Lot 88 Lot 89 Lot 90 Lot 91 Lot 92 Lot 93 Lot 94

photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 91 

Lot 91

Lot 91
Treasury 1, no. 85 (‘The Celestial Palace Meiping’)

Nephrite; well hollowed, with a recessed foot surrounded by a flat foot rim, the body slightly compressed; carved with three loops at the neck
Imperial, attributable to the palace workshops, Beijing, 1736–1799
Height: 5.12 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.7/1.1 cm
Stopper: turquoise matrix; silver collar

Hugh M. Moss Ltd (Hong Kong, 1992)

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 33
Treasury 1, no. 85

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

The material here would almost certainly have been rejected out of hand for a work of art of any merit whatsoever by anyone but the Qianlong emperor. It appears to be outspokenly dull and, by the standards of value established for nephrite over the centuries, lacking in any of the qualities that might make the material of any inherent value. The taste of the Qianlong emperor, however, with his all-encompassing passion for jade, covered the entire gamut of available nephrite and jadeite and included small pieces of grubby, apparently undistinguished jade like this. But if it was sufficiently intriguing to catch the attention of the Qianlong emperor, it should be of sufficient interest for us to examine it a little more closely.

The unusually transparent surface allows a series of stark black-and-white markings in the stone to recede visibly into it, producing a fascinating texture where the markings become more and more diffused by the depth of the material. There is also a vitality and even direction to the markings, as if a galaxy is playing out its cosmic game on a tiny scale, frozen in the material. There is even one intriguing black mark near the surface surrounded by a white halo that acts as a counterpoint to the broader sweep of white inclusions, drawing it sideways as if by its gravitational force as it implodes in the death throes of a giant star. Chinese aesthetes were used to finding cosmic measure in their works of art, and the more natural the markings, the better. A tiny rock formation mounted on a stand and set on a desk was sufficient to evoke entire mountain ranges for the scholar, allowing him to escape from his studio and wander about distant crags and valleys without breaking a sweat.

The loops at the shoulders give an unambiguous front to a form that would otherwise have none. With the three-legged ritual vessels in the great Bronze Age of China, the front is always indicated by the exact division by the front leg of the symmetry of matched features such as handles or the design. This was so common a rule over several thousand years of Chinese culture that it would have been second nature for any Chinese carver planning an arrangement of three loops. By compressing the form, making it slightly oval in cross section, and placing one handle precisely in the centre of the oval, the designer gave a very clear indication of which side is to be viewed as the front. This tiny adjustment in form is virtually invisible, and there seems little point to it without the need to designate one surface as the front. To have done this so carefully seems to imply that the arrangement of the visual markings in the stone were of considerable importance as part of the work of art. Taking this as our clue, and turning the bottle in the hand, it becomes obvious that the carver has chosen the most intriguing markings for the front of the bottle, and by placing the gravitational pull of the black spot with its halo of white up to one side, he has created a formal tension that is felt even before one analyses it.

Loops of different kinds were a popular feature on court hardstone carvings. They either acted as handles, served as cord fittings, or referred to archaic vessels or, of course, all three. Another feature of palace bottles seems to have been the habit of attaching cords, sometimes through a pair of drilled mask-and-ring handles.


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.


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=2025&exhibition=14&ee_lang=eng


Lot 88 Lot 89 Lot 90 Lot 91 Lot 92 Lot 93 Lot 94


Hugh Moss |