Lot 56 Lot 57 Lot 58 Lot 59 Lot 60 Lot 61 Lot 62

photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 59 

Lot 59

Lot 59
Treasury 3, no. 433 (‘A Gift Fit for an Emperor’)

Coral; reasonably well hollowed into both bulbs of the double-gourd form with a natural foot; carved in relief with a severed branch of gourd vine from which grow four more double gourds, leaves, and tendrils, with a flying bat
Possibly imperial, 1750–1850
Height: 4.8 cm
Mouth: 0.46 cm
Stopper: jadeite, carved in the form of gourd-vine branches with leaves

Mr & Mrs David Borowitz
Christie’s, New York, 22 February 1982, lot 291
Gerd Lester (1986)

JICSBS, December 1981, inside back cover
Treasury 3, no. 433

We have tried to be sparing with imperial attributions with the impressive group of coral bottles in the Bloch Collection, despite a nagging belief that there is a good chance that many of them were probably made at or for the court. Coral was a standard gift to the emperor on the occasion of his birthday, and this event attracted enormous quantities of gifts from officials all over the empire. So many, in fact, that the court tried to limit the number of gifts, apparently without much success if the Guangdong provincial records of tribute are anything to go by, where the quantity of gifts increases steadily throughout the eighteenth century (seeTributes from Guangdong to the Qing Court 1987).

Here we have additional formal reasons for a tentative attribution since
fruit-form bottles were a known imperial standard in other hardstones and the double-gourd form figures prominently across the whole range of imperial arts.

The bat on this bottle seems related to the one on the lovely pear-shaped coral of Sale 1, lot 58. Although this bat is less formally composed, the detailing is identical, with thin incisions bordering the leading wing-tips and defining the folds in the wings, a simplified cross-hatching for the backbone, and the same manner of carving ears and eyes. When we are alerted to this, other similarities in style become apparent, as does the coincidence of similarly superbly controlled carving, well separated from the ground plane and wholly convincing. This in turn links this bottle to others, such as Sale 6, lot 210 and Sale 7, lot 98, introducing naturalistic forms to the group and potentially enlarging it considerably. This being the case, what we are looking at is a significant proportion of early coral bottles being made by the same workshop, or by various workshops controlled by a single source of artistic design.

The colour of this bottle is from the more brilliant, deeper end of the normal range of colours, and the bottle one of the finest of all naturalistically shaped coral snuff bottles. The stopper can only have been made for the bottle, even if it is not the original. It is of emerald-green jadeite, which is an ideal contrast for coral and continues the design. It also fits it perfectly, and its size and exuberance are not out of keeping with mid-Qing taste in stoppers. By the late-Qianlong period jadeite had been accepted as an equal to the long-valued nephrite and became one of the most sought-after of stones, so it is not unlikely that a mid-Qing bottle, perhaps from the late Qianlong period or the decades that immediately followed that reign, would combine jadeite and coral in this manner.


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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