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photographer E-Yaji.

The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 14 

Lot 14

Lot 14
Treasury 6, no. 1155

A turquoise and black-enamelled porcelain snuff bottle

(‘Imperial Imitation’)

Turquoise and black enamels on glaze on porcelain; with a flat lip and concave foot surrounded by a flat footrim; the narrow sides with mask-and-ring handles; all exterior surfaces, including lip, foot, and footrim, enamelled to imitate turquoise matrix; the interior with a colourless glaze
Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 1736–1770
Height: 4.7 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.65/1.82 cm
Stopper: quartz (of the variety known as ‘tiger’s-eye’)

John Ault (2002)
Robert Kleiner (2002)

Hong Kong 1977, fig. 65
JICSBS, Autumn 1989, p. 9, fig. 9
Kleiner 1990, no. 131.
JICSBS, Autumn 1998, p. 18, fig. 56
Treasury 6, no. 1155

Lot 14 Commentary
Imitations in ceramics of other materials were produced as early as the Yongzheng period and throughout the Qianlong reign, although they are rarer in snuff bottles than in other forms. On this piece, the lack of symbolic meaning or intricate decoration is no more of a liability than it would be on a real turquoise-matrix snuff bottle to be enjoyed for the natural material. Indeed, the interesting tension between the imitation and the natural material it evokes is part of the meaning of the work of art. For a second, less subtle imitation, probably from later in the reign, see Treasury 6, no. 1168. Another bottle of the same form as the present example, but with its original matching stopper, remains in the imperial collection in Beijing (Yang Boda 1993, p. 210; Li Jiufang 2002, no. 323, and Xia Gengqi 1995, no. 172).

This form is typically imperial, as are the small, leonine mask handles with their equally small circular rings, variations on which occur in palace glass and hardstone snuff bottles. The small size, perfect formal integrity, and very high quality of the imitation would all allow an early-Qianlong date, endorsed by the glazed interior (see Treasury 6, p. 50 for the alternation between glazed and unglazed interiors on snuff bottles). Another indication of an early date, possibly under the directorship of Tang Ying, is that one of the bottles almost certainly made under his supervision has a shoulder band of petals with remarkably similar imitation turquoise matrix (Lam 2003, p. 10, fig. 8).

Dating aside, this piece is impressive for the sheer quality of its imitation. The turquoise enamel, despite the slight surface dappling seen on any thick enamel, closely resembles the stone, while the black lines of the matrix are so convincingly painted that there is barely a hint of artifice. Even the carving of the mask handles evokes stone; they were presumably detailed by hand before enamelling and thus carved as stone would have been.

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