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photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part II  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 23 November 2010: Lot 50 

Lot 50

Lot 50
Treasury 2, no. 313

The Imperial Favourites Cameo

Dendritic chalcedony; very well hollowed with a flat lip and recessed, slightly convex foot surrounded by a narrow, flat footrim; carved with a cameo design on one side of a Pekinese dog, wearing a collar with three bells attached, and a pair of doves, and on the other side with a relief design of a cockerel standing beside a cockscomb plant growing from behind a small rocky outcrop
Official School, probably imperial, 1821–1850
Height: 5.8 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.80/2.05 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; gilt-silver collar

Lot 50 Provenance:
David Bowden
Hugh M. Moss Ltd (1995)

Published:
JICSBS, Autumn 1997, p. 15
Treasury 2, no. 313

Lot 50 Commentary
This extraordinary bottle carries a delightful clutch of clues in our search for details of the Official School. We can date it to the Daoguang period on the basis of the love of the emperor and his consort for doves and small dogs, respectively, and their popularity in art from this time onwards, not having figured at all prior to this imperial impetus. They occur in ceramics and in Yixing pottery with slip decoration, in glass overlay (Sotheby’s, London, 21 June 1995, lot 19, for instance) and in a heat-engraved gourd bottle (Snuff Bottles of the Ch’ing Dynasty, no. 134), all datable to the Daoguang period. Another example was in the Cussons Collection (Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 3 May 1995, lot 459); a rare jasper version is illustrated by Hall 1987, no. 21; two others are in the Victoria and Albert Museum (White 1990, Pl.16, nos. 1 and 2); one in Sin, Hui, and Kwong 1996, no. 194; one in Hugh M. Moss Ltd, Chinese Snuff Bottles, no. 128; another in Hall 1991, no. 38; one in the imperial collection (Gugong bowuyuan 1995, no. 136), and one in the Exeter Collection (Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 6, p. 129, no. Q-49, also illustrated in Moss 1971, no. 119, where no. 114 is a splendid example with just a single Pekinese dog). A version of the subject in red overlay glass is published by Kleiner 1990, no. 35. We may be reasonably certain that this subject is in direct response to the Daoguang emperor and his consort, and not just a random linking of Pekinese and doves at an earlier date, because the dog has a collar of bells so that it cannot creep up on the doves and kill them, as would be its natural inclination. Only when both are valued as pets would such a collar be necessary, and they also occur on both Pekinese in one of the other recorded versions. This confirms that the school was still making bottles of this quality of workmanship, with perfect formal integrity and detailing, at some time between 1821 and 1850.

We can also be sure that this bottle was not made for the emperor himself. The symbolism of the cockerel and cockscomb rests in the rebus guanshang jiaguan (‘May you have a rise in rank’), a meaningless aspiration for the emperor but an ideal subject for a gift between officials. It is questionable whether the emperor, who controlled promotion, would express the wish that an individual attain it, unless it was viewed as a general admonition to serve well and be rewarded. Where the subject is confined to Pekinese dogs and doves, the bottles may have been distributed as imperial gifts to officials based upon the symbolic meaning of the combination, quite apart from their appeal as imperial pets. A pair of doves signify marital harmony. The dog (quan) can be taken to symbolize the idea of perpetuating a family bloodline embodied in the phrase shishi xiangchuan. Porcelain bottles bearing imperial reign marks had to be ordered through the bureaucracy at the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, suggesting imperial distribution. This would also account for why so many of them are distributed all over the world in collections and why relatively few remain in the imperial collection, although there are some in both Taipei and Beijing.

This is one of the finest examples of the subject, with an unusual shape incorporating a recessed convex foot without a protruding footrim (which also occurs for the first time on ceramic bottles during the Daoguang period), delightfully lively and rounded carving of the dog and doves, and superb hollowing and finishing. Again, the slightly convex foot is probably dictated by the lack of footrim and the need to keep the continuity of exterior profile, rather than by any hint of laziness, since none is exhibited anywhere else on the bottle. It is perhaps significant that the Daoguang ceramic equivalent of this form also has a recessed convex foot without a protruding rim, and with ceramics it makes no difference in terms of difficulty whether one makes it flat or convex, suggesting that it was a stylistic choice at this time.

 

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