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Part III:
The Rising Importance
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The Marakovic Collection

Hugh Moss and Stuart Sargent

Part I: The Imperial Phase
The Qianlong Era, 1736 – 1796

I51 I57 I.194

Before the last two decades of the Kangxi reign, when marks began to be used sporadically on imperial snuff bottles, all is darkness. The light shed by a very limited range of late-Kangxi production and a few scattered contemporary literary records begins to illuminate early production. Then, with the very first year of the Yongzheng reign, the records push back the gloom considerably. But it is not until the Qianlong reign that light truly floods in to offer a heady sense of illumination to the stumbling researcher. Suddenly we find ourselves in broad daylight gazing out over an open plain with landmarks stretching to the horizon and written records to elucidate them. The recently published first half of the archives of the Zaobanchu, the records of the palace workshops to which we refer so often, covering from the first year of Yongzheng in 1723 to the last of the Qianlong era in 1796, runs to fifty-three volumes, taking up several running yards of bookshelves. The long reign of the Qianlong emperor, sixty years on the throne and three more in retirement but exercising continued influence in every sphere of court life, is also accompanied by numerous other records to which we can turn. These other accounts come from outside of China as well as within, since the Jesuits and other missionaries also kept massive archives of records of their exchanges, their gifts of snuff to the court, and bottles received as gifts from the emperor to themselves and visiting dignitaries, even distant dignitaries and rulers. We also have records of tribute from Guangzhou and other production centres. What is more, the Qianlong emperor was more conscious than his predecessors of the range and reach of imperial art. He saw more clearly, perhaps, that while humans—even emperors—perish, art lives on. He poured the resources of his empire into the production of works of art, both within and without the palace, on an unprecedented scale, coming closer to turning the Qing empire into a massive artistic monument to imperial glory than any other emperor. He also seemed to recognize that if he was to leave behind so majestic an artistic legacy, it were best to let people be certain it was his legacy. From the very first years of his reign he encouraged, ordered even, the use of his reign mark on a far wider range of arts than either of his predecessors had envisaged. There are strange lacunae, art forms where reign marks continue to be rare, even on imperial wares; but compared to his two predecessors, the Qianlong emperor was a show-off on a massive scale when it came to claiming responsibility for the wares he so industriously and obsessively promoted, ordered, collected, wrote about, and even inscribed in his neat but bloodless calligraphy. Nothing was sacred, as the sophisticated Chinese aesthetic had long since accepted the primacy of process over product in art, and de-emphasized the art object to the point where it was not considered vandalism to add colophons on the silk of a thousand-year-old painting, or engrave a poem on a Song-dynasty ceramic or a Zhou-dynasty jade bi. Stands and mounts made for works of art also bore his poetic encomia.

Many of these inscriptions are dated on the work of art where they are found, but many are also recorded in various volumes of the emperor’s writings, allowing us to pinpoint the year, sometimes the month and day, when he wrote a particular colophon. He wrote thousands of poems, often about works of art, and many of these were assiduously gathered, carefully recorded, and dated, so we can track his interest in certain arts and read his responses to them. We are swamped with information, and that is where the danger lies. Because we know so much about the Qianlong reign and can identify so many types as being from it, we tend to assume that anything like them must, therefore, also be from the reign, with or without a reign mark. Much of the unmarked corpus of snuff bottles that we tend to date to the Qianlong era simply because we know such things existed during that period may be earlier and represent the beginnings of a style that continued into the Qianlong years. And some of the same corpus must be later, representing a continuation of the style even after the emperor’s death. The massive production of his reign, particularly of the abdication years, when he had more time on his hands to indulge his passion, would have ensured a similar style and quality being carried through into the Jiaqing era, even into the early Daoguang era, until the momentum of his influence began to wane. Stylistically, we know for certain that the momentum of his style has yet to fade away completely. In some arts it continued to influence production throughout the rest of the dynasty, was the main source for counterfeiters in the Republican period, and can still be seen today in so many arts and crafts—and a great deal of restaurant crockery. So we step into this new light warily, lest it blind us.

Because the Qianlong era is so long and the emperor’s direct influence over the imperial arts lasted sixty-three years, we face another danger. The shallow connoisseurship of the past century of stumbling research into snuff bottles has left us with some preconceptions that need overturning. There has been a tendency in some arts to focus on only the best Qianlong pieces, those with the most convincing reign marks and the finest quality, those that are matched by examples still in the imperial collections or known to have been in the imperial collections before certain traumatic dispersals around 1860, 1900, and 1949. Measuring other wares against these masterpieces, we find them wanting and dismiss them as later copies. Many may be, but a solid understanding of the evolution of enamelling, for instance, demonstrates that the real picture of work done for the court is much more complicated.

Over sixty years there were different periods of production governed by different levels of imperial interest and focus, with different teams of designers, painters, and technicians. More than one centre of production was involved, and supply for quite different purposes dictated different levels of art, often contemporaneously. We should expect quite different results and apply different criteria in judging them. At one end of the scale, we might be looking at an enamelled glass bottle designed by Guiseppe Castiglione (1688 – 1766), Jean Denis Attiret (1702 – 1768), or a Chinese court artist during the early part of the reign, when the emperor was tightly focussed on this art form, intent on perfecting it, and involving himself in criticising minute details of design. The finest artists would have been involved, under the close scrutiny of the emperor himself. At the other end of the scale, we might be looking at one of dozens of bottles ordered to be distributed as gifts, where the requirement was no more than that it be a bottle with a certain symbolic subject or form. Both are genuine Qianlong products, but they are wildly different, and the bottle produced for routine gift-giving, perhaps sub-contracted out to private Beijing workshops or further afield, should not be judged by the standards of the bottle made in the palace workshops under the attentive supervision of the emperor and his trusted agents. In glass production other than enamels, many genuine pieces from the latter part of the reign have been dismissed as later fakes in recent publications simply because they are different in style, quality, and marks from the masterpieces of an earlier part of the reign.

Each art form has its own pace of evolution, of course, and this is also true within the palace, but it is useful to look at Qianlong imperial production in sensible, manageable spans, differing according to art form, rather than as one aesthetically homogenous sixty-three-year enterprise. Palace-painted enamels offer the best selection for arriving at some kind of periodization. Trying to apply a single division of the reign into early, middle, and late for all the snuff-bottle arts, however, would be to ignore the different paces at which different arts evolve. It is best to look at each art from within its own parameters and refer to sister arts only when it is productive to do so.

Painted enamels on glass and on metal were closely related arts, since both were produced under essentially similar circumstances, under the same supervision, and by the same teams of designers and enamellers; they were probably fired in the same workshops, even in the same muffle-kilns. So these are two processes for which cross-references may be expected to be most illuminating.

Nino Marakovic was always drawn to painted enamels, and to cloisonné enamels, as well, so the collection is strong in these wares. It contains some rare and documentary examples, including the three Yongzheng-marked enamels in figures I.22, I.23, and I.25, two of which are from Beijing, which is a boast not many non-imperial collections can match.

The spectacular enamel on colourless glass shown in figure I.24 may be the earliest of the enamelled glass bottles in the collection; we proposed a possible Yongzheng date for it above, but even the most conservative dating would place it no later than the early Qianlong era. Another masterpiece in the collection is as unusual and as difficult to accurately date: the masterpiece with birds and flowers in figure I.51. The Qianlong reign mark leaves us in no doubt as to its broader period of production, but otherwise it is not part of a group that can be easily identified. The mark, a neatly but not obsessively precise regular-script mark of four characters, is standard for the early reign, as is the relatively low relief enamel. Marks on palace enamels of the finest type tend to be dictionary-correct copies of each character—the style is often traced to printed books of the Song dynasty—and in higher-relief blue enamel. The slight misfiring of the blue of the rocks is typical of early wares, although it recurs with some later wares, including sometimes on the Guyue xuan wares of the post-1767 decades, but the most likely indicator of an early date lies in the painting style. The decoration is distinctly painterly, not yet exhibiting the crisp, high-relief enamels of the mid-reign masterpieces and the obsessional separation of ground and enamel found on them. This is the work of an artist with a flying brush, not of a technician with the angel of perfection (or the spectre of his emperor and his high standards) standing at his shoulder. It shows some affiliation with a small group of early-reign landscapes in enamelled glass that are very similar in the subtlety of the colouring and the painterly style, but particularly in the use of stippled blue and beige to subtly suggest sky and ground.

It seems to be a general and relatively reliable rule that Kangxi and Yongzheng border designs were not as elaborate as some of their early-Qianlong counterparts. Elaborate borders appeared sporadically to the end of the dynasty, but the most elaborate and by far the finest are from the early to mid Qing. The simple dot-and-line neck border in figure I.51 is therefore atypical for classic early- to mid-Qianlong wares. It may represent a very early practice, before the Qianlong standard was established so strongly. But, as with all individual works of art, it may reflect no more than an artistic choice: with so complex a design, such a painterly technique, and a purely Chinese subject without any hint of European influence, an elaborate border was perhaps not deemed fitting. Based on the available clues, our guess would be that this dates from the early Qianlong era, and possibly the first year or two.

Equally difficult to date, and for all the same reasons, is what is probably the earliest of the Marakovic Qianlong-era painted enamels on metal (fig. I.52). Of a shape not seen elsewhere, small in size, and featuring a unique design, it probably dates from the first half of the era, possibly its first decade. The neck borders are not yet the fully established, busy ones of the classic early- to mid-era wares, and the mark is not drawn with obsessive care. That and the small size suggest a date close to the Yongzheng era—indeed, without its mark, we would be tempted to date it to the late Yongzheng based only on its style, form, and Chinese subject matter. The Yongzheng emperor was not fond of foreign subjects, even if he approved of the newly introduced foreign arts and crafts of the missionaries. The painterly style suggests no European influence at all, nor do the borders. It is a purely Chinese painting, of the sort one would expect on an album leaf or hanging scroll, although a little more colourful perhaps, being in enamels of the famille rose palette. Clare Lawrence identified the woman with the floor zither as ‘Xi Wangmu’, the Queen Mother of the West, and the woman with the ruyi as He Xianggu, one of the Eight Immortals. These are reasonable suppositions, especially as the Queen Mother of the West in the very early records is depicted as meeting a king at the Jasper Pool. However, we propose that the woman with the musical instrument is the Goddess of the Xiang, the Xiang ling 湘靈, for she was a water goddess who played a se 瑟, a type of floor zither. The woman on the other side may be the Goddess of the Luo, Luo shen 洛神, who was made immortal by a rhapsody of Cao Zhi 曹植 (192–232); she is often said to have been the deceased the wife of his brother, the emperor, which would explain her regal demeanour here. Water goddesses were important in the cultures that were absorbed by the expanding early Chinese civilization, and as long as they consented to taking on fully human form, they were gradually assimilated into the histories and poems of the dominant culture. These two, whoever they are, have found themselves on a snuff bottle in the Marakovic collection, transported far from home to commune with the goddesses of the Danube.

Typical early- to mid-reign border designs showing what we think must have been considerable European input are represented by the bottle in figure I.53, formerly in the Gerry P. Mack collection. As a rule, these splendidly over-the-top decorative borders consist of a minor border around the outer foot and base area and a major one around neck and shoulders. Where the bottles are decorated with the ubiquitous panels of palace decoration, the two are joined down the narrow sides, of course. The inspiration is floral, nearly always including some variation on the formalized lingzhi-head or ruyi-head, the Chinese term for which is ruyi yuntou 如意雲頭 (ruyi ‘cloud’; discussed in a little more detail in Part II, below). At their most extreme, they give the impression that the artist became so entranced by his doodling of these floral designs that he had to be dragged away kicking and screaming before the upper border met the lower border and no space was left for the main design.

We are able to date this example firmly to the middle decades of the era, probably from the 1750s to about 1780 at the latest, based on a combination of factors. The borders, as noted, are typically early to mid reign; the crisp and masterly detailing on a largely white ground is typical of the mid-reign painting, although the bottle’s form and some colours hint at late-reign wares; and the technical control of the enamels is impeccable. One possible indication that it is from the earlier part of our proposed range is the addition of a metal lip to reduce the size of the mouth without making it obsessively small. Some wares we know to be from the mid reign have much smaller mouths.

The bottle illustrated in I.53a is one of the rarer and better examples from a puzzling group of enamel-on-copper bottles that are obviously old, with extensive wear and in most cases very little gold left on the metal exposed at the foot and lip. Many of them, including this one, are credible as late-Qianlong Beijing wares. The problem is that many of them have subjects and styles that are difficult to reconcile with a late-Qianlong date or with the palace workshops. At present, the most likely scenario we can suggest is that some are genuine late-Qianlong wares, but whoever made them continued well into the nineteenth century, still adding Qianlong marks. This would not have happened at the palace workshops, so the bottles may have originated from a private workshop supplying the court. Even then, the situation is anomalous, as we would not expect fakes per se until the Daoguang reign, when collectors of ancient bottles began to influence production to a greater extent. We still have a lot to learn about the details of a good deal of mid-Qing production.

Because of the frequent use of reign marks, the copious references in the archives, and a considerable body of works, many of which have been kept in the imperial collection from the time they were made and are still there, we have a far better grasp of the stylistic and technical evolution of painted enamels than we do of any other category of snuff-bottle art. We can identify what was made at Beijing and what at Guangzhou with considerable confidence, and we are able to give many wares relatively tight dating ranges; in the cases of some examples where we can match up records of orders and completions with the object (or with objects very much like it), we can identify a very precise time of manufacture. Roughly ninety-five per cent of all reign-marked enamels can be dated with relative confidence, providing reference points for dating a good many unmarked examples. However, there is a small number of bottles that are exceptions to this rule. Figure I.54 shows one of them.

This is one of a series of bottles featuring the same subject and a precisely repeated composition, including even the borders. Among at least three surviving genuine examples is one in the Denis Low collection in Singapore (Robert Kleiner, Treasures from the Sanctum of Enlightened Respect [Singapore, 1999], no. 4). The style is typically Beijing, right down to the simplified floral ground, the stippled ground of the panels, the use of a four-character, regular-script, blue-enamel reign mark, and the floral design in lobed panels. As a rule, the floral designs used to fill the space around the main elements of the design or even forming entire decorative schemes by themselves are simpler from Beijing and more complex and rococo from Guangzhou. The relatively simple colour scheme for filling the outlines of the floral motifs of Beijing tends also to become more colourful in the south, with greater use of blended colours and multiple colours filling a single delineated area (such as a leaf or stem).

There is no doubt about the Beijing origin of the design on this bottle. The interior here, moreover, is coated with turquoise enamel, standard for Beijing but unusual for Guangzhou. However, the facts that 1) the bottles were ordered and made as a set (repeated designs are characteristic of late-Qianlong palace-made wares, but by then the enamelling style was unlike this example) and 2) the style of the mark varies so greatly from a Beijing original (a blue regular-script mark is typical of Beijing, but the way it is written here and its proximity to the foot rim is not) suggest that these bottles may have been made at Guangzhou. Another indicator of this is that the three known examples had gilding that is worn off. This suggests they had very thin gilding originally, which is typical of certain groups of Guangzhou wares made in series, but not of Beijing gilding, which is usually more robust.

Unable to decide between the palace workshops and Guangzhou, we can consider a third possibility. We are now beginning to learn that cloisonné enamels were produced in several workshops for the court. If the same is true of painted enamels, this might represent a third possible production centre, in either greater Beijing or somewhere like Jiujiang 九江, the main port of Jiangxi province on the Yangzi river and apparently a cloisonné centre. We must keep an open mind on this intriguing little series for the time being.

The snuff bottle in figure I.55 belongs to one of the most impressive of the Qianlong groups of painted enamels on metal, confidently attributed to Guangzhou and made for the court. It probably belongs to a small group datable to the second part of the reign. The group is distinguished by the use of extensive and complex iron-red border designs and distinctive blue-grey cloudy skies in the continuous garden scenes that form the main decoration. The figures that populate those gardens are usually Chinese, but this bottle is one of the rare ones depicting European subjects, reflecting the emperor’s love of exotic foreign scenes.

The double bottle shown in figure I.56 is more likely to be an early- to mid-reign Guangzhou product; it follows a popular Beijing design concept, but it was very obviously produced at Guangzhou, so it probably began with a design accompanied by an order from the court. The black enamel mark with its much looser drawing of the characters is typical of Guangzhou; many known imperial sets ordered in, or sent as tribute from, the south have similar marks, apparently following a single standard throughout the reign. Black marks are also standard on Yongzheng wares from Guangzhou, proving their popularity before any Qianlong production began, and sets we believe to have been produced late in the Qianlong reign also have them.

It has been proposed that the colours of the reign marks had specific significance: blue for everyday production, black for mourning, and red for celebrations, including birthdays. We are not convinced. Black is not historically associated with mourning in China; one would have to argue that the foreign connotations of snuff were sufficient to cause Chinese enamellers to 1) adopt the European use of black to signify mourning and 2) decide that snuff bottles were appropriate places to declare a state of mourning. Red is a bit more complicated. The iron-red hue used for seals and reign marks is different from the red of celebration. Still, it is noticeable that red marks appear on enamels on metal, glass, and ceramics from Guangzhou, and Jingdezhen, both of which sent large quantities of tribute for birthdays and festivals. (At Beijing, where orders came directly from the emperor and would have been for his own use or distribution, red marks would have been less appropriate, like singing ‘Happy Birthday to me’. )

Both double snuff bottles and wrapping-cloth designs were often found at court and on wares made for the court. The combination of the two concepts, baofuwen shuanglian 包袱紋雙聯 (united pair with wrapping cloth pattern) is seen in teapots and other art forms, as well as in snuff bottles. There was evidently a practical advantage to being able to tote two flavours of snuff at once in a double bottle. The wrapping cloth provided a canvas for painting myriad auspicious designs, and it is also an auspicious rebus: baofu, ‘wrapping cloth’, is homophonous with baofu 包福, ‘guaranteed good luck’.

Although the floral surround on the bottle in figure I.56 is a Beijing design and makes an effort at Beijing simplicity, the more confused frilliness of the Guangzhou style can be seen creeping in. The lack of gold remaining on the exposed copper is likely to be the result of the typically thin application of gilding that we see in certain groups of Guangzhou products.

There is another group of Guangzhou wares that is well represented in the Marakovic collection by no fewer than four examples, each representing different aspects of the finest of the group (figs. I.57 - I.58 - I.59 - I.60). They seem to relate in at least some respects to a still-puzzling group of cups with saucers and covers and to other known Guangzhou wares. All exhibit high technical mastery, with thick, very white enamel grounds, thick metalwork, and heavy, lasting gilding. European subjects are common, although a few Chinese subjects are known among the bottles, and when marked (the cups, saucers, and other wares are not marked), they bear very neatly drawn blue enamel four-character Qianlong reign marks based closely on Beijing reign marks and as carefully written, although exhibiting a distinct, slightly broader style. Sometimes the enamels have a slightly crystalline texture to them, as in the case of one bottle in this collection, one of the finest of all the known examples (fig. I.57). This texture is particularly noticeable in the coloured plain border bands here.

A comparison of the European subjects on this group and those on known early-reign Beijing wares demonstrates that, across the board, the painterly quality falls short of Beijing—as we would expect. Guangzhou painters were almost certainly skilled craftsmen who had learned to paint, while so many Beijing designers and even enamellers were known artists who had learned to enamel. There are exceptions: the finest by far of all the known cup, cover, and saucer sets is stylistically indistinguishable from the finest Beijing painting and is in precise Beijing style; only the form and the typically thick white ground and gilding suggest that they are part of the Guangzhou group (A&J Speelman [Gallery], John Mann, and Felicity Stephen, Chinese Works of Art 2008 [London: A&J Speelman, 2008], no. 74). This set may have been painted in Guangzhou by a returning missionary after he was in production at court for some years, although that is only one possible explanation for the anomalies involved. Another feature of the group is that when European women are depicted, they often have their breasts uncovered, which is typical of Guangzhou and very rare on Beijing wares – where only three are known, and they are more discreet than on this presumed Guangzhou group. One might say that one main side of the bottle in figure I.57 is exuberantly southern; the other, with an low-cut neckline by Chinese measure but no indication of breasts, is suited to northern sensibilities. This arrangement enabled one to turn the ‘good’ side to the wall and show only the side with the buttoned-up woman when it was inappropriate to snigger while snuffing.

At times, standards slipped a little on this group, but as a rule they represent the best of Guangzhou enamelling, and even where they fall short aesthetically, the technical standards remain uniformly high.

One of the features that lead us to assume a Guangzhou origin for this group is the form of many of the snuff bottles. Several of the finest (although none of those in this collection) have an elongated compressed-ovoid form that is typical of Guangzhou and does not appear on enamelled metal wares produced at the court until the dying years of the Qianlong era, and even then only rarely. They were probably produced by one team of enamellers, perhaps dominated by a single artist, who worked for a number of years producing works for the court. One other key feature identifying them as Guangzhou products is that they have white-enamel interiors rather than turquoise-blue interiors. Covering the interior of enamelled copper wares began very soon after the earliest experimental wares made at both Guangzhou and Beijing, when it was realized that the wares in general, and particularly with flat panels, became more stable and easier to control when fired if the internal and external tensions were equalized. Later, the interior enamel coating may also have been a positive factor in the better preservation of the snuff as more discriminating connoisseurship began to exert its influence, but this was unlikely to have been the original purpose. As rules of thumb go, the rule Beijing = turquoise, Guangzhou = white for interior enamelling is unusually useful. Very few exceptions have so far come along to compromise its universal application.

The fashions depicted in the scenes may provide a clue to dating, although what was shown was not necessarily contemporary even in a broad sense, and European fashions were certainly out of date by a year or more by the time they were pictured on a Chinese snuff bottle. The Chinese audience for such wares did not demand fidelity to an unknowable mode. Taking all the clues into account, however, it would seem that they are products of the second half of the eighteenth century, the last two-thirds of the Qianlong reign.

