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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 23 

Lot 23


Lot 23
Treasury 5, no. 798

Faceted Fire

Opaque, variegated scarlet, orange, yellow and russet glass (known as ‘realgar-glass’); with a flat lip and flat, hexagonal foot; the body multi-faceted
Attributed to the imperial glassworks, Beijing, 1710-1780
Height: 8.75 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.71/1.66 cm
Stopper: turquoise of ‘official’s hat’ shape with integral finial and collar

Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

Lot 23 Provenance:
Hugh M. Moss Ltd, Hong Kong (1991)

Treasury 5, no. 798

Lot 23 Commentary
Several realgar-glass bottles of this form are known; they were obviously made in a series, and the same mould was used. All are of this rather large size, possibly indicating a Qianlong date. Of the same distinctive and unusual form, which is basically a faceted pear shape with a slightly flared neck, all are spectacular. Faceting the surface of a realgar-glass bottle invariably results in spectacular patterns, but we may be absolutely certain this group was first blown into a similarly faceted mould.

This bottle presents a strange anomaly in that one shoulder panel on a narrow side and the rectangular one below it are asymmetrical. In a bottle exhibiting faceting so crisp and confident, this seems extremely odd, and at first we assumed it was the result of small chips having been removed at some later date. However, it is more likely that a misshapen mould is the culprit. Logic dictates that faceted moulds would have been used for realgar-glass of this sort, since the surface layers of yellow and red are quite thin, and if these facets were cut from a freely blown pear shape, the thin surface layer would have been penetrated, revealing the rather duller ochre layers beneath (common to most realgar bottles). To achieve the fascinating surface pattern revealed here, the original glass must have been constrained by a mould. Finally, the use of a faceted mould is confirmed, as one would expect, by an echo of the faceting on the inner surface. (For a faceted realgar bottle apparently not blown into a faceted mould, see Treasury 5, no. 807.)

This shape is also known in other materials, the most interesting comparison being provided by a crystal bottle in the Bloch Collection painted inside by Yiru jushi, prior to 1811 (see Treasury 4, no. 445). A little smaller, it is nevertheless of substantial size, and has a straight cylindrical neck. There is a still smaller version, painted a little later by Gan Xuanwen (ibid. no. 456). Both bottles, we believe, were made with the intention of their remaining undecorated, but were acquired by artists who subsequently changed their fate. It seems that this was a standard courtly shape of the eighteenth century, since we believe Yiru jushi was a Manchu connected to the court at Beijing. An imperial provenance is sustained by the combination of the faceting and a type of glass known to have been made extensively at the court in the eighteenth century. An early date is also indicated by the glass here and on one of the others in the series, both being similar to a pair of vases bequeathed to the British Museum in 1753 (see under Treasury 5, no. 703) that are probably from the Kangxi or Yongzheng period. Were the bottles slightly smaller, we would be more inclined to date them to the same period, but a date from the first half of the Qianlong date is perhaps more likely.

The bottles in this series remain among the most spectacular of all realgar-glass bottles. One other was offered by Sotheby’s, New York, 1 July 1985, lot 174.


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