A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle 1750–1780
Lot 43
A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle
Sold for HK$ 456,000 (US$ 58,117) inc. premium

Lot Details
A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle 1750–1780 A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle 1750–1780 A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle 1750–1780 A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle 1750–1780 A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle 1750–1780 A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle 1750–1780 A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle 1750–1780 A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle 1750–1780 A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle 1750–1780 A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle 1750–1780 A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle 1750–1780
A red overlay glass 'horse' snuff bottle
sold with accompanying watercolour by Peter Suart
5.9cm high.


  • Treasury 5, no. 894


    Steeds of Good Fortune

    Transparent ruby-red and colourless glass, suffused with air bubbles of various sizes and small white flakes; with a flat lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; carved as a single overlay with a horse and a bat on each main side, the horse in each case with its halter tied to the ring of the mask-and-ring handles on the narrow sides
    Height: 5.9 cm
    Mouth/lip: 0.68/1.83 cm
    Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar
    Condition: perfect; workshop condition

    Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

    Hugh Moss
    Paula J. Hallett
    Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd. (1985)

    Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, no. 50
    JICSBS, Winter 1984, p. 13, fig. 17 (image reversed)
    Kleiner 1987, no. 89
    Treasury 5, no. 894
    Hong Kong Museum of Art, October-December 1978
    Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
    Creditanstalt, Vienna, May-June 1993

    The horses depicted here represent the very epitome of glass overlay carving of naturalistic subjects from the Qianlong period. The manner in which the horses are rendered is the result of close observation married to an astonishing level of technical command of the medium. We were enthusiastic about an exceptional carving of two horses on a small jasper bottle in this collection, lot 33, (Treasury 2, no. 307), which comfortably surpassed the general standard for hardstone carving of the subject, and there is some similarity between those horses and these. In both cases, the artists show the ability to depict the creature from any angle with equal conviction, rather than resorting to the familiar side view. The horses here may appear to be viewed from the side with heads turned back, but the body of one is turned slightly to face the viewer while the other is turned slightly away. The similarities, however, end at that point, for, fine as it was by hardstone carving standards, even the masterly jasper version is put firmly in the shade by these horses. Apart from the totally convincing naturalism of the animals, the technical mastery of the medium and such detailed carved on so small a scale is astonishing. Where one hoof is tipped to reveal the underside, the carver has added every detail from life; where one horse strains against its halter, its lips are drawn back by the effort and the teeth bared. Nowhere in the snuff bottle arts are horses rendered with more conviction or greater technical prowess, and very rarely is anything approaching this quality to be found on glass other than snuff bottles. Whoever was responsible for this masterpiece was surely among the most gifted carvers ever to set foot in a lapidary workshop in China.

    We can link this to the example illustrated in Treasury 5, no. 893 and to the J & J overlay cited there, both of which feature horses - those on the latter also on a snowstorm ground - and are masterly, fluent carvings. Neither, however, is in the same class as this example for sheer mastery of every aspect of the carver's art. They are probably from the same hand, or team of designers and carvers, but that final touch of genius was reserved for this bottle. On the bannerman bottles the horses are as fluently depicted, but, since they are only part of the subject rather than the most important part in terms of symbolism, less effort has been expended on detailing them. The J & J horse has similarly detailed hooves, but fails to reach the level of aesthetic commitment embodied here. The overall subject on the other examples is as dynamic, but the depiction is as if of post-horses which could be changed en route, making it irrelevant which one finally entered Beijing bearing news of victory. Here, on the other hand, the impression is of a finely-executed portrait of a particular horse.
    We described the creator of a jade fruit-form in this collection as 'The Castiglione of Jade Carving' (Treasury 1, no. 62). Whoever carved this bottle could be dubbed 'the Castiglione of glass carvers,' which raises an intriguing possibility. We know that designs were drawn up by court artists - including the Jesuits - for palace workshop products. When Niccolo Tomacelli arrived in Beijing in 1722 and was pressed into service to make enamels, it is recorded that 'although he was not himself an expert in enamels, he was able to get by in the workshop with the help of designs provided by Castiglione,' (Chang Lin-sheng 1991a, p. 103). On the twenty-sixth day of the tenth month of 1740, the archives also show that Castiglione was commanded to draw some good floral designs for enamelled wares (ibid., p. 103, note 23). The same would probably have applied to other arts, and for a work of this calibre it is quite possible that the life-drawing skills are those not of the carver, but the artist who drew up the design. It is just possible that the artist may have been Castiglione himself. Serving the emperor until his death in 1766, he was one of the finest equestrian painters of all time. If the emperor wanted a horse design drawn by one of his court painters, Castiglione would have been the natural choice.