There are other potential indicators of date. Generally speaking, the mouths are either naturally wide or, if a lip is added, still generous; they are certainly not the obsessively small mouths of some mid-Qianlong wares. To be sure, this feature by itself is an unreliable guide to dating. Naturally wide mouths, together with the prevalence of elongated ovoid shapes, might suggest a date earlier in the reign, especially since the elongated oval form was known in the Yongzheng as a popular southern form, but we cannot rule out a mid-Qianlong date for the group as a whole. In favour of that point is that the people depicted on the core group of vessels characteristically possess overly large heads, giving them a dwarfish appearance, which is a feature of some palace-enamelled wares from the mid Qianlong.

Characteristic of the group is the fairly extensive use of pale ruby-pink enamel for predominant areas of clothing. As seen in figure I.58, the colours of the costumes are more pastel than in many such depictions of women and children on snuff bottles.

The common subject of a woman and young boy may have been introduced by wary-but-wily Jesuits to echo the Madonna and Christ. Although they may have been passed off as illustrations of filial piety and motherly love, women were seldom depicted with single children in Chinese art. Of course, the Chinese recognized and celebrated in various ways the strong bonds between mother and child, but there was an advantage to adopting the mother-and-single-child composition without pressing the question of whether it were secular or religious in origin. The intimacy of mother and child gave the artists an excuse to expose much more of a woman’s chest than was normal outside of truly erotic art in China; moreover, because foreign women throughout China’s history were presumed to be sexually aggressive, simply portraying Western women opened up possibilities of the imagination.

Eyes, lips, and noses in this group have no distinguishing characteristics but are just standard European features repeated. In figure I.58, the face of the woman and the young boy are interchangeable, something we never find on the finest of Beijing wares. Orange-red hair signifies ‘These are Europeans’, rather than depicting the hair colour of individual Europeans. This is typical of the best of the group.

The pale-green line borders at neck and base are also standard, although they often appear in combination with versions of the very elaborate borders of their Beijing counterparts. Another common feature is the use of grey stippling for sky found on the bottles in figures I.57 and I.58, as opposed to the blue-grey stippling of the Guangzhou group represented by the garden-party bottle in figure I.55.

Generally speaking, far more gold tends to remain on bottles of this group than on those represented in figures I.54 and I.56 and on other known Guangzhou groups. In the bottle in figure I.58, the gilding is relatively worn, however: even the strongest of gilding can be worn off with more frequent or careless use—or with the use of a stopper with metal rather than a softer material in contact with the lip.

The bottle in figure I.59, another of the famous masterpieces of the group, has figures very similar to those on the preceding two. The figures’ heads are again interchangeable, and the setting is vaguely architectural. It too has the wide mouth we would normally associate with an early period within the Qianlong reign.

The last of the group, shown in figure I.60, is unusually bucolic. No other similar scene is known, making this a very rare work. The artistic failing is in the colour. As is typical with this group, the iron-red (sometimes mixed with yellow in one area to provide a blending of yellow into red), and the sepia and black areas of drawing (the dog and boats here) are less well integrated into the design than they could be. It is only marginally troublesome here, but the dog does rather demand attention, set in such stark, dark lines against a rather pale, under-delineated ground. A similar complaint might be brought against the frequent juxtaposition of pink and iron red, which can clash in a colour scheme.

The designer of this bottle was comfortable with European perspective, using the size of objects to depict relative distance and, less intuitively, making distant scenes and objects visible behind objects in the foreground (rather than using a high vantage point and making more distant objects higher on the picture plane). The sailboat visible below the fisherman's rod is a vivid illustration of this. Use of this perspective is triggered by the presence of Western figural subjects. The mother-and-child bottles with village backgrounds we see in this collection are another example, even though the backgrounds are simple or spatially chaotic in their details.

One of the most intriguing of all Qianlong enamelled glass groups is well represented in the Marakovic collection. Despite a great deal of confusion surrounding the term ‘Guyue xuan’ (Ancient Moon Pavilion) from the late Qing right up through the end of the twentieth century, we now know that the Guyue xuan was a pavilion in one part of a residence intended for the Qianlong emperor in his retirement. It was in the Jian yuan 鑒園, (Garden of Reflection), which was on the east side of the Changchun yuan 長春園 (Garden of Everlasting Spring), just south of the gate from which the Qianlong emperor entered or exited when he was passing between the Yuanming yuan and the Summer Palace at Rehe (Jehol; modern Chengde). The Guyue xuan was completed in 1767, and in summer of the same year a series of experimental, essentially decorative enamelled glass wares bearing the name began to appear. Their quality was nothing like what highly trained artist-enamellers already working at the palace were capable of, but we think they were not intended to compete with them. The Guyue xuan is reported to have been built and decorated in the style of the Suzhou area, so perhaps it was thought most appropriate that the glass wares bearing the name of the studio be distinctively non-palace in style. Or they might have been intended as fairly low-level gifts and prizes to be distributed among bannermen at the twenty-day hunt that took place nearly every year in early autumn at Mulan 木蘭, a hunting park of about ten thousand square kilometres established by the Kangxi emperor north of Chengde. The Qianlong emperor went there forty-seven times during his reign. Some of the Guyue xuan snuff bottles have indications that they were presented by the emperor as prizes.

Whatever their role, they form a coherent group, evolve steadily with the introduction of some new enamellers and decorative concepts, and include the occasional name of an enameller or two (perhaps playfully). They stand apart stylistically for the first few years, even though they were apparently made in the palace workshops. The inscription on one of the earliest of this experimental group, from the Bloch collection, actually states that it was made in the inner palace, the neiting 內廷 (A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, vi: Arts of the Fire,no. 1087). It is dated the sixth month of 1768; several of the earliest of the group are dated from the summer of 1767 through the following few years. Most with dates are from the first three or four years, but there is a single example dated in a seal to 1775. Then precise dates cease, and the best of the Guyue xuan wares become integrated with general high-end palace production. Sometime in the 1770s, the Qianlong reign mark becomes an alternative to the Guyue xuan mark, even on bottles obviously of the more decorative group; conversely, the Guyue xuan mark begins to appear on enamelled-glass wares indistinguishable from the finest of other palace enamelled glass of the day.

Several distinct groups of the early Guyue xuan types can be identified. Some examples are unmarked or may have had marks worn off; the marked ones tell us that iron red was used, especially for Guyue xuan marks, and that is not the strongest of enamels. The palace workshop records are absolutely silent on the Guyue xuan, but we know that many lesser wares so commissioned were not recorded. Even when Tang Ying was instructed to send snuff bottles on a regular basis from Jingdezhen, the order was brief, almost curt: it simply noted that thereafter only fifty a year should be sent; no further mention of the snuff bottles is made, and no descriptions were recorded, as far as we know. Yet these remain among the finest snuff bottles ever made in porcelain.

Figure I.61 shows an early decorative experimental Guyue xuan snuff bottle. The double-gourd form and the jewelled, beaded borders typical of palace enamels suggest an imperial product, in which case it probably dates from 1767 or very soon thereafter. In the blue rocks and the colour scheme of the prunus we see precedents for the classic Guyue xuan wares of a few years later, but the bottle is from the hands of an enamel decorator, not an artist.

Two Guyue xuan-marked bottles in the Marakovic collection that are painted in a similarly simple style both have relief glass designs augmented and completed by the enamelling (figs. I.62 and I.63); this is also a forerunner of the classic Guyue xuan wares of later in the reign, but they still represent an early design, the progenitor of a whole series of bottles with lotus subjects simply painted in a limited palette. The marks are iron-red regular-script marks – regular script being standard for Beijing versions, while seal script was the standard for Yangzhou. The use of iron-red lines filled with ruby-pink colouring for lotus designs is typical of this group. Both probably date from the early 1770s, but they may have been made in the last years of the 1760s.

Some of the Guyue xuan snuff bottles are made with recycled palace glass bottles, often in various colours other than white. The bottle in figure I.64 is probably an earlier Qianlong glass snuff bottle; it is enamelled with a design and style similar to the bottles in figures I.62 and I.63, but its painting is far more sophisticated, suggesting an evolved later product, perhaps firmly ascribable to the 1770s, possibly even the 1780s. There is no mark visible on the foot, but it is a protruding flat foot of the type so often found on excavated glass bottles and popular prior to the 1770s. Any mark on it would certainly have been in iron red and therefore particularly vulnerable. We might suppose that a snuff-bottle maker adding a mark to a protruding flat foot would realize what a bad idea it was and protect the mark with a foot rim, as was done with most marks. But this assumes a level of experience or foresight that these enamellers may not have possessed at that time. If it took many years for such a mark to be compromised in normal use, it might have been a decade or more before anyone realized that putting a mark on a protruding flat foot was short-sighted.

Among the distinct groups that arose out of the palace enamelling practice associated with the Guyue xuan are bottles that bear the name Wu Yuchuan 吳玉川. This is either the enameller or an imaginary name invented as a signature, for reasons unknown. These wares can be firmly linked to enamelling at the palace from 1767 to 1799, although none is specifically dated; some designs are very similar to others that can be reasonably closely dated to this period. Sometimes the Wu Yuchuan works are painted in a relatively full famille rose palette, sometimes in a restricted palette, perhaps just black (or tones of grey) plus red (for the seals). The seals he regularly used, which appear here, are 中和 Zhonghe (‘Centeredness and Harmony’) usually preceding the inscriptions he so frequently added, and two that followed the inscriptions, the name Wu Yuchuan in negative seal script, and 山高 Shangao (the mountains are high [and may you enjoy equal longevity]). Frequently, he marked his wares 大清年製 Da Qing nian zhi (Made during the great Qing dynasty) on the foot, noting the dynasty but no specific era name.

For Bloch-collection snuff bottles bearing Wu’s seals, see Bonhams Hong Kong, 28 May 2010, lot 120, and Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 27 May 2013, lot 265. The former is decorated with a picture of men transplanting rice seedlings, a subject that is illustrated in a painting that was also in the imperial collection by the mid Qianlong era and is now in the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C. The Zhonghe seal that appears in front of the inscription here and on the Bloch bottles is found following the Qianlong emperor’s additional inscription on the painting of section 13 of the scroll. The other seal, Shangao, was also commonly used on ceramics painted in the palace workshops under the Qianlong emperor, usually being added to landscape designs and accompanied by a second seal to form the popular phrase Shangao shuichang (Tall as the mountains and everlasting as the waters), associated with birthday wishes. The Marakovic snuff bottle (fig. I.65), judging from some slight ‘tomb-bloom’ on the surface, may be an excavated bottle. Another bottle painted with wild geese among reeds was in the J&J collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang, The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle [Weatherhill, 1993],no. 195).

Another of the standard sub-groups of the Guyue xuan range of wares is represented by figures I.66 - I.67 - I.68. Many of these are painted on non-compressed forms, and the mouths of some are quite wide, suggesting that even if the mid Qianlong saw a vogue in some areas for excessively narrow mouths, it was not necessarily a feature that was considered de rigueur for all types. All three of the classic examples of this sub-group in the Marakovic collection are of uncompressed forms with wide mouths. The style is very decorative and simple, with black outlines and colour fills; it is charming folk-like drawing that does not aspire to high art. The bottle in figure I.66 has no mark remaining, but its protruding flat foot may have had one originally. The other two have typical three-character iron-red marks in regular script.

The Guyue xuan group is distributed across several old collections with varied states of wear, often extensive; frequently they are in appalling condition, with almost entirely degraded or lost enamels. They are also found in excavations. All these factors give the lie to an earlier belief that they were copies made in the Republican period. That view was based upon shallow connoisseurship that measured the Guyue xuan group against the most artistic Qianlong palace enamels and, finding them wanting, assumed them to be late fakes rather than a distinct Qianlong school of enamelled glass.

Figure I.69 shows a snuff bottle that brings the Guyue xuan development firmly into the classic wares of the late reign, from the 1770s to 1799, as does the bottle in figure I.70. These were probably originally made as monochrome glass bottles and only later pressed into service for enamelling. Both are crisply and very well painted with typical classic Guyue xuan style but still carry evidence of the more decorative intent of the group. Among the group are at least five examples painted with prunus blossoms on a colourless glass ground, represented by the bottle in fig. I.70a.

Relief-plane bottles are the most spectacular expression of the classic Guyue xuan wares. They are nearly always under excellent technical control, crisply executed, with splendidly decorative painting and subject matter. It has always been assumed that the single-plane examples evolved to the more complex and fancy two-plane ones, but the two bottles in figures I.62 and I.63 suggest that they may have evolved side by side, and single-plane wares certainly did not disappear when two-plane bottles were in production. An unusual relief-plane bottle of colourless glass is shown in figure I.71; most, such as the bottle in figure I.71a, are of translucent white; the cylindrical form here is unusual.

There is no example of the classic Guyue xuan style represented by figures I.69 - I.70 - I.71 remaining in the imperial collection, and only one or two of the earlier experimental types are still part of that treasure-trove. With the early-reign masterpieces of highly artistic painting, in contrast, about fifty per cent of the known body of works remains in the imperial collection, and the many examples now in private and museum collections are in the sort of condition that suggests they were removed from the imperial collection during its perilous years between the sacking of the Summer Palace in 1860 and the stability that came with the de facto end of the civil war in 1949. If these high-end enamelled glass wares, more challenging to produce, were reserved for the emperor and his family and thus stayed within the imperial storehouses, Guyue xuan wares apparently continued to be distributed as a sign of imperial grace.

Figure I.72 represents a higher level of work. It has no mark, but its flat foot may have ensured that any original iron-red Guyue xuan mark was guaranteed to wear off. There is no way to judge whether a mark has been worn off by normal usage, removed intentionally once it has faded to a certain level, or never existed to begin with. The general rule for this group would be to expect a mark, but the general rule about general rules is to expect an exception to crop up the moment you have enshrined it. If this snuff bottle did once have a Guyue xuan mark, it would be one of those examples where the higher levels of palace enamelling began to incorporate the Guyue xuan mark or, conversely, where the Guyue xuan enamellers felt the need to follow a more artful design and had developed the skills to do so. This also represents the type of bottle Ye Bengqi 葉菶祺 copied so successfully in the 1930s, fooling the Chinese art world for more than three decades. The style and design here suggest a date from the 1750s into the 1780s; if the bottle ever had a Guyue xuan mark, the date range would narrow to from around 1770 into the 1780s.

To illustrate the progress of imperial enamels on glass, we could not expect two more suitable bottles than those in figures I.73 and I.74, the first with a Guyue xuan mark, the second with a four-character Qianlong mark. These allow us to segue directly from the mid- to late-reign Guyue xuan wares into the last enamelling style of the Qianlong reign at Beijing. They belong to a group of painted enamels that have the same painting style, the same palette, and often the same subjects, whether they are on glass or on metal. Some of them bear Jiaqing marks, some Qianlong marks; this could indicate that the style had developed soon before the Jiaqing era began in 1796. However, the Qianlong-marked examples also could have been made between 1796 and 1799, when the Qianlong emperor was still alive and both era marks were in concurrent use. (A Jiaqing-marked example made in, say, 1797 would actually predate a Qianlong-dated one made in 1798, although their reign marks by themselves, with no inscription giving a specific year, will forever conceal this anomaly.)

Although these bottles can be spectacular, they are not in a class artistically with the finest early-Qianlong wares, or even the best of the mid-reign group. Standards had slipped a little, as one can see partly in the fact that repetition was creeping in. Identical compositions are found in multiple versions. The composition of birds in pairs, as seen in figure I.74, for instance, appears on both metal and glass. The design is altered only to fit different shapes of bottle: some are taller; one is a double gourd form.

The subject of pairs of birds appears with both Qianlong and Jiaqing reign marks. At least two examples specify yuzhi 御製 (imperially made –for the Qianlong emperor in one case and for the Jiaqing emperor in the other) as part of the reign mark, suggesting continued direct imperial interest, even if the quality had fallen off from the dizzying heights of the earlier reign. Enamel-on-metal versions of this subject are among the few that have the elongated oval shape so popular at Guangzhou for imperial bottles from the Yongzheng into the Qianlong. Perhaps the influence of those Guangzhou bottles was still being felt in Beijing six or seven decades later.

It seems that during the Qianlong period the imperial demand for enamels, and specifically for the technically troublesome painted enamels on glass, tended to exceed supply. Unmet demand for enamelled glass-snuff bottles had already become an issue only five years into the Yongzheng era. On 28 April 1727 (YZ5/intercalary3/8), the enamelling workshop responded to an order from the emperor that, because ‘enamelled snuff bottles are still insufficient to meet the need’, they should ‘take all glass snuff bottles fired with enamels, as well as glass snuff bottles’ and deliver them in greater quantities. Sixteen enamelled-glass snuff bottles and fifty glass snuff bottles were duly sent off.

The Marakovic collection is home to what may be the most important cloisonné snuff bottle in any collection (fig. I.85). It lacks a reign mark, so we cannot say with certainty that it was made as late as the Qianlong era. It has a gold body, just like some snuff bottles mentioned in the records for the Yongzheng enamelling workshop in 1723 and 1728. The archives also record that a gold-bodied dou 豆 with a green-ground cloisonné design was completed 31 May 1729 (YZ7/5/4); although this imitation of an ancient ritual vessel is not known to have survived, there is copper version in the National Palace Museum with a Yongzheng mark (the only known piece of cloisonné so marked), but there is also a gold copy in the same Taiwan museum with a Qianlong mark. So it is well within the realm of possibility that the snuff bottle in figure I.85 is from the Yongzheng era.

The formalized design on the coloured ground would certainly allow a Yongzheng date for this bottle. The wide mouth is similar to mouths on Kangxi and Yongzheng enamels. The bats (fu 蝠) arrayed around the central shou 壽 character (actually, one of a seeming infinitude of designs based on the character) constitute a fushou 福壽 (Happiness/Blessings and Longevity) design; in the Yongzheng records, instructions to produce wares with fushou designs are sufficiently plentiful to suggest that this was a standard addition to the repertoire of popular floral formalized designs inherited from the Kangxi era. This bottle may date from the Yongzheng period, then. However, we feel that perhaps a Qianlong date is more likely, given the intricate detail of the design, the technical perfection, and the colours of the enamels. If so, however, it probably dates from the earlier part of the reign. The design, style, and gold body all unquestionably indicate a palace workshops provenance.

Snuff bottles were of great interest to the emperor, and the amount of gold they would use is fairly small, so we should expect that quite a few gold-body cloisonné bottles would have been made. Yet those that survive outside the safety of the imperial collection can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The reason is that these were extraordinarily fragile bottles, as demonstrated by one gold-body snuff bottle with both cloisonné and painted enamels in the Bloch collection (no. 1074). It had been badly damaged, with perhaps a third of the enamel missing, by the time the Blochs acquired it. Gold is even softer than copper and easily deformed; enamels are not malleable enough to remain attached where the underlying body is dented. Damage to an enamelled gold-body snuff bottle would be hard to miss, and a reasonable response (before these snuff bottles had value as antiques) would be to strip off the enamel and recycle the gold. Hence the uniqueness of the Marakovic bottle.

A second cloisonné bottle of considerable importance is shown in figure I.86. The colouring and style are typical of the Qianlong palace workshops, as is the form, copying an ancient vase shape, complete with loose-ring handles. Such borrowings from the imperial collection of ancient bronzes, jades, and ceramics are a feature of eighteenth-century imperial production. The Qianlong mark is also quintessentially of the Beijing palace in style. It is a four-character, neatly written, regular-script mark in the Song style, characteristic of the best wares of the era. The colours and style here suggest a date from the earlier part of the reign.

Sometimes it is difficult to differentiate a snuff bottle from a miniature vase, the kind made for assemblages of miniature treasures to be set into fancy boxes (‘treasure boxes’) popular with both the Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors. If a vessel has a sloping inner neck, it may have been made as a miniature vase. In this case, however, the original addition of a flat lip with a small circular opening tells us unambiguously that this, while it may imitate a vase from the lip down, was made to serve as a snuff bottle.

As spectacular and rare as this bottle is, it has been augmented by a recent addition to the collection which is even more spectacular, figure I.86a.  Of similar palette and formalized floral design, the wide mouth in combination with the carefully and correctly engraved, regular-script mark, suggests a likely early-reign product.  It is technically and artistically faultless and a small masterpiece of cloisonné art.  

The waisted-gourd bottles in figures I.87 and I.88 represent an intriguing phenomenon. Both might fit peripherally into a type that has been confused with post-communist production, to which we will come under figures I.99 - I.100 - I.101 - I.102 - I.103. Neither is enamelled inside; both have typically imperial formalized floral designs; the gilding on both is considerably and convincingly worn; the enamels are dulled by a convincing network of small, random scratches from use, and neither uses any of the new famille rose colours, which is extremely unusual for Qianlong cloisonné wares. Figure I.87 has an entirely convincing engraved Qianlong mark for the early reign. It seems reasonable to allow that both should be attributed to the Qianlong reign until we have more time and data to resolve the outstanding questions about the dating of various groups of cloisonné enamel bottles.

Another intriguing feature of figure I.87 is the exaggeratedly long finial on the original stopper. It is clear that these long finials were an early option to give a good grip for removing the stopper, evolving by the mid Qing into more decorative finials with less of a practical function. (See Hugh Moss, ‘Crowning Glory: The Art of the Snuff Bottle Stopper, Part 1’, Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, Winter 2012, pp. 5 – 6). This is one of only two known cloisonné bottle with such a large finial. Its presence suggests that the bottle may even date from the earlier part of the Qianlong era.

It is clear that many of the other eighteenth-century bottles in the Marakovic collection were made for the court. Whether they were made in Beijing or elsewhere is often less clear. Figure I.89 shows a cloisonné snuff bottle that is almost certainly imperial, but the fact that it was probably one of a set (others like it are known) suggests that it was made at a facility away from the capital. Sets larger than a pair of bottles are typical of distant production where, once a design was approved, it made more sense to order ten or twenty at a time (these being the standard count per set in the Qianlong and Jiaqing eras). This particular series also suggests ceramic designs made at Jingdezhen for the court, where similar floral panels with floral surrounds are common, and some Jingdezhen imperial porcelains also have the same design repeated in the two panels, as we find here. Bearing in mind that a good deal of imperial ceramic design for wares produced at Jingdezhen was in fact drawn up first by court artists, there may be some significance to the design of floral abundance set in a panel, with formalized floral surrounds. It is undoubtedly relevant that Jiujiang, the southern administrative post for the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, was also involved in cloisonné production for the court in the Qianlong era, as mentioned above. There are equally pressing similarities between this bottle and other, supposedly palace cloisonné products.

