Lot 127 Lot 127 Lot 127 Lot 127 Lot 127 Lot 127 Lot 128

photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 127 

Lot 127


Lot 127
Treasury 5, no.1048 (‘Mickey Bat’)

An inscribed sapphire-blue glass overlay 'A Thousand Volume of Books' snuff bottle

Transparent sapphire-blue glass and translucent white glass; with a flat lip and recessed, slightly convex foot surrounded by a protruding flattened footrim; carved as a single overlay with very slight carving in the ground colour on one main side, with a bat flying above a natural rock or root stand, with a blossoming branch emerging from behind it, set with a ding-shaped incense-burner, a covered incense-powder box and an incense- tool vase, with a rectangular jardinière beneath planted with what appears to be an orchid, inscribed in relief draft script with the signature, Songtai, the other main side with a perforated rock, with branches of blossoming apricot growing from behind its peak, beside a brush-pot engraved with bamboo decoration and containing a ruyi sceptre, two brushes, and a fly-whisk, a set of books, a rolled scroll, and a water-pot with a crackled glaze containing a ladle, inscribed in relief draft script with the title Wanjuan shu (‘A thousand volumes of books’), followed by one seal of a person who may be the patron, Song
Probably Yangzhou, 1810-1880
Height: 5.3 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.75/1.32 cm
Stopper: dichromic tourmaline; vinyl collar

C.K. Liang (1976)
Thomas C. Van Nuys (1994)
Robert Kleiner (1994)

JICSBS, Autumn 1994, p. 35
JICSBS, Spring, 1997, p. 15, fig. 60
Kleiner 1994, front cover and p. 7, no. 11
Kleiner 1995,no.175
Treasury 5, no.1048

British Museum, London, June-October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July-November 1997

On Songtai, see lot 100 in this auction. This is the second known bottle bearing this full signature. There is a modern copy of this bottle, in brown on white, in JICSBS, Spring, 1997, p. 15, fig. 61. Another independent masterpiece from this artist it displays, again, astonishing use of shading in the overlay colour, best illustrated by the group of incense paraphernalia set on top of the rock on one main side. In better condition than lot 100, it displays a high gloss similar to other glass-overlay carvings but may well have started life with a more matt finish. Over the years, so much glass has been re-polished to restore the original gloss that, even if an artist were to apply a matt finish, it would run the risk of being mistaken for wear by a subsequent owner and re-polished. On this example we find hints of a closer connection to the Li  brothers’ bottles in Yangzhou than we were able to discern from the last in the careless blob of spare blue overlay colour incorporated into the neck, and also the slightly uneven matching of the overlay colour to the footrim.

One aspect of the subject here deserves special explanation. If we take the books (shu) as a rebus for shangshu (throughout most of dynastic China, ‘minister’, head of a top-level administrative agency), the presence of the apricot blossoms suggests the epithet ‘Pink-apricot-blossom minister’, a reference to Song Qi (998 – 1061), a minister of the Board of Works in the early Song dynasty and a lyricist. It was one of his most famous lines, ‘Pink apricot blossoms on their branches: spring makes a fuss’, that earned him that epithet. To call someone a pink-apricot-blossom minister was to compliment him on his literary talent. The addition of all the other elements of this composition dilutes this message somewhat, but with the rock standing for longevity and the brush (bi) and ruyi sceptre interpretable as ‘It will be as you wish’ (biding ruyi), we can only conclude that this is a composite symbolic composition whose meanings were to be teased out one by one.


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Hugh Moss |