Lot 128 Lot 128 Lot 128 Lot 129 Lot 129 Lot 129 Lot 129

photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part II  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 23 November 2010: Lot 129 

Lot 129

   

Lot 129
Treasury 6, no. 1431

Five Lords Twice

Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze on cobalt blue on porcelain; with a convex lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a convex footrim; painted with a continuous scene of five cockerels, the foot inscribed in underglaze-blue regular script Da Qing Guangxu nian zhi (‘Made during the Guanxu period of the Qing dynasty’); the lip, inner neck, and interior glazed
Imperial, Jingdezhen, 1874–1908
Heights 6.48 cm
Mouth/lip: 1.08/1.66 cm
Stopper: iron-red; and gold enamel on colourless glaze on porcelain

Lot 129 Provenance:
Private European collection
Sotheby’s, New York, 27 June 1986, lot 87
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1986)

Published:
Treasury 6, no. 1431

Lot 129 Commentary
There is a second, similar bottle in the Bloch Collection (Treasury 6,no. 1432) Although of identical design and composition, these were obviously not made as a pair or as part of the same set. One is distinctly taller than the other and has a slightly different profile. Even the biscuit seems different at the footrim. This design was popular during the late nineteenth century and was apparently remade in batches on several occasions. Some bear the Guangxu mark, while others are simply inscribed with the nonspecific designation, Wanshang (‘For playful appreciation’). Examples are published in JICSBS, June 1976, p. 9, figs. 15a and 15b, both from the Cussons Collection; Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 5 May 1994, lot 1549; Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 3 May 1995, lots 590 and 592; Sotheby’s, New York, 17 March 1997, lot 390; Sotheby’s, New York, 23 March 1998, lot 82; JICSBS, Spring 2000, p. 17, fig. 41, and Low 2002, no. 299). A rare variant in iron-red alone, also with a six-character Guangxu mark, was in the Ault Collection (Kleiner 1990, no. 194), while another unusual version incorporating a green-enamelled bird, is in Denis G. Crow Ltd 1994, no. 73. The same design is occasionally found with a Daoguang reign mark (see for instance Hall 2003, no. 72; Au Hang 1993, no. 284, and Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 4 November 1996, lot 57 both of meiping form). The Daoguang versions are difficult to distinguish, other than by the mark, from the Guangxu ones, suggesting that the design began in the Daoguang and neither the enamels nor the painting style changed at all for half a century. They are usually of this bulbous, modified-cylindrical form and always superbly well painted, but the same design can be found from the Guangxu reign on a flattened spherical form (Sotheby’s, New York, 23 March 1998, lot 104). Strictly cylindrical forms of the Guangxu period are also known: Christie’s, New York, 21 March 2000, lot 13; also in R. Holden 1994, no. 37). For a double-gourd shape with a similar subject, see Musée Guimet 1991, p. 39.

The ones with reign marks seem likely to have been imperial orders, since not only is the quality outstanding and the porcelain as fine as one might expect of the later nineteenth century, but the marks are so often this formal, very proper, six-character reign mark in underglaze blue – requiring an additional process and thus more troublesome to add than the routine iron-red mark.

The reason for the obvious popularity of this series of bottles in the Guangxu period is almost certainly related to their symbolism. They made an ideal gift to be distributed to aspiring officials to encourage them to serve their emperor well. There are several symbolic meanings associated with the cockerel. A large (da) roosters (ji) stands for great (da) good fortune (ji). Several of the birds here have their beaks open, presumably crowing. The rooster, or cockerel, is also gongji which, together with the sound of the character for crowing (ming) evokes Gongming meaning ‘Honour and rank’. All of this symbolism would be read into such a design, but the specific number of cockerels present is also significant. Five cockerels (wugong) can also mean ‘five lords’, an allusion applicable to several groups of illustrious historical figures, but one that can also be used in general terms to denote high position, to which officials always aspired. Like so much of the symbolism on agate bottles from the Official School these bottles would have been distributed as gifts from the court to aspiring scholars or those already moving up the social ranks of officialdom.

Although not rare, the design is one of the most impressive from the imperial repertoire of the Guangxu period and is nearly always of surpassing quality.

 

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