We must keep reminding ourselves that, despite the strides we have made since the 1960s, we are still only just beginning to delve into the details of the enormous range of technologies involved in the making of snuff bottles. The bottle in figure I.89 has a turquoise blue enamelled foot similar to that on the very early example illustrated in figure I.16. It seems likely that the enamelled foot was an experimental alternative to a gilt-metal foot surrounded by a foot rim, the standard early type. The option of the enamelled foot took hold in the Qianlong era, and if an enamelled foot was preferred, it was monochrome and usually in turquoise blue, the ubiquitous ground colour of cloisonné enamels. One known early exception to this rule is a unique foot that is not only enamelled but also has a design in the enamel (Water, Pine, and Stone Retreat Collection), but this is an exceptional case. That bottle is obviously early, probably Kangxi, and an experiment that was quickly rejected as involving unnecessary extra work.

The next three examples (figs. I.90 - I.91 - I.92) represent a small group of snuff bottles with a tall, flattened-ovoid form and decorated with auspicious objects, usually including the attributes of the Eight Immortals, on various different-coloured grounds. The fact that two of them (in figs. I.90 and I.91) are unusual versions on a yellow ground suggests that they are imperial, even if neither is marked. Others known have the standard blue ground of figure I.92, and at least one is known with a black ground. All three in this collection have a gilt-metal foot and foot rim. The form is reminiscent of the painted-enamel-on-metal bottles produced during the Yongzheng reign for the court (fig. I.25) and even of the enamelled glass bottle (fig. I.24) that we tentatively ascribed to the Yongzheng, raising the possibility of whether this group may be early. A Qianlong date seems safe, but for the time being it would be worth keeping an open mind about the possibility of a Yongzheng precursor.

The pattern on the bottle in figure I.91 is called the an baxian 暗八仙, the ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’ Eight Immortals, because only the accoutrements of the immortals are shown. On the upper right of the main sides, we have the gourd that belongs to ‘Iron-crutch Li’ 李鐵拐 in red. To the left of it is the lotus flower that would be carried by Immortal-girl He 何仙姑. Below the red gourd is a black sword, standing in for Lü Dongbin 呂洞賓. To the left of it is the flower basket of the androgynous Lan Caihe 藍采和. And below it is a pair of Yinyang boards (yinyang ban 陰陽板, wooden clappers used like castanets), which are associated with Cao Guojiu 曹國舅. On each narrow side, we find the remaining three accoutrements. The top one is probably the flute of Han Xiangzi 韓湘子; it seems to be divided into segments like a bamboo, and there is a plausible blow hole on the bottom segment, a plain segment, and then segments with plausible finger holes. Below that is a fish-skin drum in red associated with Zhang Guolao 張果老. (The two bamboo tongues sticking out from the end away from the drum-head are clacked for added percussion.) Finally, we have the dark-blue leaf fan of Zhongli Quan 鐘離權. The bottle in figure I.92 is decorated with a similar ‘secret Eight Immortals’ pattern.

One of the largest groups of early cloisonné bottles made in several series and in sets, suggesting the possibility of distant production, is represented by figures I.93 - I.94 - I.95 - I.96. They are always of the same shape and design, of strange kui dragons surrounding a central shou character – although in figure I.93 one has to look very closely at the shou design to see that it is not a roundish version of the three-line trigram qian , which the Qianlong emperor sometimes used as a personal mark on works of art (the trigram’s name being the first character of his era name). The surrounds are formalized floral patterns, and the colour-schemes vary greatly. Some are only partially filled with enamel—still cloisonné rather than champlevé, as they have been mistakenly called in the past—with much of the ground left unfilled. The exposed metal is gilt, often patterned on the semi-filled versions with a rough texture (see figs. I.95 and I.96). Some have a monochrome enamelled foot, others a gilt-metal foot; obviously, both options were available when these bottles were made, which is worth keeping in mind should we ever be tempted to pontificate that one option or the other can be used in isolation to deduce different dating ranges. We have dated them in the past to the Qianlong reign, which remains likely, although they may be a type where continued repeat orders continued into subsequent reigns. As for whether they were made at court or at remote cloisonné-making sites such as Guangzhou, Jiujiang, or Yangzhou, the present state of our knowledge does not allow us to tell.

The technique of these three bottles could be applied to other designs, of course. The bottles in figures I.97 and I.98 are spectacular variations on the same concept. Nothing about the style or design would undermine our assumption that these were made under imperial patronage.

The most intriguing group of bottles we still need to make complete sense of is represented by figures I.99 and I.100, but before we deal with them, it is worth looking at the later-Qing production of cloisonné. The 1755 (QL20/1/11) movement of all Zaobanchu workshops to the Yuanming yuan or the 1789 (QL54/10/13) breakup of the enamelling workshop with the reassignment of enamel painters (huafalang ren 畫琺瑯人) to the Ruyi guan 如意館 may or may not have curtailed cloisonné production in the Zaobanchu. In any case, cloisonné wares would have been available from imperially sponsored workshops in Guangzhou and other centres as needed. At the same time, private production would have sprung up around the empire, and particularly in Beijing. Nongovernmental cloisonné production could have supplied the court from the mid Qing (gradually making the imperial enamelling workshop redundant) into the nineteenth century.

One of the private workshops was visited by Maurice Jametel (1856 – 1889) and described in his Émailleurs Pékinois (Geneva, 1886). The owner of the workshop was ‘Tchen-to’, which Jametel glosses as ‘la vertu prospère’. His translation suggests a name that we would write 盛德, Shengde in pinyin and Cheng-to in the standard French transcription system as it was formulated a dozen years after Jametel’s death. It should be noted that Jametel’s spelling did not distinguish between the finals ~n and ~ng: he spells the Beijing district in which the cloisonné factory was located as ‘Leou-li-tchan’, which we recognize as the well-known Liulichang 琉璃廠; it would be something like Lieou-li-tch’ang in standard French transcription. Making allowances for this kind of ‘slippage’, then, Jametel’s Tchen-to can be read as Cheng-to (Shengde), and that would be a perfectly acceptable name for an artisan’s shop. But Sheng is not a surname, and Jametel refers to ‘Tchen’ repeatedly in his book in a manner that suggests that Tchen was a surname. If it was a surname, and Jametel put a superfluous hyphen between it and the given name, Tchen-to could be the names we would write Chen De 陳德 or Cheng De 程德. We have not found enamellers by either name.

In prior publications, we speculated that Tschen-to would have been written 成德 in Chinese characters and that it was a reversal of a name that appears stamped on the foot of certain cloisonné articles, including four vessels sold at Christie’s New York, 20 October, 2004: Decheng 德成. Decheng is a perfectly good workshop name; although we have been able to find it associated in Beijing only with shops making high-quality fried cakes, there are various artisan workshops with similar names. But it probably has nothing to do with Jametel’s Tchen, who was clearly a person and not a studio. Although we cannot substantiate a connection between the studio Jametel visited and the Decheng-marked wares, we must emphasize that it was not and is not necessary to tie these two names together in order to make the point that cloisonné manufacture had successfully made the transition to private production. In the early twentieth century, there were more than a dozen shops in Beijing specializing in cloisonné wares (although we do not know how many of them were actually making these wares on site). This did not arise out of nowhere: it was a continuation of the active late-nineteenth-century commercial market in which Tchen-to’s atelier and the Decheng workshop each played a role.

By the mid 1950s, when the Communists set up workshops to pass the ancient crafts on to a new generation, a number of skilled cloisonné workers would have been brought out of retirement and put to work teaching, particularly in the Beijing Arts and Crafts workshops set up at the time. This shows that the warlord era, the Japanese occupation, and the civil war between the Communists and Nationalists had not interrupted production to the point where these specialists had lost their skills and disposed of their tools; in addition, the enamels required must have continued to be available, as well. So between the cloisonné wares of the late Qing and those of post-1949 China, we should expect to find Republican ones.

The nature of the market for cloisonné encouraged a high degree of continuity, which in certain circumstances could become counterfeiting. This was true even (or especially) in New China. When the old experts (assuming more than one was available) started to teach the new students the art in the mid 1950s, they would have taught their existing style. If a new style was to emerge, it would have to await the development of skills among a new generation. Unfortunately, at that time the market was Western, ill-informed, and fixated on Qianlong wares, so the Communist workshops blithely produced feudal-era art works for a capitalist market without a hint that they recognized the irony. Snuff bottles from this output flooded the market from 1955 into the late 1970s.

At the same time, it seems, large numbers of older snuff bottles were also being exported freely and indiscriminately along with the new, creating the impression that it was all new. This is the group that is now being re-assessed by a scholar (and musicologist) named Grant G. Chang (Chang Gang 常罡), who argues convincingly that a good deal of what we previously thought to be Communist product is in fact genuine as marked, but made at Guangzhou, or at a workshop under the direction of the Jiujiang administrative office, or indeed elsewhere, and that more of it was made in the late-Qing or Republican periods than previously thought, with only some attributable to the period between the 1950s and 1980. The records clearly support Chang’s thesis, but the details of exactly which particular bottles and groups were made when have yet to be established with finality.

We firmly believe that not all the wares lumped casually into Communist production really belong in that category and that the re-assessment is long overdue. Any snuff bottle whose provenance can be established in a collection that was formed before the mid 1950s (the renaissance in the arts and crafts workshops did not begin until about 1955) can help establish reference points for pre-Communist cloisonné work. While the search for such bottles progresses, we have other criteria to use.

When we begin to separate out the Qianlong marked-examples that are likely to be genuine, we observe a wider range of wear and degradation of their copper. Many of them have marked copper encrustation building up where the copper has been subjected to dampness over a lengthy period, and several are very convincingly worn, including one in the Marakovic collection (fig. I.106) that has lost much of its gold due to natural wear; it also exhibits a good deal of surface scratching on the enamels and worn metal wires.

Although none of the group to be re-assessed so far has proven to have a solid gold body, despite some optimism in that area among collectors and auctioneers, there is the cogent point that several of them are so heavily gilded as to appear to be of solid gold. This is far from standard for the known post-1955 output, when gold was not to be wasted in substantial gilding for tourist export wares.

A family of snuff-bottle shapes that probably characterize earlier production are the ‘rectangular’ forms, which, although tapering and bowed, have a basically rectangular horizontal section (see figs. I.99 and I.100). The corners may be softened with fluting, giving a slightly foliate edge to the section. Some are more generously formed than others, but both of the Marakovic examples are of the thinner, less bulbous type. They are typically more pictorial in the main decoration than the standard palace style, and sometimes less artistic in the drawing of the main elements, although variations in quality and style suggest production over a reasonable period of time and evolving style and standards.

Cloisonné enamels are inherently constrained by their medium and tend towards the decorative rather than the painterly. This can be seen in figure I.99: despite the well-controlled floral borders, both the dragon and fenghuang on the bottle are simplified and essentially decorative.

Figure I.100 shows a non-formalized floral panel design unusual for the group, however, the style being quite different from any known Beijing cloisonné products of the period. (One side may illustrate Chimonanthus praecox, wintersweet, lamei 臘梅, which is much celebrated in Chinese poetry and art. But if the varied colours of the blossoms are taken to be a naturalistic depiction of the plant, the model must be flowering quince, or ‘Japanese quince’, which blooms fairly early and has red, white, or pink flowers. The Chinese name is tiegeng haitang 貼梗海棠, ‘sticker haitang’. Convolvulus, shown on the other side, also comes in several colours.) Although this bottle does not bear an incised Qianlong mark, it is obviously of the same group, and the yellow ground would, in theory, indicate the likelihood of its being an imperial product, although we are not entirely sure of the significance of the use of yellow in late-eighteenth-century production generally. If we ignore the large quantity of non-imperial enamelled porcelain that uses yellow as a colour in the famille rose palette, we can still postulate that a solid yellow glaze marked a snuff bottle as imperial, but the meaning of a yellow ground to a panel or minor surrounding design is not so clear.

The snuff bottle illustrated in figure I.101 shares the theme of dragon and fenghuang with the one in figure I.99, but the surrounding floral designs, on a white ground this time, are of much greater intricacy and quality. This feature is shared by the herdboy-and-buffalo bottle shown in figure I.102, which represents a very different series of decorative landscapes on bottles within the same broad group of re-assessed wares. Sometimes these unexpected designs, because they depart so radically from what we assume to be palace standards, seem strange, but their distinctive qualities can be readily understood as simply indicative of a different production centre. Very similar and exceptionally fine floral surrounds are shown in figure I.103, of the same group, and a spectacular one with a formalized floral design on a yellow ground is shown in figure I.104.

The bird-and-flower bottle in figure I.105 is one of the broader group, but it has a distinctive feature: very thick gilt-metal frames at the edges between the main sides, linking to a gilt-metal foot. These frames tend to appear on bottles with an essentially rectangular cross section. It is not a typically Beijing feature that we know of, and may indicate a southern source, perhaps Jiujiang, perhaps Guangzhou.

Figure I.106 shows the well-worn example noted earlier. Another dragon-and-fenghuang bottle, it is like the broader group in having its original stopper and an engraved four-character Qianlong mark competently written.

Many of these early bottles that were once confused with modern production have matching original stoppers. Viewed as a group, they also exhibit a sensible range of wear for an eighteenth-century series. (Wear is a weak dating indicator on an individual example, but when it is consistent across a larger series, it becomes a stronger index of age for the series.) When reign-marked, they tend to bear the sort of mark seen on the last two examples, cut with a chisel, the characters slightly cursive. The style is a freehand version of regular script, not the careful reproduction of Song woodblock print as seen in figure I.86.

The decorative designs may indicate a distant facility; they may also indicate a late-Qianlong date on the theory that it was in the late Qianlong palace workshops that decorative, repeated compositions replaced the one-off, artistic designs of the earlier years of the reign and the best of the mid-reign output. As yet, however, we know too little to judge. The nature of the cloisonné technique would seem to encourage repetition and discourage the sort of spontaneous variation that might naturally occur with painted enamels. Some of the broader group of cloisonné bottles up for re-assessment are among the finest technically ever made, and it is tempting to believe that they should date to the Qianlong era. As always, however, to judge wares purely on quality and assume that the best must be the earliest is to disregard the astonishing skills developed very quickly by modern fakers, especially now that high prices for Chinese antiques have given them a good incentive to excel. Even in the 1950s, the prestige and relative material comfort of working in the arts made the competition to be accepted into the handicraft institutes extremely keen, with the happy result that works such as cloisonné snuff bottles were produced only by the small number of the successful candidates whose talent for the art form was up to the highest standards.

The momentum of Qianlong skills and style carried well beyond the emperor’s death in 1799. Lacking a large number of reign-marked wares from the Jiaqing and Daoguang periods to guide us, we have no reliable yardstick for separating Qianlong-influenced works of those eras from actual Qianlong works. How long cloisonné bottles remained popular at court and how long their style remained constant, we simply don’t know.

Figure I.107 shows an unmarked bottle that is typical of Qianlong palace style; it could even be from the first half of the reign. The use of gilt-metal details (here, the handles) was standard in imperial wares, as were formalized floral designs, the metal foot, and the blue ground. The original stopper here, with its gilt-metal relief simply surrounded by enamel – not technically a cloisonné technique – is also found on known painted enamelled wares from the earlier decades of the reign, as is confirmed in the records. This bottle may, however, be an early-nineteenth-century response to Qianlong style.

The bottle in figure I.108 can be dated with more confidence to a period stretching from the late Qianlong into the first few decades of the nineteenth century. It seems to be a palace type: the millefleurs design is a typically courtly one on enamels in general and less common elsewhere; and the matching floral stopper is echoed on bottles attributable to the Qianlong reign. The only other similar design, obviously by the same workshop at the same time, was in the Bloch collection (A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, vi: Arts of the Fire, no. 1118; Bonhams Hong Kong, 28 November 2011, lot 28). The Bloch example, given a dating range of 1760 – 1799, was judged to be of typical imperial form. The Marakovic example is also of a typically imperial form, although it is more of a ceramic shape. Similar flattened forms are also found in hardstone bottles made at and for the court and beyond. We continue to believe both bottles are imperial, but it is prudent to acknowledge that both bottles could have been made in the early nineteenth century, under the lingering influence of Qianlong-era cloisonné.

Bronze imperial snuff bottles, whether gilt or not, are relatively rare. Bronze has a distinctive odour when handled, one that could have affected the aroma of precious snuff carried in such a vessel. Indeed, Chinese collectors were once reluctant to collect later Chinese bronzes because they left an unpleasant odour on the hands. A few bronze snuff bottles are known, however, and the one in figure I.109 is one from a two-part mould from which several others were made. Another mid-Qing bronze bottle that is also probably from the late Qianlong reign is illustrated in figure I.109a; it seems to be the only one from its mould to survive.

A more recent addition to the collection is even more intriguing (fig. I.110). It is one from that small group of bottles that carries the anomalous mark Qianlong yuzhi 乾隆御製 (Made by imperial command of the Qianlong emperor). The yuzhi designation is standard for Kangxi enamelled wares produced at the palace workshops, but it disappears and then reappears only later, sporadically, on other materials. The use of this mark under the Kangxi emperor seems to have signalled the emperor’s intense interest in enamelled wares; usage in this art form under the two subsequent reigns shifted to the more usual …nian zhi ······年製 (made in the year of…) formula, seeming to signify that the emperor’s personal supervision was no longer needed as the technology gelled.

From then on, although some yuzhi-marked wares are standard palace-workshop wares, some are anomalies. We have suggested elsewhere that during the Qianlong era the use of the yuzhi designation may have implied the specific interest of the emperor, as before, but perhaps in conjunction with designated trials at outside workshops or with new types. If the emperor, for instance, decided to order something from a new workshop, he might order something specific as a test, and that might bear the yuzhi designation.

This snuff bottle would be a good example of such a prototype. It is not a standard palace-workshop bronze: it is thinner than usual and seems to have been constructed by joining two sheets of bronze (possibly copper) that had been beaten into shape using the same mould, then decorated by chasing the surface to create the full detail of the design. The workmanship and style are both appropriate for the Qianlong reign, and the gilding and surface are very convincingly worn through natural use, so we can be certain of some age. If it were a fake from any time from the Daoguang onwards, it would almost certainly have had a five-clawed dragon on it to make it more imperial, more saleable. Instead, it has a four-clawed beast, making it suitable as a gift to an ennobled commoner. We know many mid-Qing imperial bottles with reign marks and four-clawed dragons in enamelled porcelain, so they were obviously following a standard protocol, and we don’t have to search far among them for the model for a similar design. With some further borders added at the neck, this design matches those on the dragon-and-fenghuang snuff bottles that flourished in the Jiaqing reign. One such bottle is in this collection (fig. I.237); it has a three-clawed dragon, perhaps making it suitable for distribution on a wider variety of occasions. It is possible that this metal snuff bottle was a forerunner for the porcelain design; it is also possible that it is from the late Qianlong era and that some of the unmarked porcelain examples are also from the late Qianlong.

Glass, the staple of imperial snuff-bottle production from 1696 onwards, provides us with many reliable landmarks during the Qianlong reign. The reign marking of some types of wares was a standard by the early Qianlong, and although no glass snuff bottles were marked as often and as reliably as painted enamels on metal and glass, we find many clues to Qianlong style in the large body of credibly reign-marked glass that survives. Nino Marakovic’s first snuff-bottle love was enamels of all sorts, and this naturally made him familiar with reign-marked wares; when he acquired glass snuff bottles, he therefore tended to favour reign-marked ones, almost as a reflex.

By the Qianlong reign, we can assume that most of the possible colours were available at the imperial glassworks. Uranium glass (with a distinctive transparent, pale lime-emerald colour that fluoresces in ultraviolet light) is different; it was probably not known until the later Qing. Pitchblende deposits are present in China, but we have been unable to ascertain that it was used for colouring glass; when uranium glass appears in China, it is most likely imported from Europe, where it had become popular from the mid nineteenth century; in any case, similar pale green or yellowish colours (which did not fluoresce in ultraviolet light) were available domestically much earlier.

The range of faceted plain glass that we may assume began in the Kangxi and continued into the Yongzheng was a staple of Qianlong production. By then the shape would have been firmly established as denoting imperial favour. Certain colours would also have been associated, no doubt, with the palace glassworks, and not just the range of yellow reserved for imperial use; initially, ruby red from colloidal gold was exclusively associated with court production, for example. Many other colours in production during the Qianlong era appear on reign-marked examples, several of which are in this collection.

The bottles in figures I.111 and I.112 represent one common style established before the Qianlong, no doubt, but probably popular throughout the reign: a basic form (a compressed apple shape in the case of fig. I.111, and a compressed spherical form in fig. I.112) is covered in multiple facets without specific raised panels on each main side and with the main and narrow sides a continuous faceted curve. Fig I.113 shows a variation that combines this concept with main panels, in this case integral dishes (which we have discussed above). Studying the range of Qianlong-marked glass wares in the Marakovic collection, we can be certain that the naturally wide mouth of the Kangxi and Yongzheng eras continued well into the Qianlong period. The bottles in figures I.111 - I.112 - I.113 all have wide mouths, as do the ones in figures I.114 - I.115 - I.116 - I.117 - I.118 and the extraordinary snuff bottle in figure I.120. We suspect, judging from style and quality, that these are early products, from the first half of the reign. There is little concrete evidence to back up our suspicion, however. Just because we can demonstrate the likelihood of wide mouths being an early feature, it does not necessarily follow that narrow ones replaced them entirely when they became fashionable. When the self-consciously narrow mouth was introduced at some time in the Qianlong period, it would have been an alternative to, not a complete replacement of, the naturally wide mouth. It might also have been considered appropriate only to certain types of bottle or snuff.

