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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 13 

Lot 13

Lot 13
Treasury 1, no. 41 (‘Mughal Elephants’)
HK$125,000

Mottled and striated nephrite; of well hollowed, gently compressed cylindrical form with a recessed, slightly irregular foot; each of the two compressed sides of the cylindrical form set with an elephant’s head, the two heads divided by a vertical row of three raised loops
Possibly imperial, perhaps palace workshops, Beijing, 1760–1850
Height: 5.85 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.5/1.8 cm
Stopper: carnelian; gilt bronze collar with integral spoon

Provenance:
Drouot (Millon Jutheau) Paris, 1 and 2 March 1984, lot 159

Published:
Kleiner 1995, no. 103
Treasury 1, no. 41

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

Material, taste and decoration on this example all point toward possible late Qianlong imperial production of a novel form at a time when novelty was fashionable at a court jaded by a century of massive snuff-bottle production.

The only related bottle that might offer some clue as to its original provenance is illustrated in Ford 1982, no. 13, also illustrated in Stevens 1976, no. 430. Of similar material and also finished to an unusually high gloss, its bizarre double-gourd form is decorated with eight very similar elephant heads set at the corners of the four principal sides, the upper four with attached loose rings, and it has an original matching stopper with an elephant surmount and an integral collar. Loose rings are typical of courtly production, and there is little indication of their existence on other than imperial snuff bottles, or on later copies such as the popular range of Hindustan-style jades.

The stopper in matching material with an integral collar is also a typical palace feature.

A tentative palace attribution, therefore, seems sensible, although whether these two bottles come from the mid-Qing period, which was the main stylistic source of such bottles, or from later court production is not known, so we have left a fairly broad dating range. The most likely period, however, is from the mid-1760s, when the Hindustan jades began to exert their considerable influence on court production, to the beginning of the Daoguang period. The nephrite material used, with its subtly striated, slightly greenish-white colour is as distinctive as the design.

Conceptually the design is both impressive and intriguing. The slight compression of the cylinder of the basic form is over-compensated for by the extent of the projecting elephant heads, leaving the compressed sides actually standing in higher relief, which already sets up an intriguing formal tension. The placing of the well-carved elephant heads on this setting then turns that formal tension into excitement.

Each is set to one side in its frame of raised loops so that they balance each other. The trunks both curl in the same direction, to rebalance the offset heads. This clever device allows for the extended trunk of each beast to become part of the overall picture without compromising its anatomical detail or upsetting the formal balance of each side. It also creates a far more interesting form as seen from top and bottom while transforming the cylinder into a rectangle defined by the elephants’ heads and the lines of raised loops or, at the base, the trunks and the loops, dictating the slight irregularity of the recessed circular foot.

 

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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