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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 25 

Lot 25

Lot 25
Treasury 1, no. 40

Nephrite; well hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed foot; carved with mask-and-ring handles
Possibly imperial, perhaps palace workshops, Beijing, 1750–1850
Height: 4.28 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.43/1.30 cm
Stopper: stained chalcedony; silver collar

Robert Kleiner (1994)

Treasury 1, no. 40

This unusual miniature bottle is extremely well detailed for so small a carving. Superbly made miniatures are probably rarer than superbly made bottles of the standard size range. When found, however, they share the delights of any miniature art form where mastery of technique is unaffected by size (see Sale 5, lot 76 for another example). There is an added sense of wonder at the capacity of the artist to create so tiny a work of art to such a high standard of perfection.

The vertical faceting of this example is particularly impressive and elegant. The bulge of the form is contained within in the four main panels while the four subsidiary facets are straight-sided for most of their length. This gives the effect of four roughly oval panels contained in a frame comprising the subsidiary facets, the neck, and the area around the outer foot rim. The very slightly tapering neck is a masterly touch in balancing the gentle curvature of the facets.

The mask handles relieve the plainness on each narrow side without destroying the appeal of an essentially plain bottle. The detailing of the concave lip is also an indication of the commitment of the artist and of the fact that even so small a bottle was taken seriously as a work of art and deemed worthy of the extra attention to detail and physical work required to achieve this feature.

It should be noted that the detailed carving of the mask-and-ring handles is not under the same faultless control as the principal formal languages of the bottle. However, although there is no sure indication of where this bottle might have been made, the slightly flawed material with whiter inclusions is typical of the nephrite used by the court, and the mask handles are also of a type that would be sensibly associated with the palace (see discussion under Sale 6, lot 174). Two known features of palace mask-and-ring handles are distinct ears and a series of formalized curls around the head; here the carver has combined these features by depicting the two ears almost as if they were intended to be formalized curls.

The faceting could also be associated with the court, where it was a common decorative technique on a wide range of materials. These features allow a tentative attribution to the palace workshops for this delightful miniature.


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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