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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 94 

Lot 94

Lot 94
Treasury 5, no. 743 (‘Absent Enamels’)
HK$20,000

Colourless glass with one or two small air bubbles; with a flat lip and protruding flat foot
Attributable to the imperial glassworks, Beijing, 1760-1799
Height: 4.5 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.65/1.02 cm
Stopper: stained bone of ‘official’s hat’ shape with integral finial and collar, carved with a formalized chrysanthemum-petal design; probably original

Provenance:
Drouot (Champetier de Ribes), Paris, 10 October 1978. Lot 248
Belfort Collection (1986)

Published:
Jutheau 1980, p.58, fig. 1
Kleiner 1987,no. 80
Treasury 5, no. 743

Exhibited:
L’Arcade Chaumet, Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam, June – August 1982
Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May-June 1993

Two reasons lead us to assume that the form of this bottle was dictated by a mould rather than being shaped by the lapidary. The more convincing of them is that the air bubble on the inside matches the contour on the outside, the space in the upper section being larger than in the lower, with a distinct inner shelf where the two sections meet. This could easily be achieved by blowing into a mould, whereas to achieve this level of formal integrity without a mould would be extremely difficult and barely worth the effort.

It is conceivable, however, that the mould shaped only the lower part, allowing the umbrella-shaped upper segment to bulge out unrestrained and take up its present form. Possible confirmation of this theory is supplied by an enamelled version (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 197). Of colourless glass and identical shape, the two can only have come from the same glassblower at the same time and from the same mould. The very slight differences in height, the dimensions of the mouth and lip, and the shape of the protruding flared foot are doubtless results of the work of the lapidary who finalized such details, removed any mould-marks, and polished the surface.

We suggested in the context of the J & J example that this strange shape may have been dictated by a separate and probably stiff fabric pouch into which the lower section fit, hiding the main design from casual view. On the enamelled version this would make sense, since the shoulders are of a formalized design, the attractive bird and flower motif being on the lower segment. There is less obvious justification for a pouch in the case of a colourless glass version, but it is likely that although both were made to be enamelled and for some unknown reason one was not.

They might have been part of a larger set produced with extra blanks in case of firing problems. If the emperor had ordered, say, four of these enamelled bottles, it is possible that once the four were produced to the appropriate standard, any blanks remaining would be left undecorated, as colourless glass snuff bottles. Not only did colourless glass resemble crystal (a point enthusiastically made by many observers when first commenting on European crystal glass), but it revealed the colour of the snuff. To snuff connoisseurs, in contrast to snuff-bottle collectors, this was a key element of connoisseurship.

Since, in view of its points of similarity to palace-enamelled metal wares, the enamelled glass version can be attributed with some confidence to the imperial glassworks, it is probable that the glass was made at the court, too. Details published from records of the palace workshops suggest that in the context of enamelling on glass, blanks were ordered from the palace glassworks. We can date this bottle with some degree of accuracy based on the enamelled example, which was probably made between about 1770 and 1790.

We believe that the stopper and spoon are the originals, made for this bottle. They fit it ideally, falling comfortably into the range of known palace stoppers and spoons, the stopper even matching the standard metal version that graces the enamelled bottle. This gives us a fine example of what was considered ideal in the late eighteenth century in terms of spoon length relative to the depth of the bottle. Many a replacement spoon sits in the bottle with its bowl hanging well above the base of the interior hollowing, whereas this one reaches to within a couple of millimetres of the base. While it is perfectly possible to empty a bottle of snuff with a shorter spoon by tipping to bring the snuff within reach, it is obviously more practical to have a spoon with greater reach.

 

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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