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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 44 

Lot 44

   

Lot 44
Treasury 7, no. 1539

Wealth and Longevity

Cinnabar-red lacquer on bronze; with a flat lip and protruding flat foot; carved with a similar design on each main side of a flowering peony, each with one leaf continuing onto a narrow side, set against a ground pattern of formalized floral diaper, framed above and below by a trellis of modified leiwen (thunder pattern), the lower frame set on a band of more conventional continuous leiwen, another band of which is repeated around the foot, the shoulders with a more elaborate, modified leiwen beneath a neck pattern made up of chrysanthemums in a diaper based on the hexagonal markings of a turtle’s carapace; the protruding lacquer foot with a flat bronze plate; the lip also bronze
Probably imperial, 1730–1820
Height: 5.98 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.5/1.62 cm
Stopper: gilt metal, chased with a formalized floral design, with integral finial and collar

Lot 44 Provenance:
Monimar Collection (1992)
Clare Lawrence (1992)
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1992)

Published:
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 262
Zhao Ruzhen 1994, no. 162
Treasury 7, no. 1539

Exhibited:
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–January 1995

Lot 44 Commentary
Although many of the group of lacquer bottles that are probably imperial are decorated with figure subjects, several are known with other subjects. These include Buddhist emblems, shou characters, gourds and butterflies, and auspicious flowers. The wide variation in subject matter is hardly surprising on a group that probably remained a popular imperial staple for better than half a century. Whatever the subject, stylistic links are found in a number of details throughout the series. Since many of this group would have been made to be distributed as gifts, appealing subject matter in the way of illustrations from popular stories or legends, famous figures of antiquity, and any generally auspicious symbolism was appropriate. That way, a bottle could be taken from the imperial storehouse and presented to anyone without the need for a specific order with precisely targeted symbolism. Lacquer making is a longish process in any case, but if the snuff bottles in question were made at Suzhou or elsewhere in the south, months of travelling time and additional bureaucratic detail would accrue between manufacture and the gift-giving occasion. In any situation where orders had to be placed long in advance of the final object’s distribution, generalized symbolism was convenient, if not essential.

Symbolically, the peony stands for wealth, while the continuous leiwen design represents longevity. The hint of a cicada shape around the shoulders suggests that the leiwen have been carefully modified there to resemble the formalized cicada lappets of Ming and Qing archaism, although they are so abstracted as to make the original intention difficult to read. This cicada-embedded leiwen design and the chrysanthemums-within-a-turtle’s-carapace design on the neck of the bottle both reinforce the longevity symbolism.

The usual treatment of figure subjects on the group, where a design is continuous but nevertheless allows for two separate subjects, finds an intriguing parallel here. The floral pattern could have been continuous but, perhaps out of sheer habit, the designer has almost closed off the narrow sides by bringing the continuous bands of leiwen pattern down from the shoulder and up from the lower part of the body. Only a tiny gap is left, albeit with a small leaf creeping through it to suggest continuity. Another intriguing aspect of this bottle is the diaper ground beneath the peonies. The outer square of each lozenge, instead of being parallel with the next one in, is bowed towards it; thus any set of four of these units looks like a formalized flower head. It is sufficiently subtly done that it could be read either way, but it does seem intentional, suggesting that here the design was to be read on a broader scale as a floral motif.

Another variation represented here is the flared lacquer foot with its brass plate. As a rule, a brass plate stands just proud of the base of the bottle, forming a foot without a rim, whereas here, still without a footrim, it is affixed to the bottom of the lacquer foot. These may appear to be tedious and trivial details, but we have found a close examination of every bottle and detailed analysis of every design and pattern, every interior, and every constructional detail so informative and educational in the process of learning about the subject that we dare to risk boring our readers in noting the results.

 

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