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The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 13 

Lot 13

Lot 13
Treasury 1, no. 77
HK$112,500

Flawless nephrite; well hollowed, with an attached, deeply recessed protruding foot of the same material
Possibly imperial, perhaps palace workshops, Beijing, 1740–1820
Height: 5.61 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.40/1.39 cm
Stopper: glass; vinyl collar

Provenance:
Robert Hall (1985)

Published:
Kleiner 1995, no. 49
Treasury 1, no. 77

Exhibited:
British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

This bottle is undoubtedly of an early date, and it may even be from the palace workshops at Beijing, to judge by the colour, so popular at the Qianlong court, the tiny mouth, the unusual shape, and the general resemblance to other bottles of similar taste, size, and feeling that are attributable to the palace (see Sale 7, lot 36 and Christie’s, Hong Kong, 1 November 1994, lot 1240, for instance).

What is extraordinary about the bottle, apart from its shape, is the fact that the deeply recessed foot is a separate piece of the same material, so well matched and fitted that it had not previously been noticed as such.

The advantage of using a separate foot is obvious: instead of hollowing the bottle through the mouth (which is unusually small in this case), the lapidary could work through a wide opening in the base. A benefit of doing so is that relatively large pieces could be removed from the interior for use as smaller carvings or for beads. Indeed, it is possible that this bottle was itself originally the core from a larger bottle; although no such bottle is recorded, the larger vessel could have been another type of object with a cylindrical interior. This practice was later adopted in Japan, where it was used in the production of ivory copies of imperial Qianlong bottles (see Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, p. 481).

The only other possible reason for using a separate piece of material for the foot would be to repair a mistake in manufacture. If the carver had accidentally pierced the deeply recessed foot while hollowing the interior, the bottle could then have been salvaged by carving away the entire foot and inserting a separate section deep inside the foot rim. A separately added foot, however, occurs elsewhere in imperial production, not only with jade wares, but with glass from the palace workshops as well.

(One way to avoid piercing the bottom of the bottle would be to retain a thick base, which also lowers the centre of gravity for the bottle, making it less likely to be toppled when on display in the palace. See Sale 8, lot 1109. Perhaps a bottle such as the present one was a precursor to thick-based bottles.)

Whatever the reason, the fitting of the separate foot is a miracle of craftsmanship. Nephrite, with its translucency and subtlety of colours, is practically impossible to match up in a different section. Thus, an original matching stopper in identical material often appears to be of a different colour in place simply because of the light refraction caused by the gap between the two pieces. Here this has been entirely disguised, and it was only on close examination under a ten-power lens that the join was revealed. Without magnification, it is invisible.

 

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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