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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 42 

Lot 42

Lot 42
Treasury 2, no. 219 (‘The Jade Belt Agate’)
HK$30,000

Agate; very well hollowed, with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a flat foot rim
1740–1870
Height: 4.61 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.79/2.13 and 2.08 cm (oval)
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Provenance:
Robert Kleiner (1991)

Published:
Treasury 2, no. 219

This example seems to be compressed to the point of being flattened, although it is not yet completely flat, which would render it not a manipulated sphere but a cross-section of one, a form that also occurs in snuff bottles (see, for instance, Sale 7, lot 24). In contrast to Sale 1, lot 41, this example has been slightly stretched horizontally, giving it a quite different appearance (the horizontal measurement is 7 mm larger than the vertical if the neck is ignored). The reason for wanting a horizontal form was probably to accentuate the pale, narrow band of white running horizontally around the body of the bottle, which it does very cleverly, emphasizing an otherwise fairly subtle colour distinction between band and ground and giving it greater power visually.

It also has the effect of making the bottle more squat and sturdy, which is probably why the maker chose a short, cylindrical neck to balance the form rather than a taller or flared one. Much of the visual difference, however, derives from the missing area of the sphere to form the flattened foot area. If the curve of the body were continued uninterrupted at the foot, the difference between horizontal and vertical dimensions would be much less noticeable.

Banded agate of this type is discussed under Sale 9, lot 12. This example is closer to the usual usage of the material, where a band that usually includes white runs horizontally around the body of the bottle. When both sides of the design can be seen simultaneously, as they often can with superbly hollowed transparent chalcedony like this, the effect is of a clear pool contained within the bottle.

Filled with snuff, of course, as it would have been most of the time, the dynamic would be completely altered. The snuff would throw up the contrast in the white band and accentuate it, laying emphasis on the real symbolism of this type of banded agate snuff bottle, which was the belt worn by officials. For this reason, the bands were usually positioned appropriately just below the centre-line of the form.

This example is far more exciting in the hand than in the illustration, not only because the markings are subtle and the thinness of the walls impressive, but because, although emptied of snuff at some time in the past, it was not cleaned out properly for photography; the inside remains rather speckled and grubby, which shows in the illustrations as a mass of small brown spots resembling flaws in the agate, which they are not.

 

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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