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

Lot 24

Lot 24
Treasury 2, no. 274 (‘The Caterpillar and Cockatoo Agate ‘)

Agate; well hollowed, with a concave lip and flat foot; the natural markings in the stone edited on one main side to form a silhouette design of a duck and left entirely natural on the other to form a scene of a parrot on a branch looking at a caterpillar
Height: 6.2 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.74/2.18 and 2.05 cm (oval)
Stopper: coral; gilt-bronze collar, reticulated and chased with the Eight Buddhist Emblems

Gerd Lester (1986)

Antiques World, September 1980, p. 66
Kleiner 1987, no. 161
Treasury 2, no. 274

Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993

The design in this bottle, as in so many of the type, has been taken from a flat sheet of darker colouring in the chalcedony, part of which suggested the design but much of which has been edited at the surface to refine it. This allows the carver a certain amount of flexibility in what he chooses to depict. It is perhaps the commonest combination in the field, blending silhouette work (with significant editing) and shadow work (with minimal editing).

The duck here is a powerful image controlled to a considerable extent by surface editing, apparent from the side view, where the area of the duck is quite irregular in order to maximise the dark but thin plane of colour. On the other side of this bottle the design of a parrot on a branch, curled around his perch, waiting for his caterpillar lunch to arch a little closer, is quite natural and does not disturb the surface integrity of the bottle at all.

The stopper here is again a little overpowering by modern standards, but is an impressive early example. Coral was highly valued as jewellery in Mongolia, and there was apparently a local preference for oversized coral stoppers, sometimes to the point of being as much as a quarter to a third of the height of the bottle, usually set in metal collars, and looking like stovepipe hats. Such stoppers obviously took on greater importance as independent statements in a culture that valued coral so highly. The taller ones look rather foolish by the aesthetic standards of today’s collectors, but at the time the size of the coral would have been a status symbol in itself and viewed quite differently. To this day in Beijing, most dealers prefer to match their finer bottles with these exaggeratedly tall coral stoppers. By the standards of a serious Mongolian stopper, mind you, this one is decidedly understated.


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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