightly concave inner lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding broad, flat foot rim with a rounded-rectangular inner profile and rectangular outer profile
Height: 5.67 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.49/1.52 cm
Stopper: turquoise; gilt-silver collar

Zhirou zhai Collection
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1993)

Treasury 7, no. 1573

As with other valued and attractive substances in the snuff-bottle world, there was a temptation to leave high-quality amber undecorated. Amber was a precious substance to the Chinese, worked extensively at court and, no doubt, at private workshops around the empire as well. Flawless amber in pieces large enough to produce a snuff bottle were obviously in short supply, and flawless amber of uniform and exciting colour even more so. This piece of material is flawless, but as with so much ancient amber, the surface has responded to continual changes in temperature and humidity over the years and is covered with a network of fine crackling. This is accepted by snuff-bottle collectors and valued as an indication of age, particularly since, while it changes the surface slightly, it does nothing to impair the purity or colour of the material. It is one of those effects, like the smoothing and colouring of old, well-handled ivory, that is greatly appreciated for its naturalness and adds not only a physical patina but a psychological one as well.

This bottle’s form is intriguing. Its unusual rectangular shape may have been dictated by the area of flawless material available in a larger piece, but it may have been a purely aesthetic choice. The interior hollowing shows how much attention the artist gave to the aesthetics of form. Amber is not particularly difficult to hollow, and the formal perfection of the hollowing indicates that it was done by a craftsman who could very easily have followed the exterior form precisely into the shoulders as well, had he wanted to. Instead, he has created sloping, bell-shaped shoulders on the inside, offsetting the rectangular outer shoulders with an intriguing formal counterpoint. As a rule, two integrated contours that differ are often more intriguing than two that are the same, because of the additional formal complexity introduced.



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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