A 'famille-rose'-enamelled glass 'bird on branch' snuff bottle
Imperial, palace workshops, Qianlong blue-enamel mark and of the period, 17361760 4.55cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1068
Famille rose enamels on semi-transparent milky glass; with a flat lip and slightly recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; painted with a continuous scene of a bird perched on a leafy branch with asters growing nearby and a butterfly settling on the flower of a tree peony, with another bloom and budding branches nearby, the neck, shoulders, and the base with formalized bands incorporating lingzhi, the shoulders with additional pendant leaves, the outer footrim with pendant petals, the foot inscribed in blue regular script, Qianlong nian zhi (Made during the Qianlong period) Imperial, palace workshops, Beijing, 17361760 Height: 4.55 cm Mouth/lip: 0.66/1.40 cm Stopper: gilt bronze, chased with a formalized floral design Condition: minor natural surface wear, none of it obtrusive; otherwise, perfect. General relative condition: excellent, almost kiln condition
Provenance: Arthur Gadsby Ian Wasserman Hugh M. Moss Ltd., (circa 1972) The Loch Awe Collection Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd. (1985)
Published: Moss 1976, plate 39 (text pp. 62-63) JICSBS, March 1979, p. 22, figs. 39 and 40 Kleiner 1987, no. 13 Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 17 Kleiner 1995, no. 27 Treasury 6, no. 1068, and front and back covers of one volume
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993 Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum of Singapore, November 1994February 1995 British Museum, London, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997
Commentary: A distinctive feature of early-Qianlong painted enamels on glass is the relative thinness of the enamels and the painterly quality of the brushwork. Court artists, highly trained in the tradition of calligraphic brushwork that gave Chinese painting one of its most profound inner languages, were involved in drawing up the designs and sometimes in painting the enamels. Failing that, it was skilled enamellers trained in the same aesthetic and overseen by court artists who produced them from preparatory sketches. Artistically, these early, painterly enamels represent the apogee of glass enamelling during the Qing dynasty. In the early phase of the art form, from the late Kangxi until the 1750s or early 1760s, technical control of the enamels was still marginal, and all known examples exhibit some degree of pitting or discolouration of the enamels. This continued to be a problem with some colours into the second half of the Qianlong reign. Although far from obtrusive, here the green enamel in particular (a perennially problematic colour) is pitted, as is the blue in places, but it is otherwise remarkably well fired for the period.
This design is purely Chinese in its conception, without any hint of the Western influence that appears, not unnaturally, in some wares with European subjects that rely to a greater extent on the use of colour and chiaroscuro rather than line to create form. The flower heads drawn without lines here do not by that quality reflect Western influence, but rather the 'bodiless' style made famous by Yun Shouping (16331690), whose works would have been well known to any court artist a mere half century after the painter's death. Here, the blossoms are balanced against the other elements of the design featuring the elegant black lines of the calligrapher's brush, with well modulated, expressive strokes.
The reign marks on these early-Qianlong enamelled glass bottles are distinctive and intriguing; rather than being in bold relief, they are flush with the foot. This is in sharp contrast to the raised blue enamel marks of the mid- to late reign and, oddly, to the use of blue enamel on the bodies of the bottles themselves, which although seldom in high relief, does not give the impression of being flush with the surface. The discrepancy between the reaction of the blue enamel on the body of the work and on the mark suggests a difference between either the enamels or the firing conditions of the two. It may have something to do with the greater fluidity required for mark writing. Once enamels have been produced in a glassworks, they are kept in solid form. In preparation for use, the solid enamel is crushed and reduced to a fine, even powder that is then mixed with a liquid so that it forms a paint that can be brushed onto the surface to be enamelled. Depending upon the colour of enamel and desired effect, the liquid may vary, but Tang Ying identified three media in 1743 (cf. Treasury 6, Chronological List, fifth month, twenty second day):
The five-colour painting that imitates Western [techniques] is called yangcai [Western colours]. A skillful painting craftsman is selected and the various colours are mixed....The colours employed are the same as those used for fuolang se [=falang cai, perhaps referring to cloisonné enamelling]. They are mixed with three different kinds of medium, the first being yunxiang oil [rue oil?], the second being liquid glue, the third being water. The oil facilitates washes; glue facilitates daubing, water facilitates building up or filling in [surface irregularities].
Another oil medium mentioned in the archives is duoermen or duoermendina oil, for which the English term doermendina oil has been invented (see Treasury 6, Chronological List, 1728, seventh month, tenth day); it was apparently imported and is possibly identifiable as turpentine (Zhou Sizhong 2008, p. 152, n. 1).
In any case, it is possible that whichever medium facilitated brushwork fluency had a concomitant effect on the chemistry of the enamel, encouraging it to eat into the surface of the glass to a greater extent. Another factor contributing to the singularity of some early-Qianlong reign marks is that some of them appear to have been polished. This is one example, but the most obvious is Treasury 6, no. 1071. Perhaps this was done mainly to resolve problems of the roughness arising from burst bubbles during the firing (of which there were obviously many on Treasury 6, no. 1071). Whatever accounts for these distinctive marks, the phenomenon remains extremely useful in identifying early-Qianlong enamels on glass, as they have the distinctive appearance of being flush with the glass surface, or at least in very low relief, while late- Qianlong examples are in higher relief as are the copies of both Ye Bengqi and his student Wang Xisan.
The design here contains the usual selection of auspicious symbolism. The peony stands for wealth; the asters (lanju) for the arrival of male (nan) children; the bird, a white-headed bulbul (baitouweng) and the peonies together call to mind the common desire for wealth to last till one's old age (fugui baitou); the composite design of a butterfly hovering over a flower signifies the affection between lovers; while the formalized lingzhi heads along the borders, resembling the heads of ruyi sceptres, imply wish fulfilment (ruyi). Two closely related bottles are in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, nos. 187 and 188), and another, although perhaps a little later, is in the imperial collection, Beijing (Li Jiufang 2002 , no. 104).