Translucent yellow glass; with a flat lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; the shoulders carved with four mask-and-ring handles Imperial, probably imperial glassworks, 17501800 Height: 5.9 cm Mouth/lip: 0.6/1.01 cm Stopper: glass; turquoise finial; turquoise collar Condition: some tiny natural flaws in the glass (natural 'stones'materials other than glass or imperfections in the glassin the mix, accompanied by tiny air bubbles polished at the surface, entirely natural to the process of glassmaking), resulting in a single line of slightly different colour about 1.3 cm long; the bottle itself in perfect condition, although it may have been repolished at some time in the past
Provenance: Christie's, London, 19 February 1986, lot 407
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, May-June 1993
Commentary: Only one other genuine example of this form is known although, as has so often been the case with published rarities, it was not long before copies began to appear. That genuine example resides in the Denis Low Collection in Singapore (Kleiner 1999, no. 65) and is a more straightforward version of the meiping (prunus-blossom vase) form. This example is the more formally elegant, with its exaggeration of the broad shoulders and narrower foot of the standard and popular palace shape. The colour, its typically courtly mask handles (based upon the gluttonous taotie) and shape all allow a reasonable attribution to the imperial glassworks, but we have exercised a modicum of caution, lest the complete removal of our finger from the dike of attribution result in an unmanageable flood.
Two features suggest that this is more likely to date from the latter part of the Qianlong reign, the first being that it exhibits double the standard number of mask-and-ring handles. Creative exploration of the decorative potential of the various elements of the design could be expected to evolve gradually, as the snuff bottle grew in importance as a collector's item, and new kinds of bottles became exhausted. We discussed this under Treasury 5, no. 774 in relation to mask handles, suggesting a Qianlong date for this transition, and the latter part of the reign as the likely date for its more extreme expressions. In imperial hardstone carving there are parallels in nephrite carvings attributable to the great hardstone carving bonanza of the late Qianlong period, fuelled by the massive influx of raw material from the newly conquered Xinjiang region in 1759 (see under Treasury 1, no. 114 and Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 375). Multiple loose rings on vessels, with or without mask handles, are quite common from the mid-Qing period, and all would have been originally inspired by the ring handles - usually accompanied by a taotie mask - on ancient bronzes. Another indication of the late Qianlong period is found in the distinctly oval shape of the rings on this example (also discussed under Treasury 5, no. 774).
The colour of glass, from the darker range of yellow, is usually referred to as 'egg yolk' yellow although, as we have pointed out, the value of this term is limited, since egg yolks can vary from pale yellow to orange. A distinct change of colour occurs in the lower portion of the bottle, where the shape narrows. This may be the result of an inner layer of slightly paler colour being exposed by the carver as he crafted this unusual form. Slight variations of this sort are not uncommon in blown-glass bottles, since the various ingredients making up a particular colour may react to slight differences in heat environment between the inside and the outside of a blown form during manufacture.