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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1100 

Lot 1100
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Lot 1100
Treasury 3, no. 387 (‘Zhuxuan’s Ancient Coins ‘)
HK$43,750

Marble; reasonably well hollowed; with a flat lip and recessed, slightly concave foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim with rounded edges; carved in low relief on one side with two overlapped ancient coins, the upper one inscribed wushi 五十 (‘fifty’) and the lower one wuzhu 五銖 (‘five zhu’), accompanied by a clerical-script inscription, Qian neng tong shen 錢能通神 (‘Money can get through to the gods’), and incised on the other main side with two lines in regular script, Xuehou xun mei; shuang qian fang ju 雪後尋梅,霜前訪菊 (‘Search for plum blossom after the snowfall; seek the chrysanthemum before the onset of frost’), followed by Zhuxuan zuo 竹軒作 (‘Made by Zhxuan’)
1750–1880
Height: 6.25 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.53/1.69 cm
Stopper: stained crystal; gilt-bronze collar chased with a formalized floral design and inset with seed pearls

Provenance:
Trojan Collection
Robert Hall (1993)

Published:
Hall 1992, no. 34
Treasury 3, no. 387

This material is typical of one of the commonest forms of marble worldwide. It is both soft and fragile, so the relatively few marble snuff bottles of any great age that are known must represent a much larger original output that has mostly perished. This bottle has some minor chips around the foot rim, and the surface is well worn and scratched through use, a common enough problem with early bottles in fragile materials.

Because marble is one of the softer stones, with a hardness ranging around 3 on the Mohs scale (varying with impurities), it can be cut easily and marked without difficulty even with a pin, so the scholar class could work it directly without any unseemly industrial effort. It is interesting to note, however, that it was not much used for seals, nor are the majority of marble bottles inscribed or decorated by scholars. Something about the material apparently did not regularly attract the scholar class to incorporate it into their usual range of valued materials. This bottle is a rare exception, although it must be pointed out that ‘So-and-so zuo’ is highly ambiguous as to whether a craftsman or a patron is designated; the signature on this bottle could belong to either one.

The sobriquet Zhuxuan, which means ‘Bamboo pavilion’, does not help us decide the question. It was much more common as a name in the Qing dynasty than we thought in 1998, when volume 3 of A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles was published, and without any kind of corroborating evidence to narrow the selection, we shall decline to repeat here the tentative identification of Zhuxuan we proposed then.

We can, however, retract our supposition that the two lines on the side of the bottle with the signature were composed by Zhuxuan. In fact, they are from a ‘minor piece’ (xiao pin 小品, a genre of informal prose) by a Ming writer named Tu Long 屠隆 (1542 – 1605). The designer of the bottle may have taken it from the Yongzheng emperor’s compilation of works that he had found to express the lofty and pure sentiments he valued, the Yuexin ji 悅心集 (Collection to please my mind). The emperor’s preface is dated 1726, but it must be emphasized that Tu Long’s works were undoubtedly available in other publications as well, so the emperor’s anthology offers no conclusive evidence for the date of this bottle. Tu’s piece (in the third juan of the 1726 anthology) is titled Xiaoxian qing shi 消閒清史 (A pure history of idle pursuits) and comprises eighteen short sketches of lofty pastimes; the ninth sketch begins with the two lines on this bottle.

For the five-zhu coin on the other side of the bottle, see Sale 4, lot 45.

As with most soft stones, the hollowing is not extensive here for practical reasons, the thickness of wall giving the material the strength it needs to survive.

The stopper is an unusual example of stained crystal that is the most impressive simulation of ruby we have seen in this sort of material, more commonly used to imitate tourmaline.

 

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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