The elongated bulging form of the bottle in figure I.114 is unusual, as is the colour. Purple glass appears to have been produced as early as the Kangxi period, and we know from other extant examples that this particular purple glass was among the earlier colours: there is one likely Kangxi (but in any case early-eighteenth-century) bottle of the same colouring, but with crizzling and a typically Kangxi form, in a private Canadian collection. The mark in figure I.114 is distinctively drawn, identifiable as being in the hand of one particular mark inscriber at the imperial glassworks. It is a standard wheel-cut reign mark, with its calligraphic grace compromised by limitations of the tool, but these marks appear on a wide range of both glass and enamelled-glass wares of the highest quality.

There was at least one imperial workshop devoted to mark-making; its products are more carefully inscribed and calligraphically more elegant, but during the early Qianlong period it was probably too busy to deal with glass snuff bottles, which were turned out in fairly large numbers to be dispensed as gifts by the court. As a rule, these marks were put on by the same person for a number of years; one person skilled at writing with a spinning wheel could mark large numbers of bottles, so there was no need to have a team of cutters working at the same time. The work here shows crisp confidence despite the inherent constraints of the tool. It is distinctive because the first two characters, Qian and long, are set a little above the last two, nian and zhi, giving the impression that the craftsman started a little too high and had to adjust with the second two characters. It must be said that this happens often with this individual; he either chose to do it this way or was incorrigibly consistent in making the same compositional error. The mark in figure I.112 also starts a bit too high on the right but fits more comfortably into the space.

Plain glass or faceted glass would have been the commonest type produced as packaging for snuff, but once we get into fancy carved glass, with designs produced in the lapidary workshop of the palace rather than the polishing and grinding workshop attached to the glassworks, we are more likely to be dealing with intention beyond fancy packaging. To be sure, we cannot know how far the emperor might have gone in setting the standards for presentation when a gift of snuff to an important dignitary was involved. Some known court packaging styles were extremely fancy and obviously very costly.

A good deal of imperial-yellow glass is reign marked, for obvious reasons, and a spectacular example in this collection (fig. I.115) serves to represent it. The bottle has an entirely credible seal-script Qianlong yuzhi 乾隆御製 (Made by imperial command of the Qianlong emperor) mark, chi 螭 dragons around the body, and a wide mouth. The mark suggests a specific imperial order, for whatever reason. The precise protocol and mechanism across the arts for the use of such marks is still not well understood, but the imperial nature of the end result is beyond question. It is one of the most spectacular of reign-marked imperial-yellow glass bottles.

The mallow form, denoting loyalty, was produced as early as the Yongzheng, possibly even before, but became a staple of Qianlong production. There is even one known example with a Jiaqing reign mark as well (Googut 歌德, Beijing, 3 June 2012, lot 2431). The mallow-form bottles are not usually marked, but a fine ruby-red example in this collection bears a wheel-cut Qianlong mark (fig. I.116). The mark is credible, and we can be certain that this was made to have one, for it has a flat foot to accommodate it; the norm for this form has a concave scalloped foot following the design of the floral profile. Having a wide mouth and a design that was established before the Qianlong reign, this bottle must have been made early in the reign. The mark also indicates an early date; it is identical in style to the marks on a cluster of bottles that are likely to be early.

That would include the bottle in figure I.117: the mark is stylistically very similar and probably comes from the same hand. This bottle is of an unusual, dark sapphire-blue colour and decorated with an archaistic design. We know that the Qianlong emperor was particularly fond of archaism early in his reign, although that does not mean that he produced no similar wares later. But the combination of extensive natural wear (still visible on the foot, although the rest of the outer surfaces seem to have been polished a little), archaistic design, wide mouth, and style of mark all suggest an early date.

The same logic applies to figure I.118, showing an amber-brown glass with another Qianlong mark of the same group. This fits into a range of brown glass resembling amber that was standard from the Kangxi palace workshops (some crizzled larger vessels survive) through to the late Qing. We know the colour predates the Qianlong by some years, as a Yongzheng record for the summer of 1727 (YZ5/6/10) mentions completion of an embellished ‘beeswax-coloured glass’ snuff bottle. The term mila 蜜蠟 (beeswax) is applied to amber in a wide range of yellow-brown and reddish-brown colours and different degrees of opacity, so there is no way to tell exactly what colour of amber was being imitated at the workshop, but it is clear that the glass was to resemble amber. Glass used as a substitute for amber would have appealed greatly, for it was less brittle than the prized fossilized resin and not as troublesome to carve. Imitations are found both carved from blocks and blown.

The rare white glass snuff bottle in figure I.119 is from a series of vertically lobed glass and agate bottles that appear to date from the late Qianlong reign (see A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, v: Glass, no. 871, for another white glass example with a fuller body). They inspired copies in the Republican period and again more recently from the 1980s onwards, but there is a body of genuine works. The mark here is the well-drawn four-character seal-script version found on several of the group. Like many in the series, this one is inscribed with an eight-line poem; others may have a date, a designation of ownership, or the source of the inscription. The poem here is about nephrite, not glass:

A great uncarved block was born in the mountains;
its nature was to be steadfast.
Carved to become an object of enjoyment,
it was presented in the hall of court.
On banners and flags it shone brightly with
silhouettes of dragons and snakes;
On candles of wax it encroached from the side
with the light of the sun and moon.
Mild and soft, it felt in the bosom like
the fabled jade that cools in summer and warms in winter;
Pure and lofty, it was the constant companion
of fragrances from the imperial censer.
In ancient times and modern it has been prized and honoured
just like a sacred vessel,
A national treasure worthy of being kept
in a brocade bag.

Lines 3 and 4 exhibit the kind of grammatical ambiguity that was prized in certain kinds of Tang-dynasty regulated verse: it is not clear what is shining on what, but the unspoken subject is the light from the jade. In line 4, the verb phrase translated ‘encroached from the side’ seems a little clumsy, but the words are common in Tang-style scene descriptions. Whoever wrote this poem (perhaps the emperor) did his best to maintain the tradition.

A unique white glass bottle in the collection (fig. I.119a) is clearly related to the lobed group not only by the fact that it is inscribed white glass, but because the style of the inscription is very similar. Wheel-cut and calligraphically unimpressive, it probably derives from the Qianlong emperor’s clerical-script rendition of a well-known essay the Tang writer Liu Yuxi 劉禹錫 (772–842) wrote in a period when he was out of favour. Liu had it written out by a friend who was a noted calligrapher so it could be seen as he went in and out during the day. The piece is rhymed prose; all of the even-numbered lines end with the same sound, and we shall attempt to reflect this with slant rhyme in our translation.


Imperially made, the Inscription for a Humble Chamber by Liu Yuxi of the Tang:
It is not height that makes a mountain:
If it houses immortals, its name will be known.
It is not depth that makes a river:
If it is home to dragons, it is numinous below.
Now this is but a lowly chamber,
But with my virtue, how fragrant it has grown!
The traces of moss rise upon the steps, with greenish hue;
The colour of the grasses enters through the blinds, with verdant glow.
For laughter and conversation, I have great scholars here;
For pleasant intercourse, no common unlettered drones.
I can tune my plain, unadorned zither (qin) and peruse the Diamond Sutra,
No cacophony of strings and pipes assaults my hearing, my body suffers not from paperwork postponed.
Consider the simple Nanyang cottage where Zhuge Liang withdrew,
And the hut in Western Shu where Yang Xiong was cast out on his own:
As Confucius said, ‘[If a Gentleman dwells therein,] how can it be “humble”?’

One of the most impressive of presumably early-Qianlong glass overlays (fig. I.120) entered the collection at a convention of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society some years ago when Nino Marakovic had the foresight and courage to pay a sum that made other contenders giddy. Clearly recovered from a tomb at some point, it had a Qianlong mark of the early style, but it is so discreet as an overlay that we might have proposed an even earlier date for it in the absence of a mark. Extremely elegant and understated for a cameo-glass overlay, it is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular early glass overlays known.

The last of the Qianlong reign-marked glass bottles in the collection (fig. I.121) fits into a well-known imperial group, many of which remain to this day in the imperial collection. The style shared by the bottles in the group is distinctive, as are some of the colours used. Overlay outer-lip (upper-neck) rims are characteristic, and the bottles are usually small in size and slightly crude in their carving, although some are better than others, and occasionally they are very impressively carved. The Marakovic example is of a relatively common colour combination for the group, where a pale ruby-pink overlay is made even pinker by the translucent underlay of white glass. The marks are mostly wheel-cut, in the same style as the group we propose as early above (such as I.116 - I.117 - I.118), but by a different hand, and often not quite as well drawn. To be sure, wheel-cut marks tend to lack calligraphic grace in any case because of the constraints of the technique. The group was discussed at some length in A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, v: Glass, under nos. 911 – 916, all of which we gave a dating range of 1750 – 1790. We remain uncertain of how to date them within the reign. Most of the related wares are snuff bottles, but a few larger vessels are also found. They probably represent a particular fashion lasting some years but involving perhaps no more than one or two carvers at the palace workshops.

When dealing with the finer collections in the world and ascribing unmarked examples in any material to the Qianlong reign, we are obliged to deal with the fact that the Qianlong era represented a peak in imperial snuff bottle production in terms of both quantity and excellence in a wide variety of materials and techniques. In glass alone, the records from the reign studied so far suggest that thousands of glass snuff bottles were made at the imperial glassworks. For one occasion in 1755, the emperor ordered five hundred snuff bottles produced by the glassworks to be distributed as gifts. After the death of the Qianlong emperor, the imperial glassworks went into a steady decline, and standards dropped over the following fifty years. Since the finest collections tend to have the best bottles available, it is inevitable that among the glass examples there will be a disproportionate number of Qianlong examples, even if they are not identified as such by marks. The same, of course, holds true of other materials. We should be able to select any number of fine quality glass bottles from this collection, make a guess that they are from the Qianlong reign, and probably be right more often than not. The problem, of course, is being certain of individual examples, despite the statistical odds. With this standard caveat, we have selected only a sample group of glass bottles, as we do with other types.

We know from reign-marked examples that faceted forms remained a popular imperial staple throughout the dynasty. While we can identify some trends in the evolution of the shapes and the technical quality of their production, the predictive power of our hypotheses is limited. For instance, although we may be able to recognize a general trend towards sloppier workmanship, less crisp faceting, and less formal integrity during the nineteenth century, we may suddenly come across a faceted bottle with a Tongzhi mark that confounds us with its formal integrity. In one such case, the bottle has a crisply made early-style faceted form in brown glass that is even crizzled—yet it has a Tongzhi mark. Without the mark we might have confidently attributed it more than a century earlier. And perhaps we would have been right: knowing so little about imperial glass production in the Tongzhi era (1862 – 1875), we cannot rule out the possibility that a smart administrator in the glassworks, unable to produce the quality needed for an imperial order, simply added a Tongzhi mark to an old bottle and delivered it with an enigmatic smile. It may also have been made from an old batch of glass or a recycled broken object. Or perhaps it is just be an anomaly, but it does puncture our confidence in dating unmarked wares.

With that sobering example in mind, we turn to the matter of dating the several unmarked faceted snuff bottles in this collection that can be tentatively assigned to the eighteenth century. Statistically, as noted above, they are likely to be from the Qianlong period—and we can improve the odds somewhat by defining that as the artistic period that ended in early 1799, when the emperor died; it is three years longer than the calendric era that ended in early 1796, when he abdicated. (His abdication year is sometimes given as 1795, but his reign ended at the end of the Chinese year, over a month into 1796 on the Western calendar.)

The bottle in figure I.122, in a rich imperial-yellow colour, is of the relatively simple form of an octagonal profile set with two main-side convex panels. The existence of imperial-yellow bottles in the faceted group suggests that although snuff bottles of this form were a staple of production for bestowal as gifts outside the imperial family, that would not preclude their use within the imperial family and, indeed, as gifts for members of the imperial family on special occasions such as major festivals, weddings, and imperial birthdays. Even some who were not entitled by birth to the use of this colour did receive imperial-yellow wares as gifts; strict records were apparently kept of such gifts to ensure that they remained in the possession of the intended recipient and did not seep out into the general public. But all in all, reign-marked yellow-glass faceted bottles are relatively rarer than faceted bottles in other colours, as we should expect.

We can only speculate as to why a bottle like this one would not bear a reign mark, for we are still not sure of the protocols governing such marks; their use seems somewhat random. Common on distant orders in bulk, such as from Jingdezhen or Yangzhou, marks are relatively rarer on palace products, with the exception of certain types (painted enamels were nearly always reign marked for some reason, while glass and jade only occasionally, and other arts quite rarely). Perhaps it was felt that there was little need to mark an octagonal imperial-yellow glass snuff bottle, which everyone would know was made at the palace in any case.

Figure I.123 shows a rare pale turquoise-blue version. The colour is known from the Yongzheng reign, but many turquoise-blue bottles of various shapes can be reasonably attributed to the imperial glassworks of the Qianlong reign. Colour varies from the bright, gem-like blue of figure I.37, to the sky blue of figure I.124, to the greenish-blue of figure I.254. The present example is of the standard octagonal form, with diamond-cut panels on each main side. The richer turquoise blue, closer to the ideal for the stone as jewellery, such as in figure I.124, would have been used throughout the Qing and is similar to a colour known to the Chinese long before the imperial glassworks were set up. Some of the bottles in this distinctive colour are probably from the later Qing, but here the long neck, wide mouth, crisp and regular faceting, and general formal integrity suggest a possible Qianlong product. This example introduces yet another variation on the form, with a faceted continuous curve around the narrow sides surrounding a raised flat circular panel on the main sides.

Ruby red, ever the popular imperial staple, was obviously widely used at court throughout the Qianlong period. Figures I.125 - I.126 - I.127 show three different standard designs; they are likely to be from the Qianlong.

There is a distinctive range of green glass that was used at the court during the Qianlong period, although possibly before and almost certainly after as well. It may have been inspired by beryl, since it resembles that mineral. There is some evidence among the body of surviving bottles that many precious materials were simulated in glass. We see imitations of aquamarine, crystal, amethyst, nephrite, jadeite, and beryl. Beryl-green glass is usually carved from solid blocks, rather than blown, suggesting that it was usually intended as a simulation of the real stone, although it is possibly an indication that, like aventurine, it was made elsewhere, bought as raw material in blocks, and treated as a stone when carved. The snuff bottle in figure I.128 seems to have been carved that way. Aside from the weight of the bottle, its interior wall does not have the appearance of blown glass.

Two green colours are mentioned by Zhou Jixu 周繼煦 in his 1893 supplemental comments to Zhao Zhiqian’s 趙之謙 late-Qing book on snuff and snuff bottles. Although this passage has been translated elsewhere by an extremely competent scholar, we shall re-punctuate the original text (the original was probably not punctuated) and offer a slightly different translation, if for no other reason than to remind the reader that these texts are often open to conflicting interpretation.


Peach-blossom freeze: this is a transparent clear glass (boli) with a wine-blush and blue spots inside. Pea-shell green is a green fired glass (liao) of Luzon green. Scallion-heart green is a transparent glass (boli). These three are all favoured for their colour and are the finest among glass (liao) bottles; but there are many counterfeits.

Liao is a northern term for glass or for glass that imitates precious stones; it is also used for overlay glass. Our translation shows where Zhou used the different terms liao and boli for glass, just in case there is significance in the variation, but the issue here is the impossibility of knowing just what colours are designated by the two types of green he lists. From this one reference it has been suggested that the Luzon-green glass was imported from the Philippines, but there is no other evidence of this, and it would seem unlikely that the court would go to the trouble of importing lumps of glass that they could make perfectly well in their own glassworks or order from the massive glass production centre of Boshan 博山, which was much closer to the capital. An unrelated text from 1883 mentions Luzon liao as something one would not dare bring home as a substitute for jadeite to fool one’s master. That suggests that Luzon liao was green. Putting the evidence together, we conclude that the term Lüsong liao was in use in the late nineteenth century to refer to something inferior to jadeite but highly regarded as glass.

In any case, we know there are many kinds of green, including a pale emerald-green colour that is also often carved from a solid block and presumably also imitates beryl (such as in figs. I.147 and I.150), the former being a standard example of the type with chi-dragon sides.

The three ruby-red snuff bottles in figures I.129 - I.130 - I.131 suggest the much broader range of shapes found from the imperial glassworks. The first is so plain it is impossible to date precisely, while the second is of the same sort of panelled range of forms we saw illustrated in the painting produced for the Yongzheng emperor as a prince (fig. I.33). The small circular ring on the mask handles of figure I.131 would suggest a Qianlong or earlier date, before these typically northern and imperially popular handles evolved away from the circular rings of the original bronze vessels from which they were copied and were reinvented as elongated rings, better suited as decoration for the narrow side of a snuff bottle. These handles tend to be circular from the first half of the eighteenth century, while many from the nineteenth century are elongated, but the timing of the evolution of the elongated form is unclear. As with other features we have discussed, once the elongated version evolved, probably from the second half of the Qianlong reign into the Daoguang, the older standard would have persisted as an alternative; it would not have been completely replaced. There is no lack of examples of small circular rings on bottles we can confidently attribute to the nineteenth century.

Imperial-yellow glass bottles, as we suggested above, were probably made for use among the imperial family or for special gifts. Imperial yellow appears less in faceted snuff bottles than it does in plain glass bottles of all shapes and sizes or in carved monochrome glass bottles. Sometimes they are marked, but more often not: an obviously imperial bottle intended for use at court hardly required an imperial designation. Figure I.132 shows one of many supremely elegant plain bottles in this colour that might have been made during the Qianlong reign. They are unusually well formed and finished, befitting their use by the most exalted and discriminating personages.

The bottle in figure I.133 is of a distinctive pale-green colour, translucent to the point of being semi-transparent in some places. The colour is known in bottles with Qianlong marks, including one from the J&J collection with the rare mark proving use by the emperor himself: 乾隆御玩 Qianlong yuwan (‘For the imperial enjoyment of the Qianlong emperor’; Moss, Graham, and Tsang, Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle, no. 334). We can be certain this colour was a Qianlong one, then, even if not exclusively. Again, the formal integrity and detailing are impeccable, typical of the finer range of glass bottles from the reign.

Figure I.134 is of the same range of green, but is slightly paler. It, too, has the small mask handles with circular rings characteristic of eighteenth-century imperial style.

Another group that has come out of tombs recently is represented by figure I.135. These occur in blue and red glass and have this elegant narrow-necked form with small mask handles. Those we have seen so far suggest they have been in tombs for some long time, and the tiny masks and circular rings would indicate an eighteenth-century date, possibly even earlier than the Qianlong reign, but probably unlikely to be later.

As with the octagonal form, the ever-popular double-gourd shape was an imperial glass staple throughout the eighteenth century, and probably throughout the Qing. We saw a possible earlier example under figure I.13, but the range of double gourds was large, some with a protruding flat foot, some with a concave circular foot, some with a foot rim, and with such a variety of formal relationships between the two bulbs that we are confounded in our attempts to put them into any sensible chronological order. The bottle in figure I.136 could have been made at any time from perhaps the Yongzheng through into the mid nineteenth century, but we place it here to stand for those that were certainly produced during the Qianlong, even if this particular one wasn’t.

With the snuff bottle in figure I.137, where aventurine glass is rolled into blue glass during manufacture, we open the floodgates to a vast range of glass snuff bottles made in huge numbers during the Qianlong era by similar techniques. Some involved taking a standard colour of glass and sprinkling its surface during manufacture with ground-up fragments of another colour or other colours; some involved mixing threads of one colour into a matrix of another and swirling it around in the blowing process; and the glassmaker could always sandwich powdered glass or fragments of glass between two layers. These snuff bottles were easy to make, colourful, and decorative; whether as gifts or as the containers for gifts of snuff, they were made in vast quantities throughout most of the Qing, beginning in the early eighteenth century and continuing to the end of the dynasty.

We have chosen this one as a likely Qianlong example to represent them all because of the surface sprinkling of aventurine glass. Aventurine glass was at first imported. Being difficult to re-melt without losing its sparkling quality, it could not be readily blown, so it was either carved from solid blocks or fragmented; if the latter, it was sprinkled on the surface of hot glass and melted into the surface of the glass with a quick re-entry into the furnace while the glass was on the blow pipe, briefly enough to preserve the nature of the aventurine glass. At some time during the first half of the eighteenth century, poor copies were produced in Guangzhou. The material intrigued the Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors, and probably their illustrious forebear too, but it was not until 1741 that the first successful manufacture of this glass at court is recorded. In the previous year, two European glassmakers, Gabriel-Léonard de Broussard (Ji Wen 紀文, 1703 – 1758) and Pierre Noel Le Chéron d’Incarville (Tang Zhizhong 湯執中, 1706 – 1757), had arrived at court and within a year were able to produce aventurine glass and what is described as ‘translucent blue glass’. We suspect that the reference is to the combination of the two. Aventurine-splashed sapphire-blue glass was a staple of eighteenth century production. Since imported aventurine glass had been available since the Yongzheng era, and possibly earlier, and sapphire-blue glass since the Kangxi, there is no reason why this type shouldn’t predate 1741, as we suspect it does, but the arrival of de Broussard would have perhaps encouraged greater production. As with all such records, there is some degree of ambiguity about precisely what they mean, but it does seem to indicate a local breakthrough in the making of aventurine glass. The blue ground here is translucent, not transparent, but it is one of the various possible grounds for aventurine fragments; other grounds include black, turquoise blue, and emerald green.

There is a spectacularly well-carved group of monochrome glass bottles likely to be from the Qianlong era. They typically have the naturally wide mouth of figures I.116 - I.117 - I.118, which we date to the early reign, are mostly of transparent colours, and have powerful symbolic designs superbly executed on bottles of perfect formal integrity. They are among the finest of all carved monochrome glass bottles. There are three examples in the Franz collection (nos. 478, 1010, and 1011; see Hedda Franz et al., Franz Art: Chinese Art from the Hedda and Lutz Franz Collection, ii, Glass [Hong Kong, 2011]), and one spectacular example here (fig. I.138). The subject matter for the group is all broadly auspicious, suitable for a gift to anyone. Here it is a wish for longevity and good fortune.

