Close this menu  X
Exhibition showing
all bottles


Part III:
The Rising Importance
of the Collector

Book Menu
× Home Member's area Newsletter Auction Agent Past Auctions
Essays and Articles Exhibitions Video Presentations Library
Links Contact 中文

The Marakovic Collection

Hugh Moss and Stuart Sargent

Part I: The Imperial Phase
The Jiaqing Era, 1796 – 1821

I232 I232a I.265

The Jiaqing emperor inherited a vast empire whose resources were stretched very thin. The expansion of Qing territory had been costly and did not bring revenues to the state that would have repaid the cost; the very success of Qing policies in agriculture and transportation infrastructure had created a greatly increased population, much of which migrated far and wide in search of opportunities and, all too often, mischief; budget cuts having weakened and impoverished the banner forces, the government had to rely on local militia to maintain stability (especially during and after the White Lotus Rebellion, 1794 – 1804), which required tax forgiveness that further depressed state revenues; and of course, the importation and use of opium among all classes was rising steadily. The Qianlong emperor in his old age had been unwilling or unable to keep abreast of the dire state of his empire, the sycophants around him putting their own corrupt interests ahead of the commonweal and hiding from him the true state of affairs.

Understandably, the Jiaqing emperor was not a patron of the arts on anything like the same scale as his father. Nevertheless, it appears that imperial production continued at a reasonably high level. Snuffing and the snuff bottle were still growing in popularity during his reign, and vast numbers of snuff bottles were doubtless still being distributed—partly because symbolic rewards are usually cheaper than substantive ones, but also because snuffing and snuff bottles had become such an integral part of life that it would have been unthinkable for the emperor to abandon them as political currency. We still await the publication of the imperial archives for the Jiaqing and subsequent reigns, but from extant wares we can track the continued production of reign-marked types such as enamels and ceramics and from them extrapolate continued production of other types.

Ceramics continued to be made in large quantities and continued to be frequently reign marked. Given that the Jiaqing emperor ruled the first few years of his reign in the shadow of his far more powerful father, who no doubt continued to dominate artistic style for the court and, as we have seen, even continued in the concurrent use of his own era name on imperial wares, the continuation of Qianlong style into the Jiaqing reign is hardly surprising. For those three years between his abdication in 1796 and his death in 1799, the retired emperor appears to have dictated style in snuff bottle production, and there is no noticeable difference between the late-Qianlong wares and their early-Jiaqing counterparts.

For example, the bottle in figure I.230 has a Jiaqing era mark, but its decorative scheme, shape, choice of subject matter, and style could just as well be found in a Qianlong-marked snuff bottle. Perhaps this bottle would have carried the Qianlong era name if it had been made for the retired emperor to bestow on someone.

We tentatively identify the balcony scene on this bottle as illustrating the point in the story Poyao ji 破窯記 [Record of a Ruined Kiln] where the heroine is about to toss her brocade ball to indicate her choice of a husband—making sure she aims for the penniless scholar she has recently discovered outside her wealthy family's compound and taken into her heart. We have seen a woodblock print of the scene that does not include the sleeping man or the well, but has the other essentials. The title of the specific scene is Cailou xuan xu 綵樓選婿, ‘Selecting the son-in-law from a particoloured loft’. The rarity of balcony scenes in the prints we have surveyed gives us confidence that we are seeing some version of the story here. The story has been dramatized and read from the Yuan dynasty down to the present day, and further research might divulge a specific adaptation of it that includes all the elements of this illustration, and perhaps the painting on the other main side as well. Despite the young couple having to elope and sleep in a ruined kiln because the girl's angry father has forced all the inns in town to turn them away, the story has a happy ending—involving, needless to say, the young man passing the examinations.

Figure I.231 shows a snuff bottle painted only in sepia on the two main panels, but as unusual as this is for the group as a whole, it is not unusual for the Qianlong period, as other black or sepia designs are well known, even if they are rarer than the usual famille rose scenes. The mark is unusual for its wording, Da Qing Jiaqing 大清嘉慶 (‘Jiaqing of the Great Qing’); we normally expect Jiaqing nian zhi 嘉慶年製 (‘Made in a year of the Jiaqing’), although a six-character mark including Da Qing at the beginning is also possible. The late Qianlong and Jiaqing saw some other odd exceptions to standard reign marks, such as the vague mark Da Qing nian zhi (‘Made in a year of the Qing dynasty’) and two-character marks simply stating the name of the era, Qianlong or Jiaqing.

