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photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2010: Lot 95 

Lot 95

   

Lot 95
Treasury 6, no. 1213
HK$96,000

Foreign Treasure

Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a slightly convex lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; moulded with a continuous design of a rocky waterside landscape with a terrace on which six tribute bearers travel to the capital, one riding a horse and carrying a lingzhi in a pot, another carrying a flaming pearl, one pushing a two-wheeled cart containing a branch of coral in a vase, one holding an elephant tusk, one a sword, and the last a pot with what may be intended as two further pearls, followed by a caparisoned white elephant with a vase on its back containing a ruyi sceptre with a beribboned fylfot (wan symbol) and another branch of coral, the terrace covered in a leiwen (thunder pattern) diaper design to represent the ground, with formalized clouds at the shoulders on one main side; the foot inscribed in iron-red seal script, Jiaqing nian zhi (Made during the Jiaqing period); the lip and footrim painted gold; the interior unglazed.
Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 1796–1820
Height: 7.38 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.72/1.70 cm
Stopper: gold, turquoise-green, iron-red, and black enamel on colourless glaze on porcelain, moulded with a formalized chrysanthemum design; original

Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

Lot 95 Provenance:
Robert Hall (1987)

Published:
Hall 1987, no.58
Treasury 6, no. 1213

Lot 95 Commentary:
By the time the Jiaqing emperor came to the throne, the dynasty had been powerful, secure, and prosperous for more than a century, though the treasury had been depleted somewhat disastrously in the decades prior to his accession. The empire was the overwhelming power in East Asia, and surrounding kingdoms bowed to its might if they knew what was good for them. The massive addition of land to the empire with the successful campaign to crush the rebellious western Mongols, leading to the military occupation of Turkestan in 1759, was a telling demonstration to any neighbour rash enough to do anything but bend the knee, and bend it they did. Qing policy was to offer the benevolence and protection of enlightened power in exchange for trouble-free deference. The policy was intended to create a buffer of friendly, tributary states between China and any more distant threat that might crop up in the future. These tributary states were expected to present themselves at court on regular occasions to physically bend the knee and bring tribute of the riches and exotica of their own lands. In return they were entertained in appropriate fashion, allowed to remain in Beijing (or wherever the emperor held court) long enough to impress them with the might and sophistication of China, and sent home with an appropriate level of gifts from the emperor, although the exchange of gifts was usually heavily weighted in favour of the Chinese. The standard number of tribute bearers on snuff bottles from the Jiaqing through to the late Qing was eight, representing the number of tributary states surrounding China.

 By the end of the eighteenth century embassies from near and far arrived regularly in Beijing, carrying their tribute. These tributary nations also wanted to impress the Chinese court with their own power and sophistication, so the more important the country, the more impressive the embassy, and the processions that converged on the court every year (from as far afield as England) would have been a sight to see. There are several existing paintings of the arrival of tribute bearers that attest to the grandeur of the processions and the excitement they caused among the population as they passed, but the intention here is not to denote a specific event, as the paintings sometimes did, but to confirm, through the tribute image, the power of China. As such, bottles of this subject reinforced national self-esteem by reminding the recipient of the power of the emperor. It is hardly surprising that the design became popular on snuff bottles during the Jiaqing reign and thereafter, as the power of the empire diminished gradually. (This process began in the second half of the Qianlong reign, but did not become disastrous until the Daoguang period with the humbling Opium War; see under Treasury 6, no. 1324.)

The standard scene shows a group of stereotypical foreigners, usually of Central Asian types (since the Silk Road was one of the main routes of entry to China from India, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe). They carry obviously valuable gifts. Finely crafted weapons, branches of coral, ivory in the form of tusks, and even fabled beasts are frequently depicted. In this case the white elephant revered in the Buddhist faith is part of the tribute, but one also finds Buddhist lions and other mythical beasts. An amusing touch is provided here by the malevolent glare the elephant is giving to the man holding the tusk of one of his fellow beasts. Since the object of the exercise here does not depend upon specific gifts, a distinctly Chinese-looking ruyi sceptre is included, with a wan symbol (fylfot, or swastika) dangling from it. The meaning of an elephant and a vase of some sort is discussed under Treasury 6, no. 1191.

One of the indications that cinnabar lacquer bottles of the group represented by Treasury 7, nos. 1538–1543 provide some influence for the classic moulded porcelains of the late-Qianlong–Jiaqing period is found in the detailing of various landscape elements. In lacquer, a convention evolved from the fourteenth century onwards to use certain diaper patterns on different parts of the landscape. These consisted usually of formalized waves for water, formalized clouds for sky, and either formalized floral designs or leiwen for the earth, a grassy ground, or constructed terraces. Here the tribute bearers cross a terrace laid, perhaps, with slabs of stone but represented by leiwen that, of course, carries its own symbolism of longevity and continuation of the family line in its endlessly repeated pattern. It is a typical carved lacquer ground.

Despite minor chips in the flared neck the bottle is otherwise in fine condition, without noticeable wear to the enamels. The rarity of the subject and its obvious appeal overcame any doubts the Blochs may have had as to its condition. These moulded porcelain bottles are, for obvious reasons, delicate, and those that have survived in perfect condition are in the minority. With porcelain, however, invisible repairs are possible, and can be accurately done if the repair is minor, or if there are other bottles known from the same mould to indicate what is missing. As with enamels on metal, a degree of restoration is common and acceptable.

 

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