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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 11 

Lot 11


Lot 11
Treasury 2, no. 297

The Springtime Ink-Play Agate

Agate; well but slightly irregularly hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; with the natural colours in the stone both slightly edited and carved in cameo with a design of three goats or sheep and the sun
Official School, 1740–1850
Height: 5.3 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.80/1.83 and 1.72 cm (oval)
Stopper: jadeite; silver collar

Lot 11 Provenance:
Sydney L. Moss Ltd
Jack Rose
Robert Kleiner (1989)

Arts of Asia, September-October 1990, p. 94
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 236
JICSBS, Autumn 1997, p. 11
Treasury 2, no. 297

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

Lot 11 Commentary
This is one of two masterpieces of the genre that share the combination of silhouette and cameo carving in a single bottle distinguished by the use of white relief carving in conjunction with a silhouette design in darker brown markings. The other is the J & J example with two horses (see Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 134). The two are so close in style and feeling that they might have been made by the same hand from the same block of material. It would not be unusual for a cryptocrystalline mass of this kind to be large enough to make more than one bottle. The material is taken from the sort of formation illustrated in Moss 1971, p. 7, fig. 3, and is drawn from the inner wall, at the base of the illustration. In a large formation, similar colour planes might extend to the making of several bottles with similar layers of colour.

The use of the material in this example is as masterful as that in the J & J example and it shares the same rather flat form, although this is probably dictated by the planes of colour rather than by evolving formal taste. The subject is the popular auspicious symbol of three goats or sheep (san yang) and the sun (yang), evoking the phrase sanyang kaitai, ‘three yang [unbroken] lines [on the bottom] lead to [the Book of Changes hexagram] tai ‘, symbolizing the advent of spring and the coming of prosperity.

The sun here is very clearly represented by a circular brown disk in the stone, suggesting that the white-on-brown half-circle at the neck is not meant to represent the sun, or indeed anything else; once the plane of darker colour across the main face of the bottle dictated the angle at which the stone would be cut, whatever areas of colour were present above the main design would be exposed in a pattern determined by the curvature of the neck, not amenable to much editing. On the other hand, the white layer here nicely balances the white layer on two of the sheep below, unifying the whole.

Here, despite excellent hollowing, the shoulders are slightly fan-shaped, much more so than on the J & J example, and yet the recessed flat foot is reasonably well carved. It would seem that a choice has been made, perhaps indicating that standards of hollowing have declined a little and less-than-impeccable detailing has become acceptable. At one time it might have been unthinkable for a first-class workshop to settle for anything short of perfection in all aspects, the hollowing as well as the definition of the foot and neck. Now, the less-visible measure of excellence has been neglected, though it should be stressed that from a functional point of view either form of hollowing is perfectly adequate to hold plenty of snuff. The difference was probably largely one of fashion and standards.


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Hugh Moss |