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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 46 

Lot 46

Lot 46
Treasury 5, no. 908 (‘Top Candidate’)

Transparent ruby-red and semi-transparent milky white glass, the white degraded at the surface in places; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim; carved as a single overlay with the words Zhuangyuan jidi duzhan aotou 狀元及第獨站鰲頭 (‘The top graduate is ranked; he stands alone at the head of the great tortoise’) in regular-cursive script set between an upper border of formalized lingzhi-heads and plantain-leaf lappets and a lower border of formalized lotus leaves, the foot with a formalized shou (‘longevity’) character
Height: 4.48 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.79/1.48 cm
Stopper: carnelian; ivory collar

Christie’s, New York, 4 June 1992, lot 61

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994,no. 110
Treasury 5, no. 908

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March-June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994-February 1995

Bottles of this form are rare. It is essentially a sphere with slight vertical but no lateral compression, to which neck and foot have been added. Set on a broad foot rim that gives it great stability, it seems designed to sit rather than be carried around.

Moreover, it is unusual in that its main decoration is an inscription, and it also displays around the shoulders an atypical border design where a formalized lingzhi-head shoulder band is attached to a neck band of plantain leaves.

The lotus-petal border round the base of this example is cut to shape and then detailed only with engraved lines, a feature unusual for this design and not exhibited by any of the imperial group. If it is imperial, this may have been made later than the Qianlong period, perhaps in the early decades of the nineteenth century, although the very crisp and confident foot rim is perhaps more typical of the eighteenth century. With such an unusual bottle, however, it may be unwise to read too much into this single feature.

It is said that the scholar who had won first place in the palace examination was required to stand outside the hall of the palace to await the official roster. The designated spot to wait was beside a sculpture of a giant turtle standing at the top of a flight of steps leading to the palace hall.

The surface of the white glass is degraded in places, giving the impression of glass disease; however, this has resulted not in crizzling but a dulling and eroding of the surface of the glass, probably caused by long-term exposure to dampness. Many bottles appearing on the Beijing market have been discovered in tombs exposed during the massive building boom of the past thirty years. The damp conditions of the grave result in degradation of the surface.

This bottle may have come from a tomb, but the surface degradation is slight by comparison to others known to have been excavated, and it may have suffered simply from long storage in a damp place. It is possible to repolish these heavily degraded surfaces to remove all or most evidence of burial, but there are no signs of that having been done in this case.


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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