Underglaze-blue surrounds picked out with gold detailing are observable in figures I.230, I.231, and I.232. The latter was probably part of a set of ten or twenty bottles originally (those being the usual counts for a set), but in the 1960s it and seven others came out of China and then were split into pairs and acquired by four different prominent collections in Hong Kong. One of these pairs passed through the Bloch collection (nos. 1245 and 1246; Bonhams Hong Kong, 28 May 2010, lots 107 and 108). This set appears to be unique in that, although the shapes, border patterns, and marks are identical, each has a different subject. In any case, these eight bottles are amongst the finest and most exquisitely enamelled of all Jiaqing imperial porcelain snuff bottles, painted in bright, crisp enamels and of extremely elegant form. They are not precisely like any Qianlong examples, so represent perhaps a more authentic Jiaqing evolution of the style, although all the elements find their origins in the Qianlong reign (colour scheme, approximate form, auspicious subject matter, iron-red reign mark in seal script, and style). There is no doubt that the Jiaqing imperial enamellers at Jingdezhen were as capable as their Qianlong forebears; indeed many of the same enamellers would have worked in both reigns. This and the example in figure I.233 are technically and artistically indistinguishable from the finer range of mid- to late-Qianlong wares. The bottle in figure I.233 is a continuation of the popular Qianlong sets of auspicious flowers, some of which have iron-red rather than underglaze-blue floral surrounds.

As the nineteenth century began, the cylindrical form was already established as a snuff-bottle form in various materials. We begin to find cylindrical porcelain bottles during the Jiaqing era, and from then onwards they grew in popularity in step with the general flourishing of ceramic snuff bottles. Figure I.234 shows a rare Jiaqing example with an even rarer six-character reign mark on its base – perhaps encouraged by the greater space and the circular format of the cylindrical form. One wonders if the difference has to with the Jiaqing emperor’s need to assert his power and the power of the state after his father died in 1799. At that time, the White Lotus Rebellion had been spreading out of the mountains on the border of northern Sichuan for three years, promising not only personal salvation to its adherents but also the restoration of the Ming dynasty. While he was trying to find the financial resources to suppress this rebellion and the local disturbances it spawned, would it not have been natural for the Jiaqing emperor to remind those he favoured with one of his snuff-bottle gifts that this was still the ‘Great Qing’ dynasty, and that it was going to last more than just one hundred and sixty years? On snuff bottles in general, presumably because of constraints of size, four-character marks were far more common than six-character marks.

Moulded porcelain bottles are one of the great contributions of the mid Qing to ceramic evolution. Moulds were an ancient means of forming ceramics, of course, and incorporating designs in the mould was an obvious and easy way of mass-producing patterns, but what happened in the last decade or so of the Qianlong and came to fruition under the Jiaqing emperor’s reign was startlingly different. The moulded porcelains of this period are spectacularly elaborate, fine, and quite distinct in their style. This is one of the few snuff-bottle art forms where the Jiaqing era seems responsible for both excellence and innovation.

Because they were obviously mass produced, because their delicate surfaces are susceptible to damage, and perhaps just because they are different, moulded porcelain snuff bottles have been relatively neglected for many years; collectors have focused instead on painted wares in underglaze colours or enamels, or on carved bottles signed by individual potters of the nineteenth century. The imbalance is slowly being corrected, but at present the finest of moulded porcelains still command less respect than the finest painted-enamel porcelains.

Moulded porcelain snuff bottles come in various monochrome colours (although with the addition, usually, of gold enamel on the lip and sometimes a gold or iron-red enamel reign mark); they come also with additional painted famille-rose enamels, and sometimes there is a combination of the two where a monochrome ground may have polychrome details picked out in one or more enamel colours – these are often among the most spectacular, if far rarer types. Often bottles coming from a single set of moulds (as a rule porcelain snuff bottles were made with two-part moulds) would be given different decorative schemes. Moulds for popular subjects existed in more than one version, either because worn-out moulds had to be replaced or because using one mould for high-volume output was too slow.

