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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1001 

Lot 1001
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Lot 1001
Treasury 1, no. 23 (‘Dragon-buckle Jade’)
HK$400,000

Nephrite of pebble material, with artificial colour; with a recessed foot and gently rounded footrim; carved in free-standing relief with a formalized chi dragon, the natural pebble skin enhanced with staining
Possibly imperial, 1740–1840
Height: 5.52 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.48/1.12 cm
Stopper: coral, carved with a chi dragon; vinyl collar

Provenance:
C.K. Liang
Robert Hall (1990)

Published:
Hall 1990, no. 20
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 46
Treasury 1, no. 23

Exhibited:
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

This unique bottle is reminiscent of a common type of belt hook that featured a chi dragon carved on the gently curving section of the hook, often standing proud of the body of the hook, to which it is connected in only five or six places. There are several examples in nephrite at the National Palace Museum in Taiwan. However, the shape of the chi dragon when seen from the front of the bottle is suggestive of the character fu 富 (good fortune), particularly in the lower part of the design, which resembles the element 田, and the top, which resembles the element 宀. Carving dragon bodies to form auspicious characters is also seen on glass snuff bottles. The configuration of the nephrite pebble and its skin must have presented an ideal opportunity for the designer of this bottle to do it in nephrite.

This is probably a bottle from the latter Qianlong period, when patrons had long since started to collect far more bottles than they needed for use, and when variety and novelty were the order of the day to catch the interest of increasingly jaded patrons.

The archaic air of the chi dragon and the possible allusion to ancient belt hooks remind us that the Qianlong emperor is well known for his love of archaism and for his instructions to his jade carvers to follow archaic patterns. A bottle of this sort, regardless of where it was made, would have been the ideal gift at court and would undoubtedly have pleased the emperor. It is also worth noting, as a further possible imperial feature, the variation on the meiping (‘prunus-blossom vase’) form (see discussion under no. 92), clearly visible in the back view.

The yellowish-russet skin of the original pebble, which can be seen in profile extending a millimetre or two into the material, has apparently been enhanced at its surface by staining. The colour is more intense in the minute cracks, which is one indication of staining and baking, although it can also occur naturally. Even though it is often difficult to distinguish natural skin from staining, particularly when they are combined, we believe that a very large quantity of nephrite for the court, during the Qianlong period in particular, was in fact stained or enhanced by staining. The number of pieces in the imperial collection and of obviously imperial manufacture elsewhere that have either extensive or token staining (sometimes on material which would otherwise be flawless) leaves us in little doubt on this point.

 

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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