Such bottles were probably made at the imperial workshops, the glass coming from the glassworks, and the carving done by lapidaries in the same workshop that carved jade and other hardstones. They would have been for use among the imperial family, perhaps, and for distribution to those who warranted more than a token plain-glass bottle or a mere gift of snuff. With the Marakovic bottle, we must assume that the quality of material and carving made it far more than mere packaging for a gift of snuff: this would have been, emphatically, the gift of a snuff bottle!

Assigning a date range to unmarked bottles is rarely a sure thing, but the bottle in figure I.139 is a happy exception. With its wide mouth, deep sapphire-blue colour, and excellent quality, characteristics that recall the marked bottles we have already seen in figures I.116 - I.117 - I.118, it is very likely to be from the early Qianlong period. This concept of a main-side design dictating the profile of the bottle is also seen on the early mallow designs represented by figures I.43, I.44, and I.116. Other than the mallow designs, this one of shou characters and kui dragons is the other standard for the concept. To ward off an excess of certitude, we must keep reminding ourselves that anything that can be dated to the early-Qianlong era might equally be a Yongzheng precursor.

The bottle in figure I.140 is of a colour similar to the carved bottle in figure I.128. In this case, although its thick walls are calculated to give the impression that it is carved from a solid block as if it were a stone, the bottle is in fact blown. It has a design on the narrow sides that we tend to associate with Mughal or Hindustan jade carving, and in the past we have assumed this to indicate a late-Qianlong date at the earliest. The Qianlong emperor is known to have become obsessed with the thinly carved jades of the Mughal court in the second half of his reign, setting up a special workshop, the Xifan zuo 西番作 (‘Workshop of the Western Border Regions’, the ‘Tibetan Workshops’ of some of our earlier publications). For a similar design, but with a pendant plantain leaf design also derived from West Asian sources, see Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 27 May 2013, lot 172 (no. 822 in the Bloch collection).

The design of cranes with tallies in their beaks flying above palaces rising from clouds was a standard longevity symbol used frequently across the arts in the palace workshops. The sea (hai 海) with a house (wu 屋) and a crane holding a tally (chou 籌) in its beak form a rebus for the expression ‘Adding tallies to the immortal’s abode above the sea’ (haiwu tianchou 海屋添籌), which refers back to a story of three old men inquiring after each other’s age. In a classic example of the triple repetition of scene or event so often seen in folk takes and jokes worldwide, the first two men gave increasingly awe-inspiring accounts of how old they are, but the third one bested the other two when he claimed that whenever in the course of the eons the sea and the dry land changed places, he had put aside one tally; now he had ten houses filled with tallies. Haiwu tianchou, with a tally-toting crane representing longevity,is a popular theme on imperial glass wares of the type represented by figure I.138 and appears on presumed imperial glass overlays from the eighteenth century. In this collection it is found in an imperial ruby-red glass version (fig. I.141). The relief carving is less emphatic than on figure I.138, but it is confident and fluid. The shaping of the shoulders may suggest the slightest decline from formal perfection, but such a judgement may just be a matter of taste. This haiwu tianchou bottle probably dates from the Qianlong reign, although perhaps from the second half in this case.

One type of sandwiched glass that was obviously popular at court in the eighteenth century, perhaps beginning in the Yongzheng era but certainly being produced regularly throughout the Qianlong, consists of powdered ruby-red glass sandwiched between a translucent white inner layer and a semi-transparent or translucent white outer layer. This gives the impression of a gentle, pale pink in places, becoming more emphatic where the ruby is closer to the surface. Many plain examples are known, in varying degrees of transparency and translucence, where the sandwiching can be seen only at the lip or the neck. At some point someone realized that these same plain glass bottles, if carved, could be given a gradation of colour that would be perfect for certain subjects, amongst them a formalized lotus design – a rare ovoid version of which is shown in figure I.142. The petals are carved to leave the edges in the thicker upper layer while taking the centre of the petal back to the pinker colour. The effect of this combination of sculpted pattern and chromatic design is never less than charming; it allows the creation of natural effects with rich but subtle variation. This bottle has one of the smaller, less common globular forms and is one of the smaller masterpieces of the group. Often, these spectacular lotus-bud bottles are taller. The same concept is occasionally applied to other designs with equal success.

Another popular imperial type from the Qianlong era with a possible earlier prototype is represented by figure I.143. The standard colour is this transparent pale-pink colour created by mixing ruby-red glass, usually unevenly, into colourless glass. They are of octagonal form and generally decorated with carp and lotus. This glorious example has six Buddhist emblems filling the narrow-side panels (the fish and the lotus in the main-side panels complete the octet). The rope borders are a typical courtly feature in the Qianlong era, if not before.

This transparent pale-pink delight is matched by the extremely rare example in imperial yellow (fig.I.144); the colour confirms beyond a doubt the palace origins and imperial nature of the entire group, although confirmation is hardly necessary with the group’s range of colours, faceted octagonal forms, and style of carving.

The haiwu tianchou motif appears again on the bottle in figure I.145. Both the subject matter and the distinctive translucent sage-green glass identify it as yet another likely imperial product. There are overlay bottles we can associate with imperial production that use this colour for the ground, often in combination with a dark blue, such as the splendid example in figure I.159 and the dragon-decorated one in figure I.160. This unusual elongated form is impressive, and the fact that the diameter of the mouth is no smaller than the inner diameter of the moderately thin-walled neck again suggests the likelihood of a Qianlong date, possibly from the earlier half or two-thirds of the reign.

Nino Marakovic recently acquired from the Joe Grimberg collection one of the loveliest of the monochrome glass snuff bottles likely to be imperial and Qianlong (fig. I.146). It combines an extremely unusual, very-slightly milky shade of emerald green with a charming design of parrots on perches set with feeding bowls attached to the perches. This subject rarely occurs on snuff bottles. It is handled very artistically here, with the two main-side designs offsetting each other dynamically, one bird upright, the other hanging upside-down. The small masks and small circular rings on the narrow sides suggest a Qianlong date, and the style and quality point to the imperial workshops, unless similar wares were already being produced outside the workshops to the same standards and of the same styles for officials to purchase. Like many monochrome glass bottles, it is of a design and style we might also expect to find in cameo overlays with contrasting colours.

The distinctive olive-green hue of the bottle in figure I.128, which we proposed was inspired by beryl, is related to a particular group of bottles that appears to be an imperial staple of the eighteenth century, although possibly continuing into the Jiaqing or early Daoguang eras. The bottle in figure I.147 is of the more emerald-green range of colours found in this distinctive design, but others are more beryl-like, sometimes tending more towards an olive-green. They are mostly carved from solid blocks of glass, although in certain colours they can be blown; all have this general shape, which is not a natural glass form but a stone one, taken no doubt from the beryl equivalents that are frequently found with the same range of subject matter. The standard decoration is two chi dragons, sometimes with lingzhi in their mouths, sometimes with clouds, set predominantly on the narrow sides. They sometimes encroach upon the main sides, but they are basically narrow-side chi-dragons.

There is another rare group of four bottles (figs. I.148 - I.149 - I.150 - I.151) in the Marakovic collection that seems to have few parallels elsewhere, although at least one other is known. They are carved from solid blocks of glass, have integral snuff dishes, and feature typically imperial northern mask-and-ring handles. All have similar foot rims and thick walls, the latter intended to make them look more like stone than glass, probably. The colourless example, the paler green one, and the sapphire blue one are all left rough on the inside from the lapidary process of hollowing. This was apparently an early standard, and it was only in the mid Qing that smooth interiors became fashionable; they were thought to preserve the snuff better. The one in figure I.149 must have been polished retroactively in the nineteenth century. A date from the Qianlong period is likely for the four; if they were any later, we might expect them all to have had polished interiors. They could, of course, be earlier, but the Qianlong era is the most likely attribution for now.

As with plain glass, any apparently imperial overlay-glass snuff bottle of high quality is more likely to date from the Qianlong than any other era. However, the problem with overlay is complicated by the fact that we have no idea how many production centres we are dealing with. If all the glass overlays of high quality were made either at the imperial glassworks, with carving executed at the palace lapidary works, or at Yangzhou from the mid Qing dynasty to the end of the century, then placing them chronologically would be relatively simple. If they were made at many different centres, then it is much more difficult to tell whether it is time or location that accounts for any given stylistic marker.

Private production certainly arose in and around Beijing during the Qianlong reign and possibly before, and it would have continued into the second half of the Qing dynasty as the imperial glassworks and palace workshops declined. Once the raw material was available, the technology for melting and blowing glass was not particularly complicated, so setting up private workshops would not have been daunting. Imperial orders would almost certainly then have been placed with the better private workshops, blurring the line between imperial and private production. Raw glass in a variety of colours from the glass-making centre of Boshan in Shandong province was readily available to any workshop, and even if the imperial glassworks generally made and used its own glass, it still could have purchased some colours from Boshan. Even if we could distinguish Boshan glass from other glass, it would not tell us whether the glass had been blown and carved in an imperial workshop or a private one.

It is well to remember that making an overlay-glass snuff bottle involves three or four separate steps that do not necessarily have to be carried out in one workshop: 1) making the glass; 2) making the glass bottle and applying the overlay layer; 3) carving the overlay; and 4) polishing. The last two steps are likely to be done by different people in the same workshop, but any of these steps can be carried out at workshops that are not even in the same region. It is likely that specialist lapidary workshops at the capital, in Suzhou, Yangzhou, Guangzhou, and other artistic production centres could have acquired blanks and carved them locally, in their own style. At present, sorting out those styles remains a project in progress. Dating and provenance will continue to be problematic for some time to come. We know the capacities of the imperial workshops declined drastically in the first half of the nineteenth century, but if private workshops in Suzhou, for instance, were at their peak in the mid Qing while the court workshops were in a steady decline, then what we have previously taken to be a high-end imperial product, and therefore from the Qianlong reign, might well be a high-end private product from the nineteenth century. If the court was augmenting its own production by ordering from private workshops from the Qianlong reign onwards, even an imperial subject doesn’t necessarily indicate a product carved at the palace workshops.

That said, the Qianlong-marked overlay shown in figure I.121 can be identified as part of a Qianlong imperial group beyond doubt, and it was probably produced in the palace glassworks with carving done in the lapidary workshops. Like most stylistic groups, that group has its periphery of wares that are obviously linked to but not typical of the group, and these in turn may link to other, quite separate groups.

A common colour for the core group was sapphire blue on translucent white. Two bottles in the Marakovic collection in this combination can be linked to the group (figs. I.152 and I.153). Only the first is reign-marked, but the second is likely to be Qianlong as well. In the case of the bottle in figure I.152, apart from the colours involved, typical features include the confinement of the overlay on the lip to the outer rim and the thick, rounded form of that overlay. The slightly rudimentary carving of the dragon is also typical.

The bottle in figure I.153 is less obviously of the group, but can still be linked by the subject and style to others that are more obviously of the core group. Given the uncertainties about where overlay bottles were produced, a bottle such as this might, of course, be an early-nineteenth century response to a late-Qianlong style at the court, but a Qianlong date is perhaps more likely. As yet we have no convincing clues as to when the core-group style was current. If it was an early-reign style, then all those linked to it would probably be from the Qianlong era; if a late-reign style, then they may have continued into the Jiaqing.

The identity of the flying insects is somewhat ambiguous on the bottle in figure I.153; they both have the fat bodies we associate with moths, and one has the backward-curving feathery antennae likewise associated with moths; the other's antennae look rather more like two tentacles dangling from a tired squid. However, given the difficulties of the medium (and the fact that the taxonomic lines within the order Lepidoptera are not clearly drawn, anyway), we have turned to the literature to settle the matter. We discover that paintings of the composite subject xuancao 萱草 and jiadie 蛺蝶 are fairly common, with the important painter and calligrapher Zhao Mengfu 趙孟頫 (1254–1322) having written a poem on one such painting. This also seems to be an agreed-upon description for many subjects on ceramics. Jiadie is generally translated 'butterfly', so we may safely call this subject ‘butterflies and daylilies’. There are many names for the daylily; besides xuancao, it is called wangyoucao 忘憂草, the ‘plant [by which one] forgets anxieties’. The reason for the name is not clear; although parts of the plant are used in cooking and medicine, we have not seen any reports of narcotic effects, so it appears that it was the beauty of the flowers and their persistence through the season that brought joy to people's hearts. Certainly the happy flitting of the butterflies and the cheerful faces of the flowers are all the justification needed to depict them in the arts.

Collectors who are put off by beautiful things that refuse to divulge their age or where they come from would be well advised to limit themselves to inside-painted bottles, which typically state plainly the year and season when they were made (though they can be coy about who made them, often coming out into society under a family member’s name). But those who are captivated by overlay glass must learn to live with dating problems such as the one exemplified by the tied-sash bottle in figure I.154. The baofuwen—above, we called it a wrapping-cloth design—is a typically imperial motif and, given the tendency to add fancy wrappings to gifts, perhaps an additional indication of an imperial gift. The carving gives little clue to the precise date, and the colourless glass ground is mildly crizzled, allowing (but not requiring) an early date. It probably dates from the Qianlong, but it could be earlier.

Ruby-red cameo overlays were ever popular at court, whether on a bubble-suffused ground, a snowstorm ground (made up of tiny fragments of white in a colourless ground), a combination of both, or a white ground. The snowstorm-ground bottle in figure I.155 is very obviously imperial, and probably a product of the palace workshops. If not, it was certainly made for the court. The most exciting thing about this bottle is that it closely resembles a dated bottle that recently left the Bloch collection (where it was no. 940; Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 27 May 2013, lot 155). The date on that bottle, given in the seals following the inscription, is a cyclical one that most probably corresponds to 1780.

The inscriptions on these bottles are two lines brought together from the Book of Changes (also well known in the West by two transcriptions of its Chinese name: Yijing and I Ching). The first line is associated with the text for the Qian 乾 hexagram, which speaks of rulers and dragons. The second line is also found in the Book of Documents and appears in many texts and hymns down through the ages. The two lines together read, Yun xing yu shi, wan guo xian ning 雲行雨施,萬國咸寧 (The clouds move and the rain is distributed. The ten thousand states are all at peace). Together or separately, the two phrases celebrate a well-ordered society under sagely government.

The fact that the first line is associated with the Qian hexagram suggests why the Qianlong emperor would like to see it on a snuff bottle: the name of his era means 'the magnificence of Qian’, and he used the trigram Qian (three unbroken lines) as a mark on many objects of art. This would seem to make the 1780 date on the Bloch bottle unassailable and an attribution of the Marakovic bottle to roughly the same period highly credible. However, we would be remiss if we did not point out that earlier and later Qing emperors used the same motto. A block of vermillion ink made for the Kangxi emperor and dated 1691 carries the same two-line inscription, also in seal characters. It is in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan. Another ink stick, this one in the Beijing Palace Museum, has the inscription in Manchu and Chinese; it is dated 1662. And a snuff bottle with the same subject but later (perhaps from the Jiaqing or Daoguang reigns) and of poorer quality remains in the imperial collection in Beijing. Finally, one of the two imperial seals that the last emperor, Puyi 溥儀, handed over to the military clique that ruled Beijing in 1924, seals said to have been handed down from emperor to emperor, had this pair of lines as its text.

One possible indication that this example may be a little later than the Bloch version is that the latter has circular (and smaller) rings on the handles, whereas this one has distinctly elongated rings. Any conclusion drawn on such evidence must be extremely tentative, however, and both bottles are from the mid Qing. This one could be a Jiaqing, possibly even a Daoguang response, but it is more likely to be a product of the late Qianlong, probably made in the last decades of the emperor’s life.

Figure I.156 shows another typical Beijing overlay carving of the Qianlong reign, with the slightly elongated handles suggesting that it is probably from the second half, although again we must treat such indications with caution. It is a unique design, otherwise unrecorded, of an upside-down bat dangling from its mouth a beribboned character that we suspect is zhai 齋(studio); if we take into account the bat (fu 蝠) and the sash (shoudai 綬帶), which form a traditional rebus for fushou 福壽 (good luck and long life), we may be looking at a snuff bottle made for an establishment called Fushou zhai—we say ‘establishment’ because this is a name used by purveyors of appetizers or snacks (dianxin 點心), paper, medicine, and so forth. However, although we think that snuff bottles were made for such businesses and for opera companies as well, that was surely a much later phenomenon and, more importantly, we believe that such bottles were made primarily in porcelain, which was more suited to mass production than glass overlay. In Qianlong times, Fushou zhai may not have sounded like the name of a store and could have been used for an individual’s study (one that has eluded the written record). Also, by ignoring the bat, we can read the design as representing the sobriquet Shouzhai, which is reasonably common; unfortunately, we have not yet found evidence linking anyone with that sobriquet to this bottle.

Another possibility is that the character we are reading as zhai, which does not exactly conform to known variants of the character, is actually an esoteric Daoist composite character or talisman; such characters, although made up of familiar components, cannot be understood without ‘inside’ knowledge.

A probable earlier overlay is the unusual pale-emerald-green overlay bottle in figure I.157. It still has the wide mouth of earlier examples and includes two popular imperial subjects contained within the typical circular or oval panels so common on court designs. One is the elephant (xiang 象) with the vase (ping 瓶) on its back, forming a rebus for Taiping you xiang 太平有象, ‘Great peace is in the offing’. This is seen often in wooden lattice designs in architecture and on imperial wares. The other is the Buddhist lions, which appear across a wide range of imperial products from the Qianlong. A spectacular example of the same two subjects in a darker green is in the Crane collection (, no. 00326), although the late-Qianlong dating given there may be a trifle pessimistic. The compositions of the main-side panels on the two bottles are nearly identical; the narrow-side Eight Treasures are the details in which they diverge slightly. The Marakovic bottle appears to represent the height of glass carving in the Qianlong era, although it could be a little earlier. If similarly masterful wares were made privately beyond the court and we could identify them as such, we would obviously have to completely reconsider the dating of all glass-overlay wares.

The bottle in figure I.158 is a commanding version of a different subject but probably of the same broad group. A very large frog commands the scene on one main side, answered on the other main side by a similarly imposing lotus pod that is proportionately out of scale with the other pod and the lotus leaf that share the composition. Readers familiar with bamboo may find it odd to see the bamboo leaves clustered in a bunch at the top of their segmented stems, but this is in fact a standard iconic representation of the plant in glass overlay. Phrases such as zhu yun he feng 竹韻荷風, ‘the resonances of the bamboo and the breeze across the lotus’, or zhu cui he xiang 竹翠荷香, ‘the green of the bamboo and the fragrance of the lotus’, are cliché expressions for the purity and charm of a secluded garden. So the combination of the two plants on a snuff bottle should not surprise us.

A different kind of boldness is shown in the unusual colour combinations represented in figures I.159 and I.160. They are two of the few blue-on-green examples known. The subjects are recognizable as imperial, and they may well have come from the Qianlong imperial workshops. The bottle in figure I.159 is decorated with fan-tailed goldfish; although that is not exclusively an imperial motif, the five-clawed dragons in figure I.160 would have been (until later in the dynasty). Both bottles share stylistic qualities with the group represented by the snuff bottle in figure I.121 in the detailing and the polishing of the relief detail, despite the obvious differences in design and colouring. Both also have relatively wide mouths, indicating that they may date from the mid or early reign.

Figure I.161 represents a series of imperial bottles where a single plane of overlay is made up of different colours, often as many as five, six, or seven—even eight, in one unusual case, if you allow pale and dark versions of a very similar colour to be counted as two colours. They are identified as imperial by their dragon designs or, in this rare case, fenghuang subject matter. The mythical birds here are spread across several bands of overlay colour; in the usual design of nine imperial dragons, each colour approximates to one dragon. This rare fenghuang version may date from the Qianlong era, and we so ascribe it here with the caveat that, if high-quality production continued in the private sector and into the nineteenth century, it could be later.

The translucent, rather pastel-blue overlay shown in figure I.162 is included among the Qianlong snuff bottles as a possibility—but equally as a provocation. It has some vague connections to the group represented by figure I.121, and the style of carving might indicate a late-Qianlong product, but it is of the type that would be more safely termed mid Qing and could date from after the death of the Qianlong emperor.

The broad range of imperial faceted bottles continued throughout the dynasty. It seems to have reached a height in the mid-Qing period, but with unmarked bottles where a significant lowering of standards is not apparent it is impossible to judge the difference between a Qianlong example and a later one of high standard. What we can do, however, is identify a few examples in materials other than in glass that stand a good chance of dating from the Qianlong reign.

Figures I.163 - I.164 - I.165 - I.166 show snuff bottles in a range of different materials that are much rarer than the mass-produced glass bottles from the imperial glassworks. Calcified jade, sometimes known as ‘chicken-bone jade’, is a range of white or greyish-white material similar to that shown in figure I.163. It can occur in three different ways. Some nephrite just happens to be that colour, and the present example is a likely example of that; the colour may be caused by exposed to excessive heat either before the jade is carved or afterwards; or the colour results from burial over a long period of time. As a rule, if calcification has occurred through fire, the nephrite has a dryer surface appearance, often quite desiccated if the exposure to fire took place after the carving and the work was not re-polished. Most nephrite classified as ‘chicken-bone white’ in colour has been in the ground for four thousand years or more, which explains why a snuff bottle carved from material that evokes that degree of antiquity would be so highly prized. Faceted octagonal examples in this material are extremely rare.

Figure I.164 shows an agate bottle of a typical honey-brown. The bottle in figure I.165 is of an unusual colour of moss agate that is extremely rare, and the one in figure I.166 is one of a small number of faceted snuff bottles in jasper. All are crisply and confidently carved examples of one of the most common standard glass shapes, with an octagonal profile and diamond-faceted panels rising to a point in the centre.