One mould that appears to be from this time is the one that produced a smallish bottle decorated with dragons (fig. I.235). Most bottles from this mould are white (or creamy-white), but some have added colour, and there is even one known with what appears to be a spectacular use of iron red to colour just the dragons (Michel C. Hughes, The Blair Bequest: Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Princeton University Art Museum [Baltimore: International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, 2002], no. 277). The Marakovic example is exemplary, as fine as they come, and as crisp as if directly from the kiln. It is in the ‘soft’-looking, creamy-coloured huashi 滑石 paste. The bottles in the small group from which it comes are always unmarked but seem to represent the higher-quality attainments of the Jiaqing era in this art form.

Moulded porcelain reached its heights in the Jiaqing era, but the paucity of types from the early Daoguang era suggests that interest either declined abruptly with the death of the Jiaqing emperor or was already declining in the late years of his reign. One of the popular subjects that define the style of the Jiaqing reign is the design of nine Buddhist lions playing with brocaded, beribboned balls on a formalized cloud ground. We see it on the Jiaqing-marked bottle in figure I.236. It appears in different monochrome versions, including dark blue, iron-red, and white, in a rare dark blue version with gold-enamelled beasts, and in a variety of multi-coloured versions.

When in good condition, bottles from this and similar moulds are always spectacular, the epitome of crisp detailing. To speak of such bottles as ‘moulded porcelains’ is slightly misleading, because although the basic shape and design were dictated by the mould, a good deal of work had to be done by hand after the biscuit bottle emerged from the two-part mould, particularly on the more complex double-bodied snuff bottles, where a reticulated outer design stands mostly free of a solid inner container. Even on simpler forms, a good deal of handwork would have been involved in joining the two halves of the moulded sections so the joint is mostly invisible from the outside, in adding neck and foot detailing, and in sharpening up the surface design or doing any undercutting. There is quite a bit of undercutting on these bottles, whether to make the relief detail stand clear of the ground or to make ground-layer clouds and waves less flat.

The moulded-porcelain snuff bottle in figure I.237 is unmarked, but it represents a standard imperial type that began late in the Qianlong emperor’s life – perhaps even in the abdication years. Its dragon-and-fenghuang design made it suitable for distribution at an imperial wedding, and it is one of the most popular moulded designs. It occurs in various monochrome enamel colours (iron red, white, dark sapphire-blue, black, and this turquoise-blue colour) and in many colourful combinations of the famille rose palette. The group must have been made in several sets and from several different moulds during the height of the art form.

The scene on one of the more spectacular examples in the Marakovic collection (fig. I.238) has been identified as coming from The Legend of the White Snake, originally a popular novel but later a better-known Beijing opera (see A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, i: Jade,no. 1211 for the story). This is one of the more popular series from the Jiaqing reign, always of the exemplary quality of Jiaqing moulding at its best, of relatively small size compared to some, and subject to enough demand to require several different moulds of the same subject for subsequent sets. A much rarer mould is illustrated in figure I.238a. Only one mould of this design appears to have been produced, and surviving bottles form it are rare. It seems to be a battle scene of some sort and probably illustrates a story from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

As a rule, these moulded porcelains seem to have been made with original matching stoppers that are imperial in style.

Enamels on glass, strangely, seem not to have intrigued the Jiaqing emperor at all. There are no known imperial enamelled-glass wares from the reign. It may have been due to necessary cutbacks in the expenses of imperial production, begun in the second half of the Qianlong reign by his predecessor, who was already constrained to consolidate certain workshops, reducing staff and making them more efficient. Enamelled glass was a tricky process, difficult to produce successfully, with a higher failure rate and presumably, therefore, more expensive. Xia Gengq i夏更起 has observed that even in the seventy-some years of the Yongzheng and Qianlong eras, enamelled-glass wares were ordered only intermittently, the completion of the orders is not always recorded, and with the exception of a couple of Qianlong snuff-bottle orders, the orders were small. The standing orders for annual occasions might double the total, and putting the Kangxi era into the mix adds a few more, but even that brings the known eighteenth-century count up to only four or five hundred pieces (mostly snuff bottles), which is far, far below workshop output in other media. There is a pair of enamelled-glass snuff bottles in the imperial collection whose date of acquisition is recorded as 25 March 1800; the quality is far inferior to court-workshop levels, and Xia takes this as a sign that enamelled glass had moved to private workshops by this time.

