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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 16 

Lot 16

Lot 16
Treasury 6, no. 1220 (‘Cast-Iron Symbolism’)

Oxidized and speckled brown ‘glaze’ on porcelain; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding convex foot rim; moulded with a continuous design of various symbolic scholarly trappings (including a teapot and cup, a lingzhi, a beribboned vase on a low table stand containing blossoming prunus branches, a jardinière on a taller stand with a rock and orchids set in it, a rigid leaf-shaped fan, a lotus blossom, two tangerines, a Buddha’s hand citron, a book, a gu-shaped vase containing a fly whisk, a rolled scroll, a rectangular jardinière of flowering peonies on a stand, a smoking tripod incense burner, other fruit, a vase on another low table stand containing two lotus blooms, a seed pod and leaves, and two water caltrops; the shoulders with mask-and-ring handles; all exterior surfaces and the inside of the neck covered in a brown ‘glaze’ imitating iron; the interior unglazed
Probably imperial, Jingdezhen, 1790–1840
Height: 7.26 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.70/1.61 cm
Stopper: bronze, reticulated and chased with a design of fruiting peach branches, with a formalized chrysanthemum flower beneath an integral finial

Robert Hall (1990)

Hall 1990, no. 71
JICSBS, Autumn 1998, p. 19, fig. 60
Treasury 6, no. 1220

One of the unusual variants on the theme of moulded porcelain bottles from the mid-Qing period is a small group of artefacts that appear to imitate metal, usually iron, but sometimes gilt metal. The iron-like pigment here is neither a typical glaze nor a typical enamel; it is a very thin layer of brown with a tiny fish-roe pattern of darker, slightly raised circles all over it, uncannily resembling a piece of rusted iron that has been buffed. Whatever the precise technique involved, it appears to have oxidized in the kiln, giving a crystalline, rusty appearance to the surface.

It is also a very thin covering, despite the minutely stippled surface, and allows for quite fine detail to show through, more so than with, say, a turquoise-blue enamel or a white glaze. The thinness of the ‘glaze’ encouraged some fairly detailed designs for this rare group of wares.

Here we have one of the most appealing, with its group of auspicious scholarly trappings. Its precise dating, however, remains uncertain. The mask handles, with their dog-like faces with floppy ears and small rings, are typical of the late-Qianlong period, but others with similar iron-like colouring have subjects that suggest they may be later. It is possible that the type was developed in the Jiaqing but continued in use into the mid-nineteenth century, when fake Qianlong marks began to be used on this type of ware. We are inclined to believe that this exceptional version is from the earlier output, although we have left a little leeway just in 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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