Lot 128 Lot 128 Lot 128 Lot 128 Lot 128 Lot 128 Lot 128

photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2010: Lot 128 

Lot 128


Lot 128
Treasury 7, no. 1595

The Root of Success

Slightly variegated, opaque yellow-ochre, and transparent reddish-brown amber (of the variety known as ‘root amber’), the surface extensively crizzled, and emerald-green glass; carved in the form of section of a mature peach tree, with two leafy branches with blossoms, one with a single peach, the other with two, and with three gibbons, one holding another peach with a leaf attached, the eyes of the monkeys inlaid with green glass beads
Height: 4.66 cm
Mouth: 0.66 cm
Stopper: coral, carved as a twig; vinyl collar

Lot 128 Provenance:
Hugh Moss (HK), Ltd (1986)

1987 exhibition poster
Treasury 7, no. 1595

Lot 128 Commentary:
The material that we have come to know as ‘root amber’ (see under Treasury 7, no. 1575) has been put to delightful use in this unique bottle, giving the variations in colour a major role in the design. One gibbon is predominantly in the transparent brown colour; the rest of the composition is entirely in the opaque yellow-ochre colour. The effect of the differentiation is accentuated by inlaying the eyes in green glass, injecting a third colour dimension. This bottle may be assigned to a small group of irregular, sculptural, root-amber snuff bottles, probably dating from the mid-Qing period, whose members are always spectacular. Several of them share the subject of Meng Haoran and plum blossoms (see, for instance, Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 297). This unique design is one of the most appealing of the lot, to some extent because of the expressions of total bewilderment on the faces of all three gibbons, who seem to have no idea what they are doing picking peaches on a snuff bottles.

The dating of so unique a bottle is difficult. If it does indeed come from the same group as the other pebble-form, root-amber bottles, that would suggest a mid-Qing date (from the second half of the Qianlong reign into the Daoguang). Such free-standing relief elements can be affiliated with an imperial preference during the second half of the eighteenth century for elaborate vessels, especially in ceramics and jade, with sculptural details in the round. A typical example might be a vase and cover set on an elaborate rock formation, with a fenghuang carved in the round to one side of the vase. In ceramics, bronze, or cloisonné, one finds vessels with children climbing on them and vessels ostensibly being held up by tribute bearers, to cite just two other motifs. In snuff bottles, similar vase forms are found, notably vases with figures of either boys or tribute bearers in the round. The same idea seems to have taken hold in imperial snuff-bottle production during the second half of the eighteenth century. They were less practical as snuff containers, of course, and were probably designed partly as novelties for the pleasure by those who owned many snuff bottles of different types and could afford to leave one or two dotted about the home. Such fancy forms were also popular again a little later, when foreign collectors entered the market, as their sculptural charms were attractive to collectors. Be that as it may, this bottle is well hollowed, compact, and functional: it does not look like a sculpture designed for a collector’s cabinet. The extensive crizzling of the amber also suggests some considerable age, so a mid-Qing date is likely. The subject of the three gibbons would also be more suitable for a mid-Qing scholar than for a foreign collector, who would not understand or respond to the symbolism.

A trio of gibbons has already been encountered in Treasury 2, no. 317, where a similar group is inscribed with a title that explains the rebus of the gibbons (yuan): Sanyuan tu (literally ‘A picture of the three yuan’). The three yuan are the jieyuan, huiyuan, and zhuangyuan, distinguished titles awarded to the first-place holders of the three levels of civil examinations. The auspicious meaning of the title, then, is ‘May you be at the top of all three levels of the civil service examination’. The first of these exams was held annually at the district level, and the successful candidate became a xiucai, thus qualifying for the second level, held triennially at the provincial capital. Passing that examination made one a juren. Finally, the candidate could sit for the third and final level of imperial examination, held occasionally at the capital (during the Qing dynasty it was held 111 times in 268 years), and attain his jinshi degree, leading to the likelihood of an official career, wealth, and power. A second layer of meaning on this bottle could be read if the two larger gibbons are perceived to be the parents of the smaller one: as a family, the group would imply the wish for progeny. The peaches, which are emblematic of longevity, provide yet another level of propitious meaning.

Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=157&exhibition=1&ee_lang=eng


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Hugh Moss |