Painted enamels on metal, on the other hand, continued at the court until 1813, when the emperor decreed Sihou bubi zuo falang yanhu 嗣後不必做琺瑯煙壺, ‘Henceforth it is not necessary to make enamelled snuff bottles’. This explains the paucity of Jiaqing-marked Beijing enamelled-metal wares and the fact that the only fine-quality ones are those that are very close in style to the late-Qianlong versions. In fact, they may have been produced in the abdication years 1796 – 1799, under the keen and watchful eye of the Qianlong emperor.

Imperial enamelled-metal bottles continued to be made at Guangzhou, however, where there was no noticeable decline in quality or artistry in the Jiaqing era. There is one famous series of unusually shaped, rather bulbous bottles with no foot rim that are decorated with children at play. The bottles bear six-character reign marks in iron red. The fact that the colour scheme differs on some of them suggests that they were made in response to more than one order for the same style and design. Figure I.239 shows an exemplary version. The shoulder band of formalized ruyi heads is telling: each ruyi head has a darker core enclosed within a lighter band of the same colour—in this case, dark blue surrounded by light blue. This type of border was standard on some late-Qianlong enamelled glass wares. (Note: this style was copied by Ye Bengqi a century and a half later, thus becoming standard on his works as well.)

The Jiaqing era saw first florescence of the art of inside painting. The first major inside painter to identify himself on his wares was Yiru jushi 一如居士, who may have been Hongwu 弘旿 (1743 – 1811), a grandson of the Kangxi emperor. Perhaps the full Buddhist flavour of the name Yiru jushi can be expressed by translating it as ‘Lay devotee of the Indivisible and Undifferentiated'. The translation is so unwieldy that the reader may be surprised to learn that the name Yiru is not so very unusual, and there are other men as well who called themselves Yiru jushi. However, among the people who used the name, Hongwu was an artist, a scholar, and a Manchu, and it is clear that the painter of these bottles was all three of those things as well (some of his bottles bear Manchu signatures). There are also obvious courtly connections in the range of crystal bottles he painted inside. Among the twenty-five known surviving works by Yiru jushi are some dated from 1801 to 1811, matching the last decade of Hongwu’s life. 

Figure I.240 shows one of these extraordinary little treasures, dated 1809. The bottle is a faceted octagonal agate of a type that would probably have been made at the imperial workshops, or at least for the court. Yiru jushi seems to have mainly used existing bottles rather than having them custom made for painting; hence, several have carving on their surfaces, and no two are the same shape. Here he seems to have come into possession of what appears to be an unusual imperial agate bottle based on a European watch form, which was popular at court.

The inscription is dedicated to a celebration of the material:
比玉喜無疵 , 疑冰倍有姿, 箇中天自別, 世外味堪思
I compare it to jade, happy to find no blemish,
Suspect it is ice, but it has double the charm!
Within it, the universe is a different place…
Beyond the human world, with a flavour to long for.

In other words, this agate is more flawless than jade and it looks as cool and perfect as ice, but ice does not have its beauty. The idea that there is a separate heaven-and-earth within a gourd or bottle is thousands of years older than snuff bottles specifically, but it is often evoked in talking about snuff bottles and will be familiar to most readers of this catalogue. The flavour worth longing for could be the aesthetic air of the bottle, but of course in the case of a snuff bottle one thinks first of the flavour of the snuff itself. This poem appears on other bottles by the same artist; see, for example, no. 443 in the Bloch collection (Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 27 May 2013, lot 183).

This bottle is signed with two of Yiru jushi’s other signatures, Yunfeng 雲峰 (Cloudy peak) and Banshan 半山 (Halfway up the mountain). Yunfeng is repeated on the seal that is added; interestingly, it is written solely with the phonetic elements of the characters that form the signature. 云 is the phonetic element in 雲 and is in fact the older form of that character, so this substitution is not so remarkable; 丰 is the phonetic element in 峰 as well as in characters such as 邦 and 豐, but it is never used as a substitute for 峰, so this substitution shows a touch of creativity based on a fairly sophisticated linguistic knowledge—perhaps the result of being a bilingual Manchu. As for Banshan, the name naturally recalls the temple by that name that Wang Anshi 王安石 (1021–1086) established on the site of his residence (northeast of modern Nanjing) in 1084, but there are other places and temples called Banshan. Perhaps being only 'halfway up the mountain' also signified being neither on top of society nor on the bottom, as proposed by Moss, Graham, and Tsang in their discussion of Yiru jushi's names in A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, iv: Inside Painted, 47.

