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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 28 

Lot 28

   

Lot 28
Treasury 6, no. 1222

Seeing Double

Colourless glaze on white porcelain; with a flat lip and recessed slightly convex foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; moulded and/or carved with an identical design on each main side of a Buddhist lion with its cub, standing on formalized clouds; all exterior surfaces including the footrim glazed; the interior unglazed
Jingdezhen 1790–1830
Height: 5.96 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.71/1.72 cm
Stopper: pale iron-red and green enamel on colourless glaze on porcelain; contemporaneous, but not original

Lot 28 Provenance:
Robert Hall (1997)

Published:
Treasury 6, no. 1222

Lot 28 Commentary
This is a very rare design, represented on very few surviving bottles. One other example is missing a good part of its neck (Chinese Snuff Bottles, no. 5, p. 49, fig. 13); another, also perhaps with a trimmed neck, was in Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 20 June 1975, lot 38. Others are in Hong Kong 1977, no. 69, and Sotheby’s, Billingshurst, 25 June 1991, lot 238. At first glance, all appear to be from the same mould, but there are significant discrepancies that raise the question of to what extent the design was dictated by a mould at all, although the underlying form certainly was. It is possible that they owe more to carving than to moulding, or that they were entirely carved, closely following a single design (repeated on each main side). Although the style of carving and the extraordinary quality and detailing are similar in feeling to the last bottle, there is also a distinct hint here of the beginnings of a group of works by such known potters of the nineteenth century as Chen Guozhi, Wang Bingrong, and others. They were not mould carvers, of course, but worked directly on the porcelain surface. Insofar as the delicacy and quality of the carving here suggest their works, it may be that this little group represents an evolutionary stage between the classic moulded wares of the Jiaqing reign and the carved porcelains that replaced them as a popular favourite during the Daoguang period. It seems likely that such a bottle as this, perhaps initially moulded but with much of its surface detail dictated by hand carving, inspired the earlier group of individual porcelain carvers during the late Jiaqing period.

We see here the familiar use of a two-part mould: the inside ridge where the two join is obvious, but there is also an exterior ridge probably resulting from a smoothed-down joint line. In this case we can be certain that the original mould included the foot, since the join line runs right across it, even on the outside. It does not, however, run across the lip, nor inside the neck, suggesting that possibly the neck was added separately and worked by hand, or that it was simply tidied up better in finishing. The neck and lip of a snuff bottle are always in view when the bottle is in use, justifying extra care in concealing the join between halves, whereas one can get away with leaving a slight ridge on the foot.

Although Buddhist lions were a popular subject at court, they are not usually of the style found here, where the beasts look more like manic, long-haired Pekinese dogs than standard Buddhist lions. What they do resemble is the type of beasts found on an occasional work by one of the individual porcelain carvers of the nineteenth century, suggesting again that this might represent a transitional stage.

The stopper here is an old one, probably of the mid-Qing period; it is typical of stoppers made at Jingdezhen, presumably for sets of bottles made for the court, but possibly used on other bottles as well. The porcelain imitates a standard coral cabochon-shape stopper with a turquoise or jadeite collar. Jadeite had become, by the mid-Qing period, a highly valued material among the influential minority and would have found its way regularly onto snuff bottles both as collars and stoppers. The small size of either the cabochon of a stopper or the sliver of a collar made it possible to make use of scrap pieces from the making of larger vessels or jewellery.

 

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