A white nephrite double-gourd 'lingzhi' snuff bottle
Possibly Imperial, 17301800 sold with accompanying watercolour by Peter Suart 6.73cm high.
Treasury 1, no. 63
The Lingzhi Double Gourd
Nephrite; very well hollowed and carved in the form of a double gourd; with a sash tied in a bow around its waist and holding a double-headed lingzhi; a branch of leaves and tendrils from the vine also disposed across the two bulbs of the gourd Possibly imperial, 17301800 Height: 6.73 cm Mouth/lip: 0.59/1.20 cm Stopper: glass; silver collar Condition: miniscule nibble to the outer lip smoothed; otherwise workshop condition
Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart
Provenance: Sydney L. Moss Ltd. C. S. Wilkinson Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (London, circa 1963) Cyril Green Hugh Moss The Belfort Collection (1986) Published: The Connoisseur, February 1966, p. 11 Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 2, p. 27, fig. 1 Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty 1978, p. 100, no. 161 Jutheau 1980, p. 112, fig. 4 Kleiner 1987, no. 32 Bloch Collection Poster (1987), reproduction of watercolours by Peter Suart Treasury 1, no. 63 Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, OctoberDecember 1978 L'Arcade Chaumet, Paris, June 1982 Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1997
Commentary This extraordinary bottle is another of the great masterpieces of the fruit-, and vegetable-form group of bottles and another likely candidate to be from the hand of the 'Castiglione of jade carving' (see discussion under Treasury 1, no. 62 and for another possible candidate, Treasury 1, no. 65). It is also linked through other examples to a possible imperial source, and perhaps the palace workshops, which is also endorsed by the slightly chalky white flaws around the shoulders which are in keeping with other known jade used in the palace (see discussion under Treasury 1, no. 149). In common with so many of the group it is not made to stand but to be held in the hand. Another possibility if it is from the imperial output, whether at Beijing and the palace or some other workshop, is that it was designed originally to have a stand. There is ample evidence to suggest that the rule at court was for wood, ivory, or some other material to be carved as a stand for most works of art and it is possible that this also extended to some snuff bottles. On the other hand, the snuff bottle may have been a general exception since it was made for use primarily in the hand, whereas vases, bowls, small sculptures, objects for the scholar's desk, etc. were all made to be viewed as independent sculpture. To whatever extent these other works of art might also be handled, they were mostly not designed to function primarily in the hand.
The asymmetrical double gourd is superbly well carved. The loosely tied sash, with its calligraphic ends seemingly whipped in the breeze, encloses a double-headed lingzhi which simply knocks all other lingzhi on jade snuff bottles into a cocked-hat for style, execution and sheer visual impact. Simply gazing at it seems to breathe a little of the immortality symbolism it carries into the viewer, and by carving it so brilliantly, the artist who made this bottle certainly achieved for himself a level of immortality. The rest of the carving lives up to the same level of mastery, and the leaves of the severed vine also have some relief and some incised skeletal details, linking the bottle to other similar works (see discussion under Treasury 1, no. 65).
The meaning of the sash (shoudai) denotes longevity (shou), while the knot (jie) can be interpreted as a homophone of another character meaning vast, so together the knot and the sash (jieshou) signify a very long life, which is in keeping with the symbolism of the lingzhi and, when added to the wish for ample progeny of the double gourd, suggests longevity and many offspring.