Coin bottles like the one in figure I.241 must have been a staple of the Jiaqing era. Some of them appear to have been made for the court, namely the ones of vastly superior quality and those with mask-and-ring handles, which are quite out of place with such a non-traditional theme and must have been a reflexive imperial marker. Others were undoubtedly made as novelties for sale in the seaports of China and for a non-imperial audience. The coin most popularly copied onto snuff bottles was the Spanish eight-real piece minted in Mexico City. Of the known early coin bottles, almost all of them reproduce coins minted in Mexico during the reigns of Charles III (1760-1788) and his son Charles IV (1788-1808). The production of these coin bottles began during the last fifteen years of the eighteenth century and peaked around the turn of the century. The coin on the bottle in figure I.241 is dated 1798; allowing a year at least for the coin to reach China and be copied, the bottle is unlikely to predate 1799. (The latest date on a coin bottle is 1810; the Mexican War of Independence, which started in September 1810, is probably responsible for the interruption in the flow of new dollars to China, although of course the Spanish real was produced until 1821 at loyalist mints, and the coins remained in circulation in China, the United States, and elsewhere for several decades.) The majority of coin bottles are in crystal, although why that should be the case is a mystery; perhaps they were first made in and became a popular style for a particular area that had plentiful crystal supplies. Some are found in quartzite, such as the present example, and occasionally they even come in other materials, including glass overlay (Moss, Graham, and Tsang, Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle, no. 385).

On this bottle, the M on the side with the arms of Castile and León should probably have a small ‘o’ above it to make the mint mark for Mexico City. The initials F and M are for the assayers Francisco Arance y Cobos and Mariano Rodríguez, who worked together from 1783 to 1807. The carver maintained a medium level of detail, abbreviating the castle and the lion to the point where they are barely recognizable. It is interesting to note how the ribbons about the pillars on either side of the arms flow in the fluid Chinese manner instead of crinkling and waving in the Western style.

The last dated bottle from the Jiaqing era in this collection is another faceted glass bottle, in this case an unusual white glass version (fig. I.242). Among faceted octagonal glass bottles, three are known with credible Yongzheng marks, quite a lot with Qianlong marks. Recently these have been augmented by fakes and, even more confusingly, by bottles excavated from tombs and given marks by dealers in Beijing wishing to gild the lily. (At least one case is known of a glass carver being paid by one dealer to add a spurious reign mark to a glass vase and then paid again by another one some years later to remove it; the vase had come into the hands of a collector who knew authentic marks from fakes.) From the rest of the Qing dynasty, there are a few faceted octagonal glass bottles with Daoguang marks, and even fewer with later reign marks, but this is sufficient to prove that the type survived to the end of the dynasty. It may be that the Marakovic bottle is from the early Jiaqing, since the mark is typical of the style of a range of wheel-cut Qianlong era marks. The cutting of the facets and the formal integrity are excellent, too, although we have no real evidence that these standards would have been lost precipitously as the Jiaqing era progressed.

Despite budgetary restrictions and social disruption, glass snuff bottles seem to have been produced at a steady rate to meet the need of the court to distribute them at certain times of the year. During the Jiaqing era, the workshops submitted sixty glass snuff bottles twice a year, once at New Years and once for the Double-Five Festival (the fifth day of the fifth month), along with other glass vessels and dishes whose quotas varied with the festival. These quantities became fixed from the Jiaqing on.

Unmarked Jiaqing snuff bottles lack many of the dating clues we relied on for earlier eras. The reign was not so long, and very little artistic innovation took place. The style of the Qianlong palace workshops and the influence of that emperor’s taste and standards would have carried well into the Jiaqing reign with little change, so all we can do is propose a few heuristic examples.

In the category of faceted octagonal snuff bottles, which are one of the strengths of this collection, the examples in figures I.243 - I.244 - I.245 are all well-made, crisply carved, and formally excellent: they could date as readily from the Qianlong as from the Jiaqing or Daoguang eras. Blessed with such an abundance of examples, we have the luxury of putting some of this type into each period and presenting arguments for and against our attributions, if only to make the point that these bottles are mostly un-dateable without marks.

The blue bottle in figure I.246 is a little less convincing formally, a touch more rounded at the edges of the facets and not as crisp and confident in comparison to the others, but this might in part be due to repairs or the inevitable re-polishing over the years if it has been above ground. Even if these characteristics were there from the beginning, we cannot be sure how far into the nineteenth century they should push our dating.

