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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 83 

Lot 83

Lot 83
Treasury 5, no. 813 (‘Sapphire Reflection’)

Transparent sapphire-blue glass with a few scattered air bubbles of various sizes; with a flat lip and flat foot; the foot engraved in regular script Tongzhi nian zhi 同治年製 (‘Made during the Tongzhi era’)
Imperial, 1862-1874
Height: 5.78 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.9/2.1 cm
Stopper: glass of ‘official’s hat’ shape with integral finial and collar

Antiques Pacifica, Honolulu (1980)
Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 3 May 1995, lot 359
Private collection, Canada (2000)
Hugh M. Moss Ltd, Hong Kong (2000)

JICSBS, Winter 1992, p. 27, fig. 11, bottom row, third from left
Treasury 5, no. 813

Sale 9, lot 50, demonstrates that a good deal of the quality evident in eighteenth-century standard-form palace-faceted octagonal snuff bottles was carried over into the Daoguang period. We also begin to see, however, a hint of formal simplification that was to lead to a simpler method of faceting, represented by this bottle.

The beginning of this trend can be seen in a turquoise glass example with a Daoguang mark in Hong Kong and Hong Kong Chinese Snuff Bottle Society 1977, no. 47, where the faceting of the narrow sides cuts less deeply into the surface. On the bulging, rounded narrow sides of this example, it results in a series of circular panels instead of the neat rectangular ones of the earlier model. The same is true of Sale 8, lot 1087, a Daoguang-marked example.

By the Tongzhi period, when this example was made, the trend reaches its natural conclusion with no more than a series of barely connected flat oval shapes cut out of the bulging narrow sides and echoed on the main panels, which are faceted in a corresponding manner. The original inspiration is not in doubt, but here it has devolved into a notably different shape.

Although the faceting has been radically simplified, the size increased, and the form made much more bulbous and rounded, it has been executed with a degree of technical quality impressive for so late a bottle. Big and bulbous, it is nevertheless well carved and quite well finished. The sapphire-blue glass is less than flawless, containing one cluster of large air bubbles and a series of interior streaks of darker colour, but the colour is good and bright. The reduction in calligraphic quality foreshadowed in the Daoguang example of Sale 9, lot 50, continues here with an entirely credible but calligraphically challenged rendition of the era name.

This raises the intriguing question of why it should have been so difficult throughout the mid-nineteenth century to muster a decent calligrapher among lapidaries of the day. Had it been considered sufficiently important, a court lapidary could surely have brushed up his inscriptions in short order, and only a serious decline in standards at the highest level would have permitted such carelessness. Had the Xianfeng emperor, instead of complaining of the inadequacies of his glassworkers, fined and flogged them as the Qianlong emperor was prone to do when disappointed, there would no doubt have been a prompt return to calligraphic grace.


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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