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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 30 

Lot 30

Lot 30
Treasury 3, no. 415 (‘Awaiting the Emperor’s Brush’)

Lapis lazuli; reasonably well hollowed, with a concave lip and concave foot surrounded by a narrow flat foot rim
Possibly imperial, 1770–1840
Height: 6.8 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.46/2.20 cm
Stopper: ivory, reticulated and carved with a formalized floral design surrounding a central flower head; plastic collar

Kaynes-Klitz Collection
Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 16 November 1989, lot 226

Treasury 3, no. 415

There is a broad group of nephrite bottles incised with floral poems by the Qianlong emperor to accompany a carving of the appropriate flower. Lot 51 in the present auction is one example. They are characteristically flattened, of high shoulder form tapering towards the foot to resemble the shape of a Norman shield, and several have these panelled main sides to frame the inscription. An example of this group in lapis is illustrated by Jutheau 1980, p. 116, no. 2; it is of the brilliantly coloured type known to have been the mid-Qing imperial standard (see Sale 3, lot 36). There are also others of this shape in nephrite that do not have any decoration, and even though the shape is pleasant enough in its own right, it seems so obviously conceived to frame something that there is an inevitable sense of an empty frame about them, specially once we are familiar with the range of imperial-poem bottles.

The shape is also found in imperial enamelled porcelain bottles of the late Qianlong and the Jiaqing, sometimes with this physical definition of the frame, sometimes with the frame painted in as formalized borders. Many of these also have flower and poem subjects, and the imperial collection is well stocked with entire sets of them. (See Chang Lin-sheng 1991, p. 117, nos. 79 and 80 for twenty bottles imitating turquoise where a twin-happiness character is framed by a similar method of depressing the edges of the panel, and p. 123, no. 87; p. 125, no. 89; p. 126, no. 90; p. 128, no. 92 and p. 129, no. 93 for sets where the frame is painted). This bottle and its nephrite equivalents appear to be blanks awaiting the inscription of imperial poems. If that is not the case, then what we have is an undecorated variety inspired by those where a frame of this sort actually framed something.

Formally this is a mid-Qing shape, as proven by the many porcelain equivalents, and it may well be a mid-Qing bottle, although a date into the first half of the nineteenth century is not at all unlikely, since the interior hollowing is distinctly fan shaped and rather roughly finished up into the shoulders. On the other hand, with eight possible workshops producing imperial snuff bottles after the early 1760s, it might represent a local decline in standards.

The colour here is not as vibrant and impressive as Sale 3, lot 36. This is of the type of stone with a good deal more of the paler markings, and rather large patches of dullish pyrites.


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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