With the bottles in figures I.247 - I.248 - I.249 - I.250, however, we see signs of lower standards in the original lapidary work, albeit signs that we see also on several of the reign-marked examples from the second half of the Qing dynasty. The facets of the narrow side panels, instead of being strictly rectangular or hexagonal, with sharp edges and corners, are simpler, oval-shaped facets—like taking the side of a lemon and cutting off a thick slice. This is a lazier way to facet a bottle: the bottle as it comes from the mould has rounded narrow sides (unless the mould itself is faceted), the lapidary grinds off enough to make the oval facets, and the carving is done. We see a hint of this process of simplification in figure I.247, a further stage in the unusual purple version of figure I.248, and the fully simplified side-panels as applied to two different standard shapes in figures I.249 and I.250. The bottle in figure I.249, intriguingly, also has a protruding foot rim; this type traditionally didn’t have foot rims. It seems likely that this arose as a result of the simplification: once the foot ended up oval, it would not provide the stability of a hexagonal or rectangular foot, so a standard foot rim would have followed naturally to correct the situation practically and aesthetically.

Figures I.250, I.251, and I.252 show bottles that have integral snuff dishes surrounded by faceting that is somewhat rounded at the edges, lacking crispness and not as confidently carved as those we have associated with the earlier Qing, so a later date seems more likely. However, we must exercise some caution in drawing conclusions from the less-than-crisp facet edges on the bottle in figure I.253, as the bottle is of a multi-faceted form that we believe existed from the outset; if it is an early bottle that had become nibbled at the edges, a little re-polishing and removal of tiny chips would explain the rounded edges.

Fig I.254 shows a rare faceted bottle in streaky turquoise glass, presumably imitating the stone; it might be taken for a much earlier bottle, but if our theory holds any water at all, the slight rounding of the edges of the narrow-side faceting might suggest a mid-Qing date.

Frankly, we have no obvious clues for dating the bottle in figure I.255. Its shape is unusual, its colour is very strange, and it is crisply carved with excellent formal integrity. It could date from as early as the Yongzheng and as late as the second half of the nineteenth century, so we’ve averaged it and popped it in among the Jiaqing candidates.

As is usual with undecorated snuff bottles, there is really no sensible way to separate Jiaqing products in plain glass from those of the preceding or subsequent eras. Figures I.256 - I.257 - I.258 - I.259 - I.260 - I.261 - I.262 - I.263 suggest a variety of types that were probably produced during the Jiaqing reign, but the probability of any of them actually being from the Jiaqing era, which lasted only twenty-five years, is low when compared with the ninety combined years of the Qianlong and Daoguang eras that bracket the Jiaqing.

The glass in figure I.259 might be associated with a group of overlay bottles that have threads of darker colour in the transparent overlays used; this streaky black in a watery emerald-green is typical of the group. But when were those glass-overlay bottles produced? If they were imperial products, they were probably from the Qianlong era; if they were private products, they could have been produced to equal standards well into the nineteenth century. Blowing a plain glass bottle into a mould was not a demanding process, and if patrons required quality, as fine a bottle could have been made at the end of the Qing dynasty as was regularly produced in the early eighteenth century.

The bottle in figure I.264, imitating the material, the compressed ovoid form, and the style of carving of nephrite bottles of the latter part of the Qianlong period, must belong to the mid Qing. Jadeite bottles with this style of carving can be convincingly ascribed to the last two decades of the Qianlong period. If we include this glass version here in our discussion of possible Jiaqing bottles, it is because there is no reason this style could not have continued into the Jiaqing era, not because we have any certainty that this particular bottle is not earlier.

The same is true of figure I.264a, an unusual white version of the well-known mallow-flower design where the petals dictate the formal profile. This popular design was produced during the eighteenth century but, like so many other imperial types, certainly continued into the nineteenth century; there is one known with a Jiaqing reign mark in ruby-red glass (Googut Auction, Beijing, 3 June 2012, lot 2431).

We are confident that carved imperial-yellow glass continued long after the Qianlong emperor died, but, again, whether the bottle in figure I.265 is a late-Qianlong palace workshops product, or one from the same workshop during the ensuing decades is less certain. The wide mouth is a feature that might place it either in the earliest phase of glass production or in the mid Qing; since our current understanding of the evolution of style would suggest the latter, we include it as a possible Jiaqing imperial product.