    By which circuitous route we arrive at the question of original provenance. Our conjecture about Castiglione would imply manufacture at an imperial facility. While it is feasible that a court design might have been sent to a private workshop accompanied by an order for a particular work of art, it is far more likely that the court would use its own facilities, certainly while they were at their peak. Whether this imperial lapidary workshop was at court or at Suzhou (or elsewhere) is another matter. Indications of an imperial product here are found in the materials - which we know from reign-marked wares other than snuff bottles were standard for the palace workshops - and in the mask-and-ring handles. As well carved and individualistic as the horses, these represent a typical courtly feature. The contrast in detail between this and the bannerman bottles may indicate a difference in time and focus, or that a different artistic team was involved. If this bottle were produced a few years earlier than the others, or intended as a birthday presentation from the palace workshops to the emperor, the differences might be explained.

    Two other bottles feature a horse tethered to a mask-and-ring handle (one from the Claar Collection, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 12 May 1970, lot 423, and the other from the Art Institute of Chicago, JICSBS, Spring 1990, p. 13, fig. 18, where the horse is not so well carved and is tied to the opposite handle). Both are in red overlay, and while the concept is similar, they are not taken from the same design. A related idea is also expressed in another red overlay bottle, not of comparable quality (Sotheby's, New York, 22 November 1988, lot 206), where the horse is tethered to a ring in the circular frame containing it. For an overlay displaying the more standard subject of a horse tethered to a hitching post, see under no. 895, and for a bottle linking that bottle to this one, Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 16 November 1989, lot 23, where a horse of precisely this composition is tied to a hitching post, and on the other side is a similar qilin to that on no. 895, where the carving style is the same. For the dating of this general group of bottles, see under Treasury 5, no. 895.

    The idea of tethering horses to the loose-rings is a master-stroke, but more than merely an example of creative originality, it is part of the symbolic message. The motifs on both main sides are intended to be read in unison. The bat (fu) with two (shuang) tethered (shuan) horses, heads (shou) emphasized by being turned back, stands for the auspicious wish '[May you be blessed with] both good fortune and long life' (fushou shuangquan). The character meaning 'to tether' (shuan) is composed of the 'hand' radical on the left and the character quan (complete) on the right. Although this is pronounced shuan, part of its form evokes the character quan. A second, perhaps more straightforward, way to interpret the rebus here is Mashang de fu, Above the horse comes a bat= 'Immediately comes good fortune'.



    高:5.9 厘米

    有彼德小話 (Peter Suart) 水彩畫

    寶拉.哈列梯 (Paula J. Hallett)
    Hugh Moss (香港) Ltd (1985)

    Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, 編號50
    《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, 1984年冬期、頁13 ,圖17 (反轉像)
    Treasury 5, 編號894

    Sydney L. Moss Ltd, 倫敦, 1987年10 月
    Creditanstalt, 維也納, 1993年5月至6月


    拍賣品33號浮雕呈的碧石馬已經夠吸引人了,但本壺的料馬代表乾隆時期雕琢套料煙壺的高潮,雕刻得更盡致,真是敏銳觀察力和優秀技術的結合。馬起一蹄,蹄底的縷縷紋理細緻;馬把繩子拉緊,嘴唇就咧,牙齒齜出,實為摹神肖影之極。鼻煙壺以外的套料器,如花插、水盛等,很少有相侔之物, 而就是煙壺界也沒有馬能比得上本壺的這兩匹馬。

    一般的以繫馬為題的煙壺是馬拴柱,如Treasury 5, 編號895;蘇富比,香港,1989年11月16日拍賣品號23一正面的布局跟本壺完全一樣,只是馬拴柱,不是馬拴環耳。(另一正面雕呈著與Treasury 5, 編號895一面很相似的料騏驎,雕風也一致。這一群煙壺可以跟Treasury 5, 編號893聯系;該壺似乎有捷報的題目,或許是反映1755年~1762年間清朝逐漸攻佔新疆地區。2008.09.17.紐約佳士得小有洞天鼻煙壺專場拍賣品號0026 是很類似的一件煙壺,可參照。)馬拴環耳的煙壺還有Claar 珍藏,帕克.波納 (Parke-Burnet),紐約,1970年5 月12日,拍賣品號423和芝加哥美術學院 (Art Institute of Chicago) 所收藏雕術稍差而所拴環耳不同的煙壺,後者可參見《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, 1990年春期,頁13 ,圖18。也有紅料馬拴著周圍一圈圓形框子中的環,那件壺的品質不如本壺,見蘇富比,紐約,1988年11月22日,拍賣品號206。

Auction information

This sale is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future sales, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this sale, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Wine:

Buyer's Premium Rates
25% up to HK$1,200,000 of the Hammer Price
20% from HK$1,200,001 to HK$20,000,000 of the Hammer Price
12% over HK$20,000,001 of the Hammer Price.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licences please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

Similar Items