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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 28 

Lot 28

Lot 28
Treasury 1, no. 104 (‘Imperial Guan’)

Nephrite; very well hollowed, with a recessed foot; carved with mask-and-ring handles, the foot inscribed in seal script Qianlong nian zhi 乾隆年製 (‘Made in the Qianlong era’)
Imperial, attributable to the palace workshops, Beijing, 1736–1799
Height: 4.3 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.66 cm/1.22 cm
Stopper: coral; gilt-bronze collar

Hugh M. Moss Ltd
Emily Byrne Curtis
Robert Kleiner (1986)

Kleiner 1987, no. 25
Kleiner 1995, no. 42
Treasury 1, no. 104
JICSBS, Winter 2000, p. 8

Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

Although the hollowing here is excellent, following the outer profile of the bottle without leaving the characteristically heavy base of many palace jade bottles, many other features allow for a wholly confident Imperial designation and a reasonably firm attribution to the palace workshops.

The material has a distinct greyish-green colour and is quite extensively flawed with ice-like inclusions and internal natural fractures; this was typical of Qianlong imperial production in snuff bottles and particularly that of the palace workshops.

The court received a great deal of its material as tribute, particularly after the conquest of Turkestan, when a massive quantity of nephrite of varying grades flooded into the court twice a year. The court had two ways of disposing of lower-grade nephrite. It could sell it to the private market through various offices of the Imperial Household Department: the salt administration offices, silk factories, and custom houses in Jiangnan bought over 2,600 catties of second- to fifth-grade jade from the palace in 1804 (Kim 2008, pp. 266 – 267). Or it could have used it to make small objects that could be used as gifts for those to whom gifts had to be given on regular occasions to mark specific festivals or as indications of imperial favour.

Carved palace jade pieces could also be sold: in 1780, the Imperial Household Department sold a large amount of jade articles from the palace at the Chongwen Gate for 16,323,717 liang of silver, a considerable sum (Kim 2008, p. 266).

One feature of this bottle that is typical of the palace is the small, individualistic mask-and-ring handles. The rings are slightly oval, rather than the more common circular shape, and they are set horizontally rather than in the standard vertical configuration. Another unusual feature is the fact that instead of being held in the mouth of the beast, the ring hangs from a loop attached only to the upper jaw of the beast. This is taken from a standard form of mask-handle from the later Bronze Age, of which a considerable number were in the imperial collection at Beijing during the eighteenth century. See Sale 6, lot 174.

The mark is also a typical wheel-cut mark of the eighteenth-century palace workshops. Wheel-cut marks, apparently cut by a spinning disc, limited the calligraphic fluency of the carver and tended to result in a series of straight lines that can be seen under magnification to taper off at each end. These wheel-cut marks sometimes appear to have been carelessly inscribed, partly because of the restrictions of the medium but perhaps also because of the workload of the palace mark carvers on large orders of snuff bottles and other objects. This style of mark appears on a variety of lapidary wares, often in conjunction with work of the highest quality, as in painted enamels on glass, where the blanks blown in the glassworks were incised with a mark by lapidaries before being handed to the finest artists for decoration.

For typical wheel-cut marks on glass from the Qianlong period, see Brown and Rabiner 1987, nos. 9, 10, 12–15, 17–18, and for a seal-script mark somewhat similar to this, no. 29.

The shape here is extremely elegant, with perfect formal integrity. The squat, sturdy vessel is perfectly balanced, the elegantly flared neck a good counterpoint to the broad, flared foot and the generous globular body, and the placing of the handles is sculpturally inspired.


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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