If the biannual quotas for the imperial glassworks from the Jiaqing on established a certain quantity, they could not guarantee quality. Glassmakers from Boshan came to Beijing twice a year to make glass, and although there were times when they failed to show up (occasionally for as long as a year and a half), the main problem may have not been a lack of glass but a lack of the lapidary skills necessary to turn that glass into works of art. We know that by the Xianfeng era (1851 – 1861), the emperor was so exasperated by the failure of the glass workers to reverse the Daoguang-era slide into ineptitude that he famously instructed the glassworks in 1858, ‘From now on glass handicrafts must be plain; there must be no lapidary design, and the marks must be in regular-script characters’ (嗣後玻璃活計要素,俱不拉花,款要真). The imperial demand regarding marks could also mean ‘the marks must be precise’, and indeed compositional coherence can be a problem with wheel-cut characters, but late marks are always in kaishu 楷書 (regular script), so we translate accordingly.

In view of the Daoguang – Xianfeng decline, a well-carved bottle like the one in figure I.265 would have been made in the Jiaqing at the latest—although it is possible that the Daoguang emperor, a keen snuffer, had one or two lapidaries he could count on for quality snuff bottles.

This brings us neatly to the vexing question of glass overlays, broached above. If we could be sure glass-overlay snuff bottles were all made in the same place, we could approach their stylistic evolution and dating more confidently, butthe nature of glass production allows raw material from one place to be made into blanks in a second place and carved in a third. Since any lapidary workshop capable of carving stones would also be able to carve glass without any trouble (stones and glass were carved in the same lapidary workshop in the palace), there may have been both imperial and private lapidary works producing overlays from at latest the Qianlong period onwards, in some cases using blanks from a single maker. Private workshops may also have been influenced by imperial style, particularly if producing for a private market in the north or providing wares for the court or courtiers on a regular or intermittent basis.

The bottles in figures I.266 and I.267 are both mid-Qing products, without a doubt, and may fall into the Jiaqing era. The first is of a colour scheme that in various incarnations began in the Qianlong. This range of yellow-on-yellow was imperial in the mid Qing (one of them is a golden-amber colour that would not be considered an ‘imperial’ yellow in isolation but in combination with real yellow probably picked up a hint of that resonance). Three goats or sheep, sanyang 三羊, are a rebus for sanyang 三陽, which can refer to the three yang lines of the trigram Qian; the three-month return of the yang force after the winter solstice; spring; or the first month of the lunar year, all of these being auspicious things. The cloud and moon may evoke the phrase Kaiyun jianri 開雲見日, ‘Brush aside the clouds and see the sun’, signifying a bright and glorious situation. The wind blowing off the boy’s hat evokes the phrase Chunfeng deyi 春風得意, which means both ‘the spring wind has its way [in blowing off the hat]’ and ‘satisfaction gained in the spring breeze’, signifying success in the examinations, official affairs, or general life. These themes are both found on other glass overlays attributable to the court, and the novelty handles (bats suspending elongated oval rings) on this yellow version might suggest a mid-Qing trend. This bottle probably dates from the late Qianlong, but it may have been a Jiaqing product.

The spectacular white-on-blue bottle of figure I.267 is obviously imperial in view of its five-clawed beast, and it has the sort of purposeful wide mouth of the mid Qing.

Other materials that continued to be used for snuff bottles in the Jiaqing era include plain amber, wood, tortoiseshell, other organic materials, nephrite, and jadeite. In other collections, there are dated and dateable bottles from the era that give some indication of continuity from the late Qianlong era. There is, for instance, one known amber pebble-shaped bottle with a Jiaqing reign mark; without the mark, it would be confidently dated to the Qianlong era. In most cases, however, there are no identifying features that permit us to attribute a bottle to one era or the other.

The Marakovic collection offers two examples of hardstone bottles that present this difficulty. The bottle in figure I.268 belongs to the large and varied group of bottles presumably produced for officials or potential officials, and example of which was also represented by the bottle in figure I.194. The bird is the mythological feng, most exalted of birds, and the orb in the clouds is probably the sun. As Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty wrote in his Wei feng fu 威鳳賦 (Rhapsody on the majestic feng), 有一威鳳,憩翮朝陽 (‘There is a majestic feng, resting its pinions and facing the sun’). Also, the bird is sometimes said to be embody the yang force, as does the sun.