The pebble-nephrite snuff bottle in figure I.167 has an extremely unusual faceted form with flat octagonal panels on the main sides. The combination of material and form make it unique, and that, of course, makes it that much harder to date. It might have been made as early as the Kangxi reign or as late as the nineteenth century.

Pebble material in nephrite was prized from the beginning and continues to be popular to the present day. The finest jade carvers still produce spectacular carvings in white nephrite with brown skin, using the skin to emphasize the design, and because the material itself, gathered from riverbeds rather than mined, is inherently precious, these works are as highly valued as many earlier carvings.

The shape of the pebble-nephrite bottle in figure I.168 is slightly irregular to accommodate and retain the best of the skin colour. In comparison with the bottle in figure I.21, which is closer to a natural pebble shape, this bottle has a neck, shoulders, two narrow sides, two main sides, and a concave foot—in short, it has the ‘proper’ form of a snuff bottle; however, both main faces are slightly irregular in order to capture a pleasing amount of skin, as is typical with this group of bottles. The dating clues lie in the small mouth, which suggests that it is likely to be Qianlong rather than earlier (although it could be later, of course).

The bottle in figure I.169 has a wider mouth, which could be taken to indicate a possible early-Qing date, but the wide mouth was also a popular feature on a series of mid-Qing nephrite and jadeite bottles that were extensively well hollowed, often to virtuoso levels, leaving the walls almost inconceivably thin (the almost paper-thin white jade bottle that was no. 170 in the Bloch collection, Bonhams Hong Kong, 28 May 2010, lot 59, represents the extreme). A range of compressed ovoid or spherical shapes is typical of this mid-Qing group. A distinctive black-speckled nephrite known as ‘spinach green’ was used extensively during the latter part of the Qianlong reign; this bottle is darker than usual, but the combination allows us to suggest a date from the latter part of the Qianlong reign. The Jiaqing or early Daoguang eras are also possible, given the prolonged influence of the Qianlong emperor.

The Qianlong era saw a series of breath-taking performances in the snuff-bottle world. Snuff bottles had become an obsession among the elite by then, with an enormous range of materials and styles, including those borrowed from other media or introduced from abroad. The search for novelty encouraged lapidary grandstanding: superb hollowing of hardstones through tiny mouths; extreme hollowing; incredibly small forms; and attenuated forms. All were expressions of this urge to impress jaded patrons.

Figure I.170 shows a bottle that exhibits some of these virtuoso features: it is very well hollowed through an unusually small mouth and is radically thin. The flattened form is standard to snuff bottles for practical reasons, but to take it to this extreme of flatness and still hollow it out to such an extent comes under the rubric of showing off. This characteristic, together with the fact that it is so successfully and impeccably achieved, suggests a Qianlong date. The form offers further clues. During the mid Qianlong, a series of flattened shapes with flared necks, gilding on lips, and unglazed interiors became popular in ceramics, enduring as a standard for the rest of the Qianlong era and into the Jiaqing, although it seems to have fallen from favour by the Daoguang period. We don’t know whether these porcelain shapes were inspired by snuff bottles in other­ materials or vice versa, but the choice of this shape for the spinach-green nephrite bottle in figure I.170 helps us date the bottle to the mid to late reign, particularly given the virtuoso hollowing and small mouth. (This form also occurs across a relatively wide range of other materials, many of which can be associated with the court, although it is wise to always bear in mind that with courtly influence anything in the way of form or style that was popular at court would have the potential of influencing non-imperial output.)

Plain bottles without decoration, credible reign marks, or inscriptions are usually the most difficult to date confidently, as the useful clues are mainly confined to form and detailing (hollowing, width of mouth, foot detail, polish, and so forth). We have just reviewed several bottles using these criteria. Material, to the extent that we can make educated guesses as to its relative availability at different periods, can also suggest a dating range. Another of the clues available to us in dating bottles lies in the use and style of mask-and-ring handles. It is well established that these handles were a feature first introduced at court, probably from the Kangxi reign; they were certainly firmly established by the early Qianlong. Their inspiration was the vast imperial collection of ancient bronzes, where animalheads holding ring handles in their mouths were a common feature. Early Qing bottles made at or for the court are frequently decorated with them, while bottles made elsewhere and not aimed at the powerful group of northern patrons surrounding the court rarely have them. This distinction undoubtedly weakened as the years went by, but it is worth keeping in mind as a general guide. A very large number of snuff bottles are plain except for mask-and-ring handles on the narrow sides. If the bottles are very well made, well hollowed, and of appropriate materials, we will probably be right in a majority of cases if we guess a Qianlong date. The problem remaining, of course, is that we cannot be sure which ones belong to the minority that are earlier or later than the Qianlong. The type, once established so firmly, no doubt survived to the end of the dynasty and thereafter.

An important clue to using mask-and-ring handles as a guide to dating is the evolution of their style. Certain types of bestial head are typical of the palace and the eighteenth century. Other types were so generic that they tell us nothing. The size and shape of the rings can be a more useful clue, although reliance on them as one’s sole guide is risky. From the Kangxi to the earlier part of the Qianlong era, the rings seem to have been relatively small; they were roughly the same size as the head of the beast, sometimes smaller. By the mid Qianlong, it seems that larger rings became more common and, indeed, larger bestial heads as well. At some time, probably still during the Qianlong era, elongated rings began to appear. By the nineteenth century, particularly in some schools of carving, these elongated rings became the norm, often to the point of stretching down the entire narrow side of the bottles. (This is seen, for instance, in the Yangzhou school of glass carving to be discussed below in connection with figure II.53.)

Figure I.171 shows a standard type of bottle in plain stone. In this case, it is a popular nephrite with an impressive range of black, grey, and white veins. It is impeccably made and hollowed, and its decoration is confined to mask-and-ring handles. The head of the beast is the most common standard for the court, with its single ‘halo’ of formalized curls around the head above prominent curving eyebrows, bulging circular eyes, and large bulbous nose. Here the ring is slightly oval, a typical example of the gradual evolution that seems to have taken place at some time during the Qianlong reign as the strictly circular ring evolved to a more elongated form to fit the proportions of the narrow side of the bottle. Essentially the same beast appears on the bottle in figure I.172, although the ring is slightly more elongated. It, too, is impeccably made and detailed, and of a type of pure pale-yellow nephrite highly valued at court during the eighteenth century. A Qianlong date, even if one from the mid to late reign, seems appropriate.

One particular variation on mask-and-ring handles that may have begun in the Qianlong era involves their being positioned very high on the narrow sides, at the point where the narrow side meets the shoulder; when used on a tapering form, these mask-and-ring handles fill the greatest width of the bottle. The rings are usually small and strictly circular, and the bestial heads are often unlike the standard ones seen in figures I.171 and I.172; they are more realistic, with distinct ears, a larger nose, and a less bulging forehead. We see a reflection of this type in figure I.173, where there is no ring and the head is distinctly more feline and closer to a chi dragon. The intent is clearly to create a sense of the archaic, which comes out even more vividly in the taotie 饕餮 design that forms the main-side decoration. This white nephrite snuff bottle is characteristic of Qianlong archaism, with its typical eighteenth-century shape, the taotie faces on the main sides, the chi-dragon heads on the shoulders, the excellent hollowing and detailing, and the style of carving. It can be firmly designated as imperial, is probably from the palace workshops, and was very likely made in the Qianlong era.

Figure I.174 brings us back to the kui-around-shou design we saw in figures I.93 - I.94 - I.95 - I.96, but this time there are only two of the odd little creatures, and they are incorporated into the scrolling lines that outline the frame around the shou design. On the narrow sides, we note a version of the tied-plant design discussed in connection with the bottle in figure I.140, which we felt reflected the Qianlong emperor’s love of Hindustani (or Mughal) carving.

The court was certainly responsible for a majority of the best of a wide range of bottles superbly carved with very intricately detailed designs in subtle low relief. The baofuwen, the wrapping-cloth design seen in figures I.56 and I.154, was just such a design when carved on a white nephrite snuff bottle, as in figure I.175. This bottle also includes the elegant subject of a qin (the plucked zither so revered as an embodiment of high culture). Bottles like this fine example would have been made in relatively large numbers as gifts that could be distributed on a variety of occasions to anyone worthy of receiving a nephrite snuff bottle.

We can also be sure that the peach-shaped nephrite bottle in figure I.176 is an imperial type and probably from the Qianlong era, although there are several references to agate and enamelled peach-form snuff bottles in the Yongzheng records. Usually this design has the main body slightly cleft to represent a large peach across which the severed leafy branch with its smaller peaches stretches. On this bottle, the smaller fruit has five small rings engraved into its surface, raising the possibility that they represent the seeds of a pomegranate, but the fruit depicted is shaped more like some varieties of persimmon and lacks the crown-shaped calyx of the pomegranate; the leaves on this bottle are not the narrow oblong leaves of the pomegranate, either. If it is not a pomegranate, the rings may represent an imperfection on its skin (they are not interlocking, so the Chinese, who seem to have invented everything else, do not get credit for the Olympic rings).

This peach-shaped design occurs in nephrite quite frequently; it is also known in a sapphire-blue glass example and in two imperial-yellow glass versions; the latter, given the colour, must be from the palace workshops. There is also an extant version in a deep brownish, ruby-red tourmaline; this type of tourmaline is known to have been used in the mid Qing and can be attributed to courtly production. Another is known in agate. If the design continued much into the nineteenth century, there is no particular evidence of it, and so far all known examples can be reasonably attributed to the eighteenth century.

When a given design appears in several materials, including glass (and particularly yellow glass), a palace origin is strongly indicated. If that is likely for this nephrite peach-form bottle, it is also likely for the double-gourd bottle in figure I.177. This was a popular imperial form in the eighteenth century; moreover, this bottle is very well hollowed into both bulbs through a relatively small mouth, and it is of the white nephrite so popular at the Qianlong court. But the most telling evidence for an imperial provenance is the decoration: chi dragons. These beasts, like mask-and-ring handles, are found as the main decoration on a vast range of imperial arts, but far less frequently as the main decoration on non-imperial arts. We can be reasonably certain that this bottle is no later than the Qianlong, although it may perhaps be a little earlier.

The woven-basket design based upon a protective casing for an oil jar is another example of a courtly design that was continued over a relatively long period of time. It may have been produced as early as the Yongzheng era, possibly even before. The Yongzheng records mention several glass youloushi 油簍式 (oil-basket shape) bottles and some embellished ones, but the term may refer only to a particular form rather than to basket-weave decoration—it is hard to imagine, to take one example, an inlaid shou emblem on a carved basket-weave design. In any case, from surviving bottles with reign marks, we know that what we choose to call a basket-weave design certainly continued well into the Daoguang era as a popular imperial staple. There can be no doubt whatsoever that it figured prominently in Qianlong production, but dating specific examples is difficult. Figure I.178 shows a nephrite bottle with this design, well hollowed through a relatively narrow mouth and extremely well carved. It is certainly a candidate for a Qianlong date. The material must have seemed unexciting before it was carved, but the Qianlong emperor’s passion for jade of all sorts ensured that in his workshops any nephrite retained and not released for the private market would be carved with the same attention to detail as the finest of white or yellow jade. And with a woven wicker-work design, this colour turns out to be one of the outstanding attractions of the bottle. This bottle is one of the most detailed of the basket-weave carvings, with unusual attention to detail, including the addition of the rare and impressive feature of a band of rope around the middle of the neck.

The Qianlong emperor’s passion for jades carved in India and even Turkey during the second half of his reign provides another useful clue to dating. The Qing began mining jade in Khotan shortly after conquering the area in 1759. It expanded operations in 1761, later adding a site in Yarkand; two more sites in Khotan were opened in 1783. Only after the Qianlong emperor’s death in 1799 did the Jiaqing emperor reduce the jade-mining sites to a single site in the Khotan area. Establishing a state monopoly in jade (and vigorously prosecuting those who tried to trade independently), the Qianlong court ensured that it would capture the very finest material for its own needs, including material that was suitable for very thinly carved jades with Mughal-style designs – often scrolling acanthus leaves and other floral motifs in a distinctive style. It is more than possible that these impressively thinly-carved vessels inspired the court workshops to their virtuoso excess in hollowing snuff bottles, discussed under figure I.169.

Such wares were widely faked in the Republican period, and there is still some confusion as to which are genuine and from the late-Qianlong Xifanzuo (Workshop of the Western Border Regions) and which are early-twentieth-century fakes. Figure I.179 shows a snuff bottle from the credible category; it might have been made as early as the 1760s and as late as 1799, the latter date assuming that the retired Qianlong was still exercising stylistic influence. (The Jiaqing emperor carried on commercial and political relations with the western territories in radically new ways, distancing his administration from the Muslim collaborators there who had become staunch supporters of the Qing and its economic and political agenda in his father’s time; when it came to the jade trade, he was neither committed to it a source of wealth nor particularly interested in ‘Mughal’ style as a source of designs for nephrite carving.)

While the Qianlong emperor was obsessively collecting Mughal jades, he was also becoming passionate about jadeite from Burma, which was just beginning to enter China in significant quantities. Previously, it had not been appreciated as a particularly valuable material, but in the late Qianlong we find it being used for many snuff bottles. Among the range of jadeite colours that became available to the court is a certain greyish pale-blue colour of unusual purity (see fig. I.180). The court appears to have produced a small number of snuff bottles (and very little else) from this material. Among the surviving examples of this rare group there is a series of decagonal bottles with formalized floral designs on each main side, surely representing an imperial order for sets or orders for repetitions of well-received bottles. One is in Denis S. K. Low, More Treasures from the Sanctum of Enlightened Respect (Hong Kong, 2002), no. 70. No. 69 in the same book is one of a pair of faceted vase-shaped bottles with original stoppers; the matching bottle is in the Oakland Museum of Art. This pair is so close in colour and purity to the example shown in figure I.180 that they may well have been made from the same piece of material. (Because its facets refract the light differently, the Low bottle appears less even and pure in colour in the illustration than it really is.)

The Marakovic example is unique, although it may once have had a twin. It is inscribed with auspicious phrases in relief seal script: Gongzheng 公正 on one side and Heping 和平 on the other. Read together as a phrase, gongzheng heping is the Chinese translation of ‘a just peace’ and as such is a common phrase in modern political discourse. However, it is important to realize that in traditional texts the phrase clearly refers to personal qualities that are desirable in any figure with a public role. In one document from the records of the Jiaqing court, two individuals are said to have been praised consistently as being gongzheng heping; in another from the Tongzhi court records, it is said that ‘We must obtain personnel who are gongzheng heping and can take into account the larger situation'. Thus, this bottle must have been made to be bestowed on a meritorious official, someone who was ‘fair-minded and upright, harmonious and even-tempered’.

But it is the narrow sides that are intriguing for us here, as the raised formalized floral design is typical of Mughal-style Indian-lotus and acanthus leaves and suggests the influence of the emperor’s obsession—and therefore a late Qianlong or early Jiaqing date.

Snuff bottles made from the stones that belong to the enormous quartz family are among the earliest. Crystal had a particular appeal for the snuff-taker, as with a clear crystal bottle one could judge the colour and, to some extent, the quality of the snuff visually, without removing the stopper—the same reason, no doubt, that colourless glass snuff bottles continued to be popular in courtly production despite the lack of intrinsic excitement in the material. Alas, a plain crystal bottle is often impossible to date other than within a broad range. Making things worse is the fact that the fashion for inside-painted bottles in Beijing from the 1890s into the early twentieth century prompted the manufacture of some very well-made crystal bottles, many of which were indistinguishable from older bottles. Talent follows the money: when people were willing to pay for excellence in lapidary work, the workforce found a way to reverse the decline in lapidary standards. (Counterfeiters today are still producing large numbers of bottles in crystal, hair-crystal, amethyst, agate, jasper, and other stones of the family.)

Figures I.181 and I.182 represent two extremes of the ever-fascinating material known as ‘hair crystal’: in one, the characteristic inclusions of black tourmaline needles are dense; in the other, they are sparse. The relatively small mouths suggest that they are no earlier than the Qianlong. Of the large number of exquisitely well-made plain stone bottles of this type, many will date from the Qianlong reign, but they continued to be made throughout the nineteenth century.

In attempting to date the banded-agate bottle of figure I.183, we have the additional clue of the radically flattened form discussed with regard to figure I.170, although the mouth here is less drastically constricted. The form may suggest a date no earlier than the Qianlong reign. Agate snuff bottles like this, with bands around the middle that were understood as referring to the broad belt worn by court officials, were suitable for distribution in large numbers to persons who needed to be assured that their cooperation could lead to prestigious positions in the Qing enterprise—Chinese elites in southern areas with residual Ming loyalist sympathies, for example, or Mongol princes who would offer allegiance in return for Qing titles and, more importantly, protection against other Mongols. As with prestige titles, the bestowal and acceptance of a banded agate snuff bottle from the emperor signalled that both sides acknowledged a ruler–subject relationship, with the mutual obligations pertaining thereto.

The delightful plain agate snuff bottle shown in figure I.184 has a wide mouth, but it goes beyond the naturally wide mouth of at least some very early bottles. Here, along with the exquisitely fine hollowing, the mouth has become more of a featureof the object than an incidental result of a practical approach to making the snuff bottle. The bottle fits comfortably into the Qianlong era, although we have few clues at present as to when in the reign such virtuoso features began. The formal integrity and detailing create a faultless example of undecorated snuff bottle production. Such bottles, although not showy, are among the masterpieces of the art. The understated plainness focusses attention on the elegance of the form and allows the choice of extensive hollowing and wide mouth to be noticed and fully appreciated.

The same may be said, of course, of a wide range of exquisitely made undecorated stone bottles, of which the one in figure I.185 is another example. The hollowing of this bottle is excellent, but this alone is of little help in dating. The mouth is of standard size and offers no particular clue to its period, either. From the excellence of the workmanship, the hollowing, and the fine formal integrity, however, we can assume that this bottle is more likely to be an early example than a late one. And the shape is a known standard for the Qianlong reign, even if it certainly continued into the nineteenth century as well. The distinctive material, which invites one to linger over its colours and patterns, also points to a Qianlong date. Jasper was a popular material in the broad quartz family because of its spectacular natural markings, and we know from carved examples that this particular type of material was available during the mid Qing: it appears in dateable cameo agate carvings from the Qianlong period into the first half of the nineteenth century. The bottle in figure I.186 is radically flattened, like the one in figure I.170, and it has a mouth that is even smaller in proportion to the lip. This combination of features is likely to have begun in the mid- to late-Qianlong reign and continued for an undetermined length of time; as always, the style may not have been abandoned abruptly in 1799. The jasper material in figure I.186 is also appropriate for a mid-Qing carving.

Quartz puddingstone, a conglomerate of flint pebbles in a quartz matrix (chert) was a standard Qing material, and one apparently used at court, although certainly not exclusively there. It is a headache to date, as the striking patterns in the stone discouraged the carvers from cluttering the bottles with carved designs that might have offered clues as to where, when, and for what purpose they were made. The rarity of cylindrical and roughly cylindrical puddingstone snuff bottles may offer one clue to dating the bottle in figure I.187. That is a range of forms that first occurs noticeably on imperial enamelled glass wares of the mid- to late-Qianlong period. Stone equivalents can be tentatively dated to the same time, and some to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The form then became a standard porcelain form at Jingdezhen, starting in earnest during the first half of the nineteenth century. This puddingstone version is reasonably dated to the Qianlong era or a little later, then, but whenever it was made, it exemplifies the appeal that lies in the material’s gorgeous range of subtle russet-beige-ochre-red-grey colours and in the extraordinary potential of the natural abstract ‘composition’ of pebble-like forms.

The bottles in figures I.188 and I.189 have standard Qianlong mask-and-ring handles on their narrow sides (see figs. I.171 and I.172 for other examples). The so-called ‘macaroni-agate’ material of the snuff bottle in figure I.188 was probably available to the snuff-bottle carver throughout the Qing dynasty, but the bottle’s form, size, workmanship, hollowing, and mouth detailing would all be consistent with a Qianlong date, even if not exclusively, while the slightly elongated rings of the handles suggest the latter part of the eighteenth century. The bottle in figure I.189 is of a unique material for the snuff bottle world: jasper, but of an unusual pinkish colour with extraordinary markings evoking just about anything the creative eye might care to imagine, although landscape elements, as so often, would probably have occurred to the original audience first and foremost. Here the rings of the handles are strictly circular, but since it would be foolish to assume that circular rings vanished from the repertoire as soon as elongated ones began to appear, no definite conclusions can be drawn from these handles.

Although nephrite and glass were the two most popular materials for basket-weave designs, we find basket-weave in many other materials, among them the plain grey-beige range of agate, which was very popular during the eighteenth century and beyond. Figure I.190 shows what is likely to be a Qianlong-era basket-weave bottle in this agate, with all the usual caveats about dating.

Pouches for snuff bottles are mentioned frequently in the Yongzheng workshop records. At some point, someone thought of making a snuff bottle in the form of a bottle in a pouch, which is what we see in figure I.191. Pouches were also associated with wealth and position, for they hung from the belts of men of means and of officials and members of the imperial family in formal dress. Several different types of these pouch-form snuff bottles are known, the most common being a plain bottle with a rounded surface where the foot is supposedly concealed within the pouch and simulated gathering is carved into the bottle’s upper body and on its neck. Far rarer is this delightful double-gourd-shaped pouch with the gathering at the waist. At least one other example is known, but this impressive form is most unusual. We have one small clue as to its possible inspiration. In the late spring of 1732 (YZ10/29/03) the miscellaneous palace workshop produced three pouches, two of which were identified by the design on the cloth and one of which was identified as being of ‘gourd shape’ (葫蘆式 hulu shi). Perhaps this bottle was carved (in the Qianlong or earlier) to evoke just such a pouch.

Another rare variant is found in figure I.192, with the playful design of a bottle contained in a stiff-sided pouch – it is not of the type that would normally hang from the belt, as there is no hint of how it would be suspended, but the suggestion of a bottle in a pouch is sufficient to hint, perhaps, at success in an official career. This bottle is, like the last, one of the rarer and more impressive pouch-form snuff bottles in existence.

