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photographer E-Yaji.

The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 19 

Lot 19

Lot 19
Treasury 1, no. 35

A white nephrite ‘cloth-bag’ pebble material snuff bottle

(‘The Trojan Purse’)

Nephrite of pebble material with traces of skin; carved in the form of a cloth bag, the gathered neck enclosing the neck of the bottle, which rises slightly above that of the bag; the surface carved with a brocade, decorated with a formalized diaper design incorporating petal motifs, shou (‘longevity’) characters and wan emblems tied around the upper body of the bag in a loose bow that reveals the plain lining of the brocade
Height: 8.1 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.55/2.05 and 1.3 cm (oval)
Stopper: carnelian, carved as an insect; silver collar

Lot 19 Provenance:
Trojan Collection
Robert Hall (1993)

Hall 1992, no. 31
Kleiner 1995, no. 61
Treasury 1, no. 35
British Museum, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1997

Lot 19 Commentary
An odd detail of this bottle is that it has an inner lip projecting perhaps a millimeter above the top of the bag and indented by about the same amount from the edge of the neck. We believe that the original stopper of the bottle must have fit over this projecting portion of the neck.

In any case, the artistic conception of this bottle is stunning. With faultless technical control of the medium, the artist has created a form that works powerfully both as the bag it simulates, tied with its ornate brocade, and as sculpture. The shape of the bag is immensely satisfying, and the carving of the folds both elegant and sensuous, with gentle curves and finely balanced lines, all beautifully polished to a silken sheen. The artist has used the technique of combining confidently incised lines with more modelled, undulating areas, bringing the languages close to those of Chinese painting, where lines and modulated washes are used in concert to give an impression of form without losing the calligraphic grace of the moving brush. The same supremely confident fluidity of line and artistic conviction are visible in the brocade that surrounds the body as if stretched tight, or freshly ironed. It is completely flat and patterned with a textural counterpoint to the smoothness of the bag, yet the bow, with its folds and elegantly flowing ends, combines both the sculptural grace of the bag and the patterned texture of the brocaded design. Thus, two quite different but complementary languages are harmonized. It is, without question, a masterpiece.

Robert Hall’s measurement of the bottle’s height differs from ours. We measured its height as it would be if the flat lip were parallel to the ground (elsewhere described as ‘measured at right-angles to the lip’). He measured it at its greatest extent, with the lip at an angle to the ground. It is possible for a sculptural object to have a single dimension greater than its height when standing as the artist intended it, in the same way that a rectangle, measured corner to corner, has a greater dimension than if measured along its longest straight edge, but that does not constitute its height if it is intended to stand vertically. If, on the other hand, it was intended to stand on one corner, then the diagonal measurement would constitute its height. It seems to us to depend upon the intention of the sculptor, and in this case we believe it was to view the work of art with its lip parallel to the ground. With this particular bottle, this also raises the point as to its correct orientation. In the hand, which is obviously where it was intended to be viewed, it barely has a correct orientation, and set down, it lies on its side, and its true height in that position is less than 2 cm This ambiguity of measurements is encountered in a number of bottles and can only be resolved subjectively.

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