The production of quartz-family snuff bottles for officials certainly continued into the mid nineteenth century, probably with sporadic production to the end of the dynasty. We presume the Jiaqing era produced such bottles, but we are more certain about their appearance before and after the Jiaqing. A series of the most typical of these bottles, with their cameo or partial-cameo relief, auspicious subject matter, substantial form, and excellent hollowing and detailing, can be dated with some confidence to the second half of the Qianlong reign, although they undoubtedly began earlier.

The Daoguang period seems to have produced a series of snuff bottles of equal quality that are decorated with Pekinese dogs and doves. According to a later work on porcelain by Chen Liu 陳瀏 (1863 – 1929), an official known for his expertise in antiques, the Daoguang emperor was fond of doves, and one of his consorts was fond of small dogs, ‘so the porcelain cups of the time were often painted with these two creatures’ (成廟喜鴿而貴嬪喜小狗,故當時瓷碗多畫此二物). We have not yet been able to corroborate this information in any other source, nor have we been able to identify which of the emperor’s consorts liked small dogs (not an unusual phenomenon among palace ladies), but the dove-and-dog motif is found on a variety of snuff bottles that are unquestionably from the Daoguang era. In the Marakovic collection, the series is represented by the cameo bottle in figure I.269. With any other subject, however, this might as easily be taken for a Qianlong carving, and we cannot be absolutely certain that this subject never occurs earlier; like the ‘victory’ bottles with galloping bannermen, we could be dealing with a long-lasting group with fairly consistent standards spanning the Qianlong, Jiaqing, and Daoguang eras.

One clue we are afforded that may be significant is that the end of the Qing wars in Central Eurasia in 1759 opened up the mineral wealth of Altishar (the Tarim Basin oasis cities of the western part of what later became Xinjiang province) and Uyghuristan (the Turfan Basin oasis cities, eastern Xinjiang) to the court. This initiated a massive extraction of nephrite from Altishar under a Qing monopoly that lasted until the Jiaqing reign. Other stones must have also gone to China by normal trade, although it is difficult to identify where particular types were mined (the distance between Hami in Uyghuristan and Kasghar at the western frontier of Qing control is roughly equivalent to the straight-line distance between Vienna and London—a lot of geography to cover) and thereby postulate how military and political events affected their supply.

We suspect that the distinctive white-and-vermillion quartz known as sardonyx may have been part of this bounty – certainly available earlier, but probably in larger quantities after 1760. This type would have continued into the Jiaqing and probably Daoguang reigns. However, if it came from Central Asia through Kashgar and Yarkand, the supply would have been interrupted in the early Daoguang by the 1820 – 1828 invasion by Jahangir (a descendant of one of the khojas—Muslim religious leaders—who had attempted to create an independent state to replace the Zunghar empire but had been killed or expelled by the Qing). By whatever route the Qing obtained their sardonyx, figure I.270 shows a typically spectacular example. It can be linked to a group of carvings with entwined fish that certainly began in the Qianlong reign, and it, too, is probably from the second half of the Qianlong, but we include it here because it could also have been made in the nineteenth century under the lingering influence of Qianlong style.

Coral was such an imperial favourite that its use certainly continued into the Jiaqing, Daoguang, and subsequent reigns. It is quite likely that those from the second half of the Qianlong are often indistinguishable from those of the Jiaqing or even the early Daoguang, so we have selected one to represent this continued production (fig. I.271). This snuff bottle a fits into the range of materials seen in early examples. The fenghuang-and-peony combination is a popular imperial subject, although not exclusively; but it is the stopper that indicates this must be an imperial bottle. The stopper, made with a rather spectacular baroque pearl, is original; its significance derives from the fact that pearls sat atop the highest rank of imperial hats: those of the emperor and empress. At the very least, then, this gorgeous stopper may indicate that the bottle was made for use by the highest levels of the imperial family.

Our final attempt at identifying a possible Jiaqing bottle takes us back into the Marakovic collection’s bountiful cloisonné bottles. The bottle in figure I.272, with its charming katydid-on-a-radish design, could date from anywhere from the late Qianlong into the Daoguang era, and may have nothing to do with the court; we have already discussed the dispersal of enamel workers out of the palace workshops and the rise of other centres of cloisonné work far from Beijing. However, the matching stopper relates to that on the bottle in figure I.93, thereby linking this bottle to a large group, probably imperial, in which all the bottles probably had these stoppers originally.