The imperial predilection for this range of plain beige/grey agate culminates in the Qianlong reign with a series of inscribed bottles. Often of uncompressed forms, they usually feature eight vertical lobes inscribed with eight-line poems. They are part of a larger body of similar imperial agates from the Qianlong era that we now suspect may turn out to span the entire reign. Sorting them out is made difficult by the fact that some Republican fakes of considerable assurance appear to have become mixed with the genuine bottles. They have also been much counterfeited more recently, generally less convincingly, but still muddying the waters. Figure I.193 shows a typical example; it has a credible reign-mark of appropriate style, and the poem (from the late Tang dynasty) is inscribed in the standard calligraphy of the group, which is not particularly impressive independently as calligraphy but about as good as can be expected when a neatly written model is copied onto hardstone using a spinning disk instead of a diamond point. Thanks to the reign mark, we can date the bottle to the Qianlong era and, for the time being, to the latter part of the reign. It is the agate equivalent of the white glass version in figure I.119.

The poem is by Han Hong 韓翃, and its title (which does not appear on the bottle) tells us that it was composed on an outing to a Daoist temple: Tong ti Youxian guan 同題仙游觀 ‘Jointly Inscribed at the Belvedere of Wandering Immortals’. Our translation is guided by Stephen Owen’s rendition in his The Late Tang: Chinese Poetry of the Mid-Ninth Century (827–860) (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Asia Center, 2006) 201, but we have felt free to add explanatory phrases to the translation and follow the text on the bottle, three characters of which depart from Owen's text:

At this terrace of the immortals we encounter
the Twelve Towers of their fabled Five Cities,
The scene is cold and sere,
last night’s rain has disappeared.
Colours of the hills distantly extend
to evening in the trees of Qin,
Sounds of the fulling blocks nearby report
autumn in the palace of Han.
Sparse pine shadows fall
on the empty altar, silent;
Tiny plants in spring perfume
the tiny grotto, mysterious.
What need to look further
beyond the earthly realm?
The human world has right here a
Cinnabar Tor, home of the Undying!

(Fulling blocks are used to flatten the seams on clothing being prepared for cold weather. Their sound evokes thoughts of those who are away from home at the northern frontier. As Owen notes, the poem opens and closes with the expected celebrations of the Daoist lodging, but the rest of it is oddly mournful, somewhat dictated by the choice of rhyme [~ou], and it seems to speak more of the passage of human, historical time than of Daoist timelessness.)

A significant group of quartz bottles produced at and for the court, and for courtiers and aspiring civil servants as a class is represented by the bottle in figure I.194. They were grouped together in A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, ii: Quartz under the rubric ‘Official School’; no matter where they were made, they presumably circulated among the official class, for they are carved with motifs representing the values and aspirations of the official class. They are commonly in agate, usually with the different colours in the material used as cameos or partial cameos, but they have their equivalents in other stones of the quartz group, including the ever-popular jasper. It is a large group, spanning perhaps a century or more of production, some of it certainly in the palace workshops where the lapidaries and designers worked on other materials as well, for the same style spilled over inevitably into other groups.

Unfortunately, the term Official School suggests governmental sanctioning of a certain group of snuff bottles; worse, these bottles do not represent a definite ‘school’ of art or craft in any ordinary sense of the word, much less a particular workshop or regional tradition. Furthermore, these bottles were not carried exclusively by officials, nor did officials limit themselves to using bottles with these types of subjects. Because the term is not descriptive of any unique source of production or special type of ‘consumer’, it seems best to retire it—even though it is inescapable that among snuff bottles subjects there is a vaguely definable group that celebrates imperial victories, official honesty, loyalty, desire for advancement, and other themes of particular interest to the men who made up the bureaucracy or aspired to join it.

One popular subject for the core group was the galloping bannerman, which could have been designed to celebrate an imperial victory; it can be found with the inscription ‘Wherever the halberd of Heaven turns, the fog of wickedness is swept clean away’, which is repeated frequently in historical records from the Kangxi to the Tongzhi. The galloping bannerman could also have been intended as a more general celebration of Manchu power. On what was once no. 893 in the Bloch collection—Bonhams Hong Kong, 28 November 2011, lot 94—the inscription reads, ‘Wherever the majesty of Heaven turns, the fog of wickedness is swept clean away’, a slightly different wording that appears only in the Daoist cannon and then in connection with a god who rules over the northeast. That, of course was the direction of the Manchu homeland.

Another theme of interest to the office-holding class is the horse as a symbol of the talented man. Horses tethered to hitching posts, as in figure I.194, may seem at first blush to symbolise a neglected talent, but the design is known on snuff bottles with inscriptions such as Shi qi jia xi時其駕兮 (It is time to ride!) or Tian gu cheng cai 天固成材 (Heaven does bring talent to fruition), emphasising future potential. (The design may also be related to stone hitching posts that were erected in certain villages of Shaanxi province to show that the community was home to successful people of substance; these posts were sometimes decorated with human figures in Manchu or Mongolian dress, suggesting that the tethered-horse image had particular resonance for Qing bannermen stationed in the area or for Mongolian tribes that had moved under the umbrella of Qing protection.)

There is a range of crystal and amethyst bottles that seem to echo a small group of aquamarine bottles associated with the court during the eighteenth century. Like the spectacular aquamarine example in figure I.207, they are often of elongated form and carved with figures set in landscape designs. Although they are superbly carved and of lovely materials, many of the crystal and amethyst examples go unheralded to this day. Nino Marakovic has always had an eye for a fine-quality underdog cringing in the shadows and the confidence to back his own judgement, and nowhere is it better rewarded than in the bottle shown in figure I.195. It is a breath-taking example of an always-splendid group of amethyst bottles whose subjects are not specifically imperial, although quite a few of the group have chi dragons as their main decoration, suggesting an imperial connection. Here, the old man, the pine tree, and the rock all denote longevity, while the bats symbolize good fortune. Nothing about that would tell us whether the bottle was imperial or not.

The use of the streaked amethyst here is brilliant. It suggests sunlight slanting through the scene and adds dynamism to the design. The material and subject matter suggested an asymmetrical form, the workshop went for it, and the result is exquisitely satisfying.

The intense colour of the stained crystal in figure I.196 was not intended to emulate rose quartz, which was not introduced to China until well into the nineteenth century. This crystal was, rather, a substitute for tourmaline, the pink stone much loved at the Qing court (although tourmaline also comes in other colours). The material was intentionally crizzled, probably by judicious heating, and then stained bright tourmaline-pink. The product is easily recognized by the concentration of colour in the fissures. Objects made of this material and bearing Qianlong reign marks still can be found in the imperial collection, but even without these we could attribute many of the existing stained-crystal snuff bottles to the eighteenth century on style and form alone. Figure I.196 shows as fine a colour as is known of this material, formally typical of the earlier period of snuff-bottle production, and well hollowed. The relatively small mouth might indicate a mid-Qianlong date rather than an earlier period, though, and both the form of the bottle and the carving style match a series of nephrite bottles from the mid Qianlong.

Our dilemma in dating plain bottles could not be better illustrated than by the aquamarine bottle in figure I.197. The mouth is neither exceptionally large nor exceptionally small, and the well-carved form is a standard that could have been made at any time. The aquamarine material differs from the standard range, but we don’t know enough about the sources of aquamarine to link its milky translucence and icy flaws to a particular mine. Aquamarine carving that can be reasonably associated with the court may be divided into two schools according to the depth of the carving and the thickness of the walls. One group is represented by figure I.206, mostly decorated with chi dragons on the narrow sides, where we see carving of uniform depth; the other group is represented by figure I.207, where the carving combines high and low relief. Both leave the material with relatively thick walls to retain the brilliance of colour of the material. The latter group is rarer, but we believe both date from the mid Qing, the majority probably from the Qianlong reign. The bottle in figure I.197 has no particular affinity to either group, but does to a well-known series of plain bottles with thick walls that are the undecorated equivalents of the first group. Its material is unlike the standard for any this group, however, and closer to that of the second group with its varied relief. We might prefer the transparent brilliance of the standard undecorated versions, but whoever gave the bottle the thumbs up, whether it was the artistic director of the workshop or the patron who chose it, he obviously thought that the colour of the stone and the subtle striations within it were lovely enough to carry the bottle and that decorative carving would only detract from these features.

Brilliantly blue, always intriguingly marked, lapis lazuli was popular at the Qianlong court. It is hard to imagine a rock that goes so far back in jewellery and art being unknown to the Chinese in prior dynasties, and indeed multiple terms for lapis lazuli do occur in earlier texts; while one can never be certain across the ages that these terms had stable referents, the linguistic and historical evidence definitely points to Chinese knowledge of and appreciation for the material. If few earlier objects were carved from lapis lazuli, it is probably because it came so long a distance, from the mines in Badakhshan, a restive province of the Bukharan khanate. Large pieces of it would have been extremely expensive and, although it was on the list of expected tribute goods, most of it probably entered China in the form of beads. That would have changed after the end of the Qing – Zungharia war in 1759, when Muslim merchants (Sufi pioneers who had originally come from Bukhara) were able to facilitate east-west trade around the Tarim Basin and through Kashgar, and the Qing succeeded in establishing an expanded market for Chinese tea in Bukhara, which helped balance the value of imports and exports.

Because of the beauty and value of snuff-bottle-size pieces of the exotic stone, it was usually left undecorated. A series of lapis lazuli bottles of the flattened form of figure I.170 was made, although they are not as radically flattened. Assuming their necks are in their original shape (and not altered by repairs), they seem to have been quite widely flared. The bottle in figure I.198 illustrates this nicely, and the shape is so typical of Qianlong porcelain bottles that we can be fairly confident in ascribing a Qianlong date; the unusually small mouth would encourage us to narrow that further to a mid- to late-reign date of production. This shape in porcelain was current from around the 1740s until probably the first decade of the nineteenth century, but may have continued to be in fashion longer in materials other than porcelain.

The other Marakovic lapis-lazuli snuff bottle is, if anything, even more impressive (fig. I.199). The shape is less precisely like a porcelain equivalent. It is very well hollowed through a relatively but not unnaturally small mouth, and the slightly more ample form makes it feels more comfortable in the hand than the other bottle – although this is a rather subjective judgment. It is also of a brighter colour, with more striking markings, suggesting a heavy downpour with tiny flecks of pyrite evenly distributed amongst diagonal lines of varied colour. One reason to ascribe the majority of these flattened lapis bottles to the Qianlong reign is that after 1814 the Jiaqing emperor reversed his father’s policy of encouraging Muslim collaborators to communicate with Central Asian rulers and abandoned a policy of imperial expansion for mercantile purposes. Lapis lazuli must have returned to its historic condition of scarcity very quickly. The style may have survived into the early nineteenth-century, but the ready supply of this particular material for snuff bottles probably did not.

Among Qianlong semi-precious stone production, we find ruby and sapphire. These are normally designated as ‘precious’ stones, but the flaws and varied colour of the material available to the Qing snuff-bottle carver would logically exclude it from that category. Any ruby or sapphire of snuff-bottle size that was of gem quality would probably have ended up in a European crown or around the neck of a Maharaja, not in China with its interior being sacrificed to create a hollow vessel for snuff.

Ruby bottles were made again in the twentieth century, but the material came from a new source and was of a distinctively different colour that would have been unavailable to the Chinese in the Qing dynasty. The early ruby examples are rare, as are their sapphire equivalents. That they were first made in the Qianlong period seems clear, but how long they continued in fashion is uncertain.

Among sapphire snuff bottles, one of the most spectacular known examples in terms of hue and evenness of colour is in this collection (fig. I.200). The plain, rounded-rectangular form, the standard-sized mouth, the well-detailed foot, and the fine hollowing are typical of the Qianlong. There is no evidence of ruby or sapphire being carved into snuff bottles before the Qianlong reign. Northern Burma was an important source for sapphire, as it was for ruby, and Qing – Burmese relations were often marked by hostility and open warfare until 1784, in the last decade of the Qianlong era. Another source was again Afghanistan, from which the sapphire trade would have had the same window of opportunity as lapis lazuli; in that case the supply would have started flowing a quarter-century earlier than from Burma, but still within the Qianlong era.

The flattened, rounded-rectangular form of this sapphire bottle was a common imperial (and no doubt non-imperial) staple. It occurs across a very wide range of materials during the earlier Qing and was the standard form for inside-painted bottles from the last years of the dynasty. During the eighteenth century, it was one of the forms the court tended to prefer for material that could speak for itself without added decoration. Coral versions of the form are usually carved, but there are two known coral examples that are undecorated; they both have a pleasant wood-grain pattern that would have been wasted had the bottles been carved. One is in the Marakovic collection (fig. I.201), the other in the J&J collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang, Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle, no. 88). They can be associated with a range of carved coral wares that are attributable to the Qianlong reign and have the form and detailing that would fit such an attribution.

There are two other spectacular early coral bottles in the Marakovic collection. The first (fig. I.202) is so well and evenly worn and patinated by years of handling that it is tempting to declare it a likely Kangxi or Yongzheng carving, but we are wary of drawing conclusions from a single example where patination is concerned. Coral is a soft stone, easily scratched with a knife or a pin, and it is even susceptible to acids of various kinds. Like ivory, if used extensively, it can soon come to look much older than it is. If we ignore the wear of this bottle and focus on the style of carving, particularly of the two birds, there is a distinct stylistic affinity with other, less-worn coral bottles that we can date to the Qianlong reign. Moreover, despite our reservations about patination and wear as a guide to age, we would also be willing to concede that the excessive wear lends weight to the likelihood of a date no later than the Qianlong era.

Like so many early coral bottles, this bottle has flaws in the original material that have been filled. Where such flaws were large enough to warrant it, they were filled with other pieces of coral; where they were not, coral-coloured wax was favoured.

Fig I.203 shows a standard example of the most likely early coral group that we can confidently claim began in the Qianlong reign. Almost certainly an imperial group made for the court, the bottles are very well carved, generally with auspicious longevity and good-fortune symbolism in relief, and can be considered among the finest of early coral bottles. They are often on the smallish side, although far from miniature, and most have mouths small enough to suggest a mid- to late-Qianlong date. Several of them, like the present example, have mask-and-ring handles, and when they do, they are typically courtly with approximately circular rings, although the heads vary from the common standard. One example has a central horn, and here the head has hairy tufts emanating from the jaws and a distinct lower jaw, albeit a shallow one. The variations suggest that, because the material was so precious, a specific design may have been drawn up for each bottle. Such care always tends to override reflexive design and result in the rethinking of peripheral details such as borders and mask-and-ring handles. Plain agate or nephrite examples are more likely to receive standardised handles.

We can attribute a well-known range of Duanstone bottles to the court based on their inscriptions and designs. This material, which comes in various colours, was mined in the hills north and east of what is now Zhaoqing 肇慶 in east-central Guangdong province; Duanstone derives its name from the prefecture that was established there in 589, Duanzhou 端州. Since the Tang dynasty, Duanstone has been one of the most esteemed materials for making inkstones; in Chinese, it is called Duanyan shi 端硯石, ‘Duan-inkstone stone’; in English, snuff-bottle collectors who don’t like the echo effect of that translation call it simply ‘inkstone’ or ‘Duanstone’. The Duanstone bottles we attribute to the court have an imperial encomium, dragons (regular or kui), or the character long 龍 (‘dragon’) made up of a series of kui dragons. Similar designs are also found on other imperial snuff bottles, including glass ones. The entire series is imperial, with the Duanstone versions carved in workshops producing wares for the emperor at Guangzhou, and it began in the Qianlong period.

There are two examples in the Marakovic collection, and splendidly representative examples they are. The commoner purplish-brown material is shown in figure I.204, while figure I.205 shows the rarer green stone. The first has typical Guangzhou-style dragons, which are distinctly different from their northern counterparts, and an inscription in seal script on the other main side stating that it is a precious plaything from the Duan stream (along which the mines were ranged). The second has the standard imperial encomium praising the material; it is enclosed between two more distinctly Guangzhou dragons, and on the other main side the character long is carved. Both snuff bottles have the mask-and-ring handles suggesting that, although they were carved in the south, they were aimed at the court. The masks seem fiercer than the usual animal mask; one can see in them the bilateral symmetry of two side views joined at the centre, just like the taotie found as the main design on ancient bronzes. Even more startling are the lines radiating from the centre of the space above the face, like a pinwheel (fig. I.204) or a lobed melon seen from a high angle (fig. I.205). This design probably arose from the stylization by a local designer of the standard bald pate surrounded by formalized curls, as seen in figures I.188 and I.189, for instance.

A word should be said about the long character ‘spelled out’ by the bodies of the kui dragons in figure I.205. A simple kui design as an archaic or archaistic motif (like the one seen in fig. I.208) is called a kuilong wen 夔龍紋, a ‘kui-dragon pattern’; the character on this bottle is a sort of pun on that term insofar as it is a kui-and-dragon pattern. Now, this reminds us that the legendary sage-emperor Shun had two ministers, one named Kui (a musician) and the other Long (a remonstrance official), and that the term kuilong therefore often refers by convention to chief ministers in personal attendance on the emperor. Thus, a line by the great Tang poet Du Fu 杜甫refers to ‘Kui and Long, treasures of the galleries and halls [of the court]’ 夔龍廊廟珍. By reference to that poem, the design on this bottle could have the meaning ‘This bottle is a treasure from the imperial court’ if the bottle were intended to one of the many gifts that flowed from the emperor to officials and VIPs; it could even signify that ‘The recipient of this bottle is a Kui or a Long, a treasure of the court’, if this bottle and the others like it were gifts specifically for high ministers.

Another series of important bottles in this collection could not more dramatically different from Duanstone in their material: imperial bottles carved from aquamarine. Aquamarine is the pale blue variety of beryl; the greener range of colours is simply called beryl in the snuff-bottle world. We have already discussed this semi-precious material under figure I.197, where we also mentioned the next two bottles. They belong to a series of bottles in aquamarine and other beryl colours, usually of rounded-rectangular form with chi-dragon decoration that is confined mainly to their narrow sides. Figure I.206 shows a typical example. These bottles were certainly first produced in the Qianlong era, but this unmarked bottle, although presumably from the second half of the Qianlong, could also be a later representative of the continuing influence of the Qianlong emperor well into the Jiaqing era. (If we ever know for certain which among the four aquamarine-producing areas in or on the borders of the Qing empire supplied the material for snuff bottles, we will be able to propose dating hypotheses based on military and commercial relations with those areas—the Altai Mountains, the Tianshan mountains, Inner Mongolia, and the Burma-Yunnan border region.)

Marakovic’s natural instincts as a collector have allowed him to acquire some spectacular bottles under the noses of more cautious or nervous collectors. Example: the Gerry Mack aquamarine, whose material is of splendid colour even if suffused with flaws (fig. I.207). This snuff bottle is among the largest of another imperial group sensibly attributed to the Qianlong period. It may seem that we are jumping to conclusions when we assume that a relatively large group in spectacular and valuable material must be imperial, but in the case of this school there are enough examples with chi-dragon decoration and other hints at an imperial nature to allow such a designation. There are obvious stylistic links between the style of these aquamarine bottles and that of the crystal and amethyst bottles represented by figure I.195, suggesting a common source, perhaps.

When the Mack bottle came up at auction, a flaw in the lip and neck was taken to be a large chip that had been re-stuck, and it failed to sell. Tongues wagged. Marakovic, however, was hunting, sizing up his prey, impervious to distraction; he wasn’t at all sure the imperfection wasn’t just a natural flaw: the carving seemed planned to disguise it, and the carving was obviously original, so surely this could not be the result of damage incurred after the bottle was made. The hunter bided his time, stalking his prey. Sure enough, he later had the opportunity to buy the bottle privately and at a price well below the auction estimate. Eventually, he bagged one of the most spectacular bottles in his collection, of intense hue and superbly carved, with the special satisfaction that comes from stealing a march on other collectors and ending up with a masterpiece—at a bargain price, to boot.

A very small number of imperial bottles confidently attributable to the Qianlong period are found in an unusual range of tourmaline. As a rule, we associate tourmaline with a range of colours from pink to a dark, ruby-like red, but it can occur in black (as the black needles in hair crystal attest) and in other colours such as green and blue, and even in a particularly vivid dark aquamarine-coloured blue. One example of this rare and spectacular early group is in the Marakovic collection (fig. I.208). The archaistic carving is typical of the Qianlong era, with parallel examples in nephrite and other stones but also, more significantly for dating and attribution, in a series of imperial-yellow glass bottles, some of which bear Qianlong reign marks. The stone might be taken for aquamarine at first glance, except for the hints of purple and green. The material is confirmed as tourmaline by the existence of two other known examples that have a similar colour range in combination with the more standard pink colour.

In our earlier discussion of the mallow flower or hibiscus manihot, we mentioned a blue glass bottle embellished with that flower in coral and beeswax-amber (mila) animal masks, brought in by Prince Yi right at the beginning of the Yongzheng era in early 1723. It is a pity that embellished bottles are particularly susceptible to damage and so few early ones have survived. But should a miracle bring to our doorstep a box full of Yongzheng snuff bottles incorporating amber in one way or another, it would be pure guesswork to match the amber types in the box with amber names in the workshop records, where we find, besides mila (the most frequent term), lapo 蠟珀 (waxy amber? 1726; YZ4/3/20) , jinpo 金珀 (golden amber, 1727; YZ5/3/10) and hupo 琥珀 (amber, 1728; YZ6/10/1). The latter is by far the most common term historically, although no one has figured out where it came from—it resembles words for amber used in the Persian area, but attempts to link hupo with any West Asian language have foundered on linguistic and chronological problems; Berthold Laufer thought the word came from a Shan or Tai language in early Yunnan, but the question has not been resolved in the century since he wrote. It is worth noting that we cannot conclude that, because the Yongzheng records have four terms for what we suppose was amber, there were four kinds of amber used in the workshops. That would be to assume a terminological consistency in early eighteenth-century China that does not exist in our own time. One does not have to look far in (Chinese) museum records and (English-language) gem-dealer web pages to see that the same amber may be labelled with different names and that each of those names may in turn refer to several kinds of amber with wildly differing colours and degrees of opacity. Unless we establish the chemical fingerprint of amber from all known sources, past and present, and develop new terminology based on geographic source (and perhaps reflecting the fact that not all amber from the same source looks the same), confusion will continue to reign.

