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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 18 

Lot 18

Lot 18
Treasury 2, no. 346 (‘The Ten-ringed Midnight Crystal’)
HK$81,250

Crystal; very well hollowed, with a slightly concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding rounded foot rim; the narrow sides carved with mask-and-ring handles with four additional simulated rings ‘suspended’ from the standard one
Possibly imperial, 1750–1850
Height: 6.59 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.62/1.67 cm
Stopper: jadeite, hollowed out and artificially coloured from the inside; gilt-metal collar

Provenance:
Belfort Collection (1986)

Published:
Jutheau 1980, p. 110
Treasury 2, no. 346

Exhibited:
L’Arcade Chaumet, Paris, June 1982

The mask-and-ring handle was apparently more popular at court than elsewhere, appearing on a wide variety of bottles that can be associated with the court, where they were part of the Qing rulers’ adoption of the ancient culture of their Chinese subjects. They may also have become fashionable elsewhere in response to the sustained imperial appreciation of them, but it is likely that they were perhaps the exception on non-imperial bottles while standard on imperial ones. From the private Suzhou school of Zhiting, for instance, they are very much the exception to the rule.

It is also worth noting that linked rings appear to have been another feature of imperial jade carving during the eighteenth century. A very large number of jades carved at various workshops for the court during the Qianlong reign, for instance, are decorated with loose-ring handles, either attached to masks or to loops or other devices (see Zhongguo yuqi quanji 1993 for numerous examples). The court also seems to have developed, during the Qianlong period, the idea of linking these rings into chains. The idea of interlinked carvings existed as early as the Zhou dynasty, but to create long chains, attaching, for example, a cover to a vessel, became popular during the Qianlong period and continued through the Qing dynasty into the modern period as a demonstration of technical skill. This idea of multiple rings would have been unlikely to occur to anyone before the real, loose-linked chains evolved as a popular motif, so we may expect this bottle to have been made no earlier than the second half of the Qianlong period, which would also be the sort of time we would expect to find many clever new ideas applied to the art of the snuff bottle in order to keep the interest of a wealthy elite.

The style of the mask handles here accords with known imperial style, although, like the rings themselves, the detailing has become more elaborate than on, say, Sale 1, lot 53. The carving of the bright and lively dark crystal, its hollowing, and the detailing of neck and foot would all allow an imperial provenance from the second half of the eighteenth century or the first half of the nineteenth. It is worth noting that it has the same superbly recessed, completely flat foot discussed under Sale 6, lot 189, for instance, which is on the better finished examples of bottles apparently made for the official class.

 

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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