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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 65 

Lot 65

Lot 65
Treasury 2, no. 262 (‘The Trojan High Gorge Agate’)

Agate; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed, slightly convex foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim
Height: 6.32 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.75/2.30 cm
Stopper: carnelian; silver collar

Trojan Collection
Robert Hall (1993)

Hall 1992, no. 42
Kleiner 1995, no. 405
Treasury 2, no. 262

British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

This is one of the great undecorated agate bottles, in a class both technically and artistically with the famous example that was on the poster for the Hong Kong Museum exhibition of 1977 (see Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 116) and a small handful of other agate masterpieces where an extraordinary natural material has been carved by a lapidary with both total technical mastery and the good taste to allow the material to speak for itself (Sale 1, lot 80, Sale 7, lot 78, Sale 8, lot 1043, and lot 120 in the present auction). While one is tempted to wonder whether this delightful piece of stone could have become even greater with some masterful additional surface carving, there is an equal sense of relief that nothing of the sort was attempted.

Formally the bottle fits into the broad and common group of bottles that are manipulated spheres. As such, apart from the technical perfection of its achievement, it is not outstanding, and the only hint of formal genius beyond faultlessly creating a standard form is in the profile of the neck. It is very slightly tapered towards the lip, a way of reducing the solidity of the simple cylindrical neck and harmonizing its impact on the gentle curves of a continuously rounded form. There is barely half a millimetre difference between the radius of the top and bottom of the neck. Visually, however, it makes a far greater impact. It is quite an unusual feature on a bottle of this shape, and the reason for it seems to be to balance the markings in the stone. On both sides, the pattern of agate sweeps downwards and outwards, or conversely, tapers towards the neck. By tapering the neck, the lapidary accentuates this momentum, adding greater power to both design and form, seeming to gather the energy of the lines at the neck, as a purse with ties is gathered at the neck. This device also lightens the impact of the stopper, which can be smaller than otherwise.

This is another of the great ink-play agates without any surface editing. A number of different representational interpretations are possible, as with so many plain agates with natural markings.


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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