With plain amber bottles, we face the same problems in dating as with any other plain bottles. Because of the fragility of the material, we may safely assume that there were far more amber bottles made than have survived, probably by a significant proportion, and surviving early amber bottles will be, on a simple statistical basis, rarer than later ones. But even this could be misleading. If we could assume a constant production of a given number of bottles a year, then of course we would expect to find far fewer Kangxi examples than Daoguang ones. But we cannot assume consistent production. Volume would have risen with the rapid increase in the demand for snuff bottles from the Kangxi into the mid Qing, it would have risen and fallen with the ebb and flow of supplies of the raw material, and it would have varied according to fashion. The late Qianlong saw diplomatic relations with Burma re-established after a long period of intermittent fighting, and trade relations were normalized in 1784, which would, no doubt, have increased the supplies of Burmese amber, as it increased the supplies of jadeite. Amber also moved through India, Central Asia, and the Russian empire, with each trade route subject to fluctuating conditions.

Fortunately, a great many fine early amber bottles have survived, and among these must be many from the Qianlong reign; so, with the usual proviso, we propose a few likely candidates.

Figure I.209 shows a lovely example of the rich, reddish-brown range of amber known to have come from Burma, although not exclusively. The form is standard and was probably a staple throughout the Qing dynasty, and the mouth is of normal size, so there is little to go on stylistically. The material is finely crizzled, which is typical of old amber and indicates age, but not necessarily any specific age; the rate of crizzling varies with local climate and use.

Figure I.210 shows an equivalent in another standard form; this one exhibits somewhat larger-scale crizzling. The bottle in figure I.211, of the more golden colour of this type of amber, is also extensively and finely crizzled and, although a little more flattened, of similar form to the last. No one would quibble with a likely Qianlong date for these snuff bottles, but equally no one could prove they were not products of the mid Qing a little after the emperor’s death in 1799.

All of the above is true of the bottle in figure I.212, which is in the yellow-orange range of amber associated with the Baltic region and known to snuff-bottle collectors as ‘Baltic amber.’ Crizzling does not appear so often or so obviously on the more translucent range of yellow- and orange-coloured amber. It is more common on transparent amber; when present, it is often concentrated on the inside of the snuff bottle, suggesting that something in the snuff itself may have contributed to the phenomenon, or perhaps that handling and the natural oils of the hand helped prevent it on the outside.

Because of its inherent beauty, fine transparent amber was often left undecorated, but whenever purity of material was compromised by a small crack or flaw in the ‘pebble’ of raw material, it was common to carve a restrained design to hide it, using the flaw as a positive factor in the carving. The bottle in figure I.213 is an excellent example.

Occasionally a plain bottle that becomes cracked in use might have additional carving added to disguise the damage. It is usually possible to differentiate that from original carving, which would tend to be in relief from the plane of the surface; repair carving or afterthought carving must cut into the surface plane to make a bas-relief design. The only way to disguise that would be to go to the excessive trouble of carving back the entire ground plane, which is likely to be betrayed by a difference in patination, particularly with yellow amber.

Carved lacquer was an imperial favourite from the early Ming dynasty onwards, and large quantities were produced for the court in imperial workshops or elsewhere. The predominant colour was cinnabar red, but other colours were used, such as yellow-ochre and black on the earlier wares, with green being introduced in the later years of the Ming dynasty. Although it seems likely that the Kangxi period saw the production of cinnabar-lacquer snuff bottles, none can be confidently identified and none exists with credible Kangxi or Yongzheng reign marks. Very few examples are known even with credible Qianlong reign marks. For some unknown reason, it was simply not standard to add reign marks to carved lacquer bottles, even though it was standard to do so for enamels and ceramics made for the court.

One of the most important groups of early carved lacquer bottles can be convincingly dated to the eighteenth century and must surely have been imperial. Represented here by figures I.214 and I.215, they are a coherent group, obviously produced in relatively large numbers and over a considerable period of time. They exhibit the sort of extensive natural wear that one would expect of a soft material in use for a century or more before becoming collectors’ items. The range of shapes is echoed in imperial porcelain production; the style is consistent with other wares that bear Qianlong and even Jiaqing reign marks; and sufficient numbers have survived with their original matching stoppers (which we can also identify as typically imperial—their shape is based on an official or imperial hat, decorated with the same formalized petal design found on so many imperial moulded-porcelain bottles). We can safely assume that with or without marks they were an imperial group and subject to frequent repeat orders over a relatively long period of time. They certainly date from the Qianlong, but may have been introduced before, and they probably survived into the Jiaqing period. These lacquer bottles represent one of the most important groups of imperial snuff bottles in an organic material with impressive, three-dimensional (as opposed to planar) relief carvings.

The stopper shown in figure I.215 is not original; it is a replacement from a different school. But this bottle typifies the group in the impressiveness and content of its carving. The subjects are often figures in landscape, always symbolic to some extent. The two narrow sides on this bottle, one with two trees rising in front of a natural rocky bluff, the other with smaller trees in front of perforated garden rocks, frame the two main scenes with vigorous designs that are themselves of more than passing interest.  This was a common feature of these bottles. Another noteworthy feature of this series of bottles is the careful use of different lozenge patterns for different surfaces in the landscapes. The background bodies of water have the expected formalized wave pattern; the sky is made up of formalized clouds. The ground on which the cart, horse, and servants wait, the ground in front of the building, and the floor of the building all have diaper patterns that are often recognizable as floral. These three standard grounds derive from earlier lacquer wares and were well established by the Qing dynasty. There is yet another pattern around the neck, which is set off by a collar of flowing clouds around the inner shoulder. Sometimes green and black lacquer layers and cameo carvings are introduced in this school.

A second early group of cinnabar lacquer bottles where only red is used is represented by the bottle in figure I.216. The range of forms is often similar to those represented by figures I.214 and I.215, although they tend to be narrower. The main difference is in the style of carving, as well as the detailing; the earlier group tended to have brass on the lip and foot, but in this second group the lip and foot are always lacquer. They appear to be a mid-Qing response to the main imperial group; they were certainly made by different craftsmen, probably at a different lacquering centre. The bottle in figure I.216 is one of the two known that bear credible Qianlong marks. If some bottles like this were made in the late Qianlong, then, it is possible that their production continued into the first half of the nineteenth century with unmarked wares. The range of subjects includes a series with fenghuang and some with dragons, further hints, perhaps, at an imperial connection.

We discussed bamboo veneer and its period of flourishing in connexion with figure I.41. To what extent the art continued into the Jiaqing and beyond is not certain. Bamboo-veneer snuff bottles are seldom marked, but most of the fine ones that have survived seem to be obviously imperial, with some remaining in the imperial collection to this day. One of the standard designs echoes both the popular flattened form found in porcelain and in carved lacquer of the group mentioned above. The bottle in figure I.217 is an example of this form. On each main side, it has a design of fifty formalized shou (longevity) characters (if one includes the few that are almost entirely cut off by the frame), adding up to one hundred in total. This bottle retains its original stopper. Where bamboo-veneer snuff bottles with these angular lips have original stoppers, they are simply a squared-off version of the conventional hat-shaped imperial stopper, with ridges tapering to the finial. The finial in this case is a small bamboo bead, understandably not veneered.

The ‘moon-flask’ bamboo-veneer bottle in figure I.218 has a small coral bead as a finial on a similarly shaped stopper, which is original. It is one of the rarest of the group, unrecorded anywhere else, and the bottle itself is entirely plain, which is extremely impressive and subtle. The only decoration appears on the stopper – a lovely touch. It is difficult to date so plain a bottle, and it might well be from the Yongzheng, but is unlikely to be later than the Qianlong.

We should be surprised if there were no moulded-gourd snuff bottles produced under the Kangxi emperor. It was he who appreciated the art to such an extent that he brought the old folk tradition into the palace, devoted a garden to gourd growing, and developed the art of moulding to dizzying new heights. Many of the finest gourds of this type in other art forms are from the Kangxi era, and there are unmarked snuff bottles that may date from that period. The Yongzheng emperor, on the other hand, apparently did not appreciate the art form, and there are no known moulded-gourd vessels bearing his era name, although the records show the production of the occasional gourd snuff bottle. His son, the Qianlong emperor, followed his grandfather and continued the palace art at a high level of production, creating some of the most intricate and finest wares of the type ever made. The art is dealt with in Moss, Graham, and Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, vii: Organic, Metal, Mixed Media, under nos. 1495 – 1509, where no. 1505 is the example now in the Marakovic collection (fig. I.219). We know the art continued as a popular imperial one into the Daoguang era, and with such longevity that we are hard pressed to date unmarked wares with any precision, but the present example is more likely to date from the Qianlong than not.

The unique hornbill-on-realgar-glass bottle in this collection can be dated confidently to the mid Qing period, although whether late Qianlong or as late as the Daoguang is less certain (fig. I.220). Hornbill casques came into Guangzhou as trade goods from Sarawak and other supplying areas. Most hornbill snuff bottles were made using the arched frontal segment above the beak that protected the brain, but it was also possible to strip off its outer coating of tougher red material from the narrow sides, flatten it, and use it as a veneer. That was the preferred technique for hornbill double belt buckles, the other most popular use for the casque material of the unfortunate birds. There are a few snuff bottles, however, that use this red veneer to make a shallow cameo overlay design as the main decoration. Rare examples have buttery-yellow solid hornbill material as the bottle itself, and there are others with horn grounds. The extraordinary and unique example in figure I.220 is an old realgar-glass bottle that has been embellished with red casque. The realgar glass bottle on its own is a likely imperial product from the eighteenth century, but there is little sign that hornbill became a popular material for snuff bottles until the late eighteenth century at the earliest, and many of the finest dateable bottles come from the second quarter of the nineteenth century Although the replacement of mask-and-ring handles by strange upright monkeys on the narrow sides doesn’t strike us as northern or imperial, the circular panels were popular at court, and the design within the panels does suggest it was made at or for the court. It is the dragon and fenghuang so common for imperial weddings, and the dragon is an imperial five-clawed beast. This was probably an older plain glass bottle that was made at court during the mid Qing and later embellished with material imported through Guangzhou. It may have been embellished there and sent to the court as tribute, perhaps on the occasion of an important wedding.

Reign-marked ceramics allow us to finish up the snuff bottle story of the Qianlong era with straightforward attributions and slip smoothly into the Jiaqing era. Admittedly, things are not so straightforward between the emperor’s retirement on 8 February 1796, (the last day of the sixtieth year of the Qianlong era), and his death almost exactly three years later, on the third day of the fourth year of the Jiaqing era, or 7 February 1799. During those three years, no one told the Qianlong emperor to stop using his reign mark. (Who would dare?) Certain orders for ceramics, for instance, were sent to Jingdezhen at the time with instructions to mark some pieces with Jiaqing marks, some with Qianlong. Result: there is no way to know by the use of one or the other reign mark alone whether a snuff bottle bearing a Qianlong mark was not actually made in the early Jiaqing era.

Of course, there are many other indicators we can use. One very useful rule of thumb for porcelain bottles is that under Tang Ying’s directorship at Jingdezhen (which ended in 1756), glazed interiors were standard. In those days, the snuff bottle was a novelty in porcelain, and the ceramic technology all derived from larger forms such as vases, most of which had mouths large enough to make a good deal of the inner neck visible, and sometimes much of the inner wall of the body as well. It was natural to glaze these exposed surfaces. As the snuff bottle became a standard item of mass production, fashion favoured narrow mouths, and there was no longer any point in going to the extra trouble of glazing the insides of large numbers of bottles. From the mid Qianlong to the beginning of the nineteenth century, interior glazing on snuff bottles was dropped. Its revival may have been partly due to increased exposure of interior surfaces as mouths became much wider on certain types (the snuff-pots of the early-nineteenth century, for instance, designed to accommodate the new fashion of placing petals in the mouth overnight to scent the snuff). It may also have been a measure designed to accommodate the increased popularity during the nineteenth century of uncompressed forms, particularly cylindrical ones, where two halves were pressed into a mould and a separate foot added, all requiring firm sealing inside. It is perhaps more likely, however, that the revival of glazed interiors was mainly in response to standards dictated by snuff connoisseurship. We know that in the nineteenth century a polished, smooth interior was preferred for keeping snuff in peak condition.

Once the glazed interior was re-introduced, it was by no means universal, however; some schools ignored it. Interior glazing is therefore most useful as a guide in distinguishing early-Qianlong wares from late-Qianlong ones. We do not know for sure that glazed interiors continued right up until Tang Ying’s retirement in 1756, but whenever unglazed interiors began, there were few exceptions to the unglazed interiors of imperial snuff bottles from then until the Jiaqing era at the earliest.

Probably the earliest of the Marakovic Qianlong porcelains is the one in figure I.221, of a type introduced by Tang Ying but continued in production right through into the Jiaqing reign. This one is unglazed inside, suggesting it is not from the earlier group of Tang Ying bottles. The poem is the eighth in a series of twelve poems on flowers that Hongli 弘曆 wrote when he was still the heir presumptive, not yet the emperor of the Qianlong era. It also appears on a Jiaqing-marked snuff bottle in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, reminding us that these imperial poems give us the terminus post quem for the bottles on which they appear, never a terminus ante quem.

The poem turns on the fact that the name of the flower yumeiren (the five-petal red and pink poppies on the other side of the bottle) means ‘The Beauty Yu’, and Yu was the name of the concubine of Xiang Yu 項羽, who came from a military family in the old state of Chu and established a tenuous hold on the empire after the fall of the Qin dynasty before losing it to the Han founder in 202 BCE. The night before Xiang Yu’s last battle near the banks of the Yangzi opposite his home territory, Yu, who had followed him through all the vicissitudes of his campaign, performed a final dance for him and committed suicide. The young poet, the future Qianlong emperor, adopts the pretence that the flower is the spirit of the woman, and he addresses her thus:

A swath of Yu, alas,
a spirit still pained by that farewell,
Unable to free yourself from memories
of the banks of the river in Chu!
How could you know that the one who truly
treasures your jade and adores your scent
Was not that long-ago man
with the surname Xiang!

‘A swath’ can also mean ‘one song’, so the first line has a double meaning from the very start: a swath of flowers = the song of Yu. To ‘treasure jade and adore scent’ (line 3) is to appreciate a woman's beauty. Hongli's final point is that if the woman whose identity has merged with the poppies were alive, he would not let her down as Xiang Yu did; he is the true lover.

A large group of ceramic bottles that appear to be from the last decades of the Qianlong emperor’s life are represented by figures I.222 - I.223 - I.224. They combine underglaze blue (often with the details originally picked out on the surface with gold enamel) with overglaze enamels and bear both Qianlong and Jiaqing marks, proving they continued in production in 1796 – 1799. They undoubtedly were introduced earlier than that, but their unglazed interiors point to the second half of the Qianlong era. As for the Marakovic bottles, there is some indication that the ones in figures I.223 and I.224 may have been made during the abdication years, the late Qianlong period artistically if not in terms of the calendar.

The bottle in figure I.223 has an exceptionally rare subject for a late-Qianlong porcelain bottle: a scene from Journey to the West. Illustrations from various famous novels and plays were immensely influential in the arts from the late Ming dynasty onwards and appear on a range of snuff bottles; the Story of the Western Chamber, for instance, was particularly popular on porcelain bottles of the late-Qianlong and Jiaqing reigns. This particular subject, however, is a rare one, and this work did not inspire so many mid-Qing imperial porcelains. (The bottle in fig. II.78, illustrating chapter 72 of Journey to the West, is from the late Qing.) The court scene on one side could be from chapter 40 or 85, in which the India-bound monk is honoured by a king and, in one case, asked to remain to rule the kingdom; the travel scene on the other side could come from almost any chapter in the novel that describes the progress of the monk and his companions through the mountains and wildernesses that lay between China and India.

The snuff bottle in figure I.222 is a recent acquisition that adds something different to the Marakovic collection: a bottle that combines a moulded design, famille rose enamels, and underglaze-blue surrounds and reign mark – the latter too fuzzy from the firing to be certain of the details, but clearly legible as a Qianlong mark. Others are known of this design, albeit not that many, so as usual we can posit that the bottle was originally made in at least one set, probably more.

There is an interesting clue to dating in the era marks on these three bottles. If one looks back at the seal-script character Qian in the mark on the bottle in figure I.221 (the rightmost character), one will notice that the lower left corner has a component in the form of an ‘S’. On the bottles in figures I.223 - I.224 - I.225, that component is reversed. This reversed ‘S’ appears on wares that are stylistically from the late Qianlong period (or on counterfeits of such wares, copied blindly). We think that detail was introduced to differentiate wares that were produced between the emperor’s abdication in early 1796 and his death in early 1799, the fourth year of the Jiaqing era. The alternative explanation would be that, after half a century of the Qian character being written in one way at Jingdezhen, a mark writer late in the reign decided to tweak it a little, just for the sake of variety. That is unlikely. There is an earlier Qianlong record of an exemplar for the mark in seal script being sent from the court to Jingdezhen with instructions to follow it henceforth. If a precise formalization was to be followed, and indeed was followed for fifty years, then it would not be changed at the whim of a craftsman, and if changed by careless error, surely no more than one or two pieces could have slipped through undetected. It must have been a matter of conscious policy, and the most likely hypothesis is that the variation was meant to distinguish those wares that continued to use the Qianlong reign mark during the first three years and three days of the Jiaqing era. If this reversed ‘S’ formulation was consistently applied in 1796 – 1799, the way in which the Qianlong mark was written tells us a great deal.

The bottle in figure I.225, by that indicator, was made in the last three years of the emperor’s life. It shows the influence of palace enamels on glass from the second half of his reign; this influence, especially noticeable in the beaded-cord design from which other elements are suspended, is not unusual, since a good deal of porcelain was designed by artists in the Ruyi guan, the design workshop at the Yuanming yuan. (Another example of glass-to-porcelain influence will be seen in figure I.229, where the Guyue xuan mark declares the source of inspiration.) The present example also echoes the popular imperial standard of small, distinctive mask handles with small circular rings set high on the narrow sides at the point where they meet the shoulders, which we mentioned in connexion with the white nephrite snuff bottle in figure I.173. The stopper here is probably original, but if not, it is of an original type for such a bottle.

Among Tang Ying’s output of snuff bottles was a series of double gourds with smaller gourds in relief, all bearing Qianlong marks. (The Bloch-collection example, no. 1151, set a world record price for a porcelain snuff bottle when it sold at Bonhams Hong Kong, 23 November 2010, lot 121). At least two sets of these were made, each set slightly different, and then many more were produced with evolved designs throughout the rest of the reign. The Marakovic one (fig. I.226) is a vertically lobed gourd with the smaller gourds painted on, not moulded in relief. It is extremely rare, with only one other example known. If we look at the mark, the ‘S’ element in the character Qian is written in the conventional manner, suggesting a date prior to 1796. It is probably from the mid Qianlong or the second half of the era, one indication being the extremely small mouth, which is much smaller than on the Tang Ying bottles, and even smaller than most other porcelain versions of this shape. The secondary scrolling pattern of vine tendrils in a contrasting golden enamel is an echo of the Tang Ying decorative introduction of floral designs on a floral ground, where the secondary, seemingly underlying design is sometimes painted in a different colour and on a smaller scale, and sometimes engraved in the ground enamel (as on the next example, fig. I.227). Tang Ying’s influence was so strong on ceramic production that it informed a great deal of production to the end of the Qing dynasty. It was also maintained well into the Daoguang era as a standard option for imperial production. Fakers in Republican and later times were also quick to adopt his style.

The Qianlong mark on the bottle in figure I.227 is another with the reversed ‘S’ element and probably dates from the retirement years. It is typical of Tang Ying’s style, notably in the fine sgraffito design of the ground, but falls somewhat short of his extraordinarily high standards of art and technique. This, however, still allows for a very impressive bottle, since he set the bar so high. The foliage sprays are identical in composition on the two main sides, but differ in thickness, the use of shading strokes, and so forth. This may reflect the participation of more than one artist, but we prefer to think it indicates an artist who came at each composition with the commitment to make it new and fresh within the dictates of bureaucratic specifications.

The reversed ‘S’ element appears yet again on the bottle in figure I.228. This is one of those types where both Qianlong and Jiaqing marks are found on the same group of wares. This distinctive group is obviously based on glass-overlay snuff bottles of the Qianlong palace workshops. They are a moulded response to glass overlays, allowing mass production of a very similar-looking type for distribution as gifts, and perhaps as a novelty. Most are in blue, but some are in iron red and others in gold enamel. This is one of the more unusual and dynamic subjects. Although we know of no exact glass overlay counterpart, one may have existed, unless the potters at Jingdezhen simply invented their own designs, which is entirely conceivable.

The last of the porcelain bottles in the Marakovic collection we can firmly attribute to the Qianlong reign is one of the most fascinating (fig. I.229). It is unique among the imperial porcelain responses to the enamelled-glass wares of the Guyue xuan group, which we define as the group of more decorative Guyue xuan enamelled-glass snuff bottles produced after 1767, with a gradual evolution that culminated in the relief-plane enamelled wares from about 1770 to 1799. Copying Guyue xuan wares in porcelain was not unusual, but this is the only known example imitating the relief-plane group. Its mark copies the Guyue xuan mark in the regular script used on the Beijing originals, not the seal script alternative found on enamelled glass from Yangzhou, but it is an unusual blue variation. (The Beijing originals mostly bear iron-red marks, although one is known with a blue mark.) A certain amount of poetic licence has been taken with the Guyue xuan style: the coloured ground and the busy neck border do not appear on the glass originals; nor, of course, does the green enamelled foot.