A rock-crystal snuff bottle 1720–1860
Lot 73
A rock-crystal snuff bottle
Sold for HK$ 36,000 (US$ 4,588) inc. premium

Lot Details
A rock-crystal snuff bottle 1720–1860 A rock-crystal snuff bottle 1720–1860 A rock-crystal snuff bottle 1720–1860 A rock-crystal snuff bottle 1720–1860 A rock-crystal snuff bottle 1720–1860
A rock-crystal snuff bottle
6cm high.


  • Treasury 2, no. 189


    Timeless Purity

    Flawless crystal; extremely well hollowed, with a flat lip and concave foot surrounded by a flat footrim
    Height: 6 cm
    Mouth/lip: 0.73/2.30 cm
    Stopper: glass, carved with archaistic 'C'-scroll motifs surrounding an integral finial; coral collar
    Condition: Original material: one tiny icy flaw at the shoulder on one main side, upper left in illustration, not obtrusive; otherwise, flawless material. Bottle: possible very minor trim on inner lip to remove minute nibbles, but possibly made that way; otherwise, flawless condition

    Fahardi (New York, 1978)
    Gerd Lester (1986)

    Treasury 2, no. 189

    Musée de la Miniature, Montélimar, 2000

    Crystal in its purest form is the colourless variety of crystalline quartz. Such flawless material is only found in single crystals (here, using the other sense of the word to mean the structure of the material). Single crystals of considerable size can be found. There are vases from the mid-Qing period made from single, colourless and relatively flawless crystals which stand more than a foot high in their finished forms. Gigantic crystals weighing over a thousand pounds have been found in parts of the world, but the above-mentioned group of vases seems to represent the Qing practical limit for crystal carvings of relatively flawless material.

    With a finished work of art in crystal, retaining no evidence of its original outer form, there is no way of knowing whether a bottle such as this was made from a single pure crystal large enough to produce just this bottle in flawless material or from a flawless area of a much larger crystal.

    Although datable crystal bottles are few and far between, there can be little doubt that plain crystal bottles would have become a staple of snuff-bottle production from very early in the history of the art form. Crystal had been carved in China for three millennia before the Qing dynasty, so it is inconceivable that it would not have been used for snuff bottles at the same time as other hardstones such as jade and chalcedony. By the mid-eighteenth century they appear to have become a staple of snuff-bottle production with widespread demand being met in various parts of the empire, much of it from locally mined stone. In Tributes from Guangdong to the Qing Court, (p. 58) there is a reference to the rock crystal from Wuzhishan, in Qiongzhou (misprinted Qingzhou in Treasury 2), remote Hainan Island, describing it as 'brilliant, lustrous and white as snow.'
    While we may be certain that fine quality crystal bottles were being made prior to 1722, it is also worth noting that very well made examples were probably still being made at the end of the Qing dynasty for inside painted artists working in Beijing (See Treasury 4). Accordingly we have left a fairly extended possible date range for this bottle, although we believe that it is probably a product of the mid-Qing period, from about 1750–1850.

    There was something about crystal that caught the imagination of the snuff-taking and bottle-buying public. Some of these qualities are obvious: glass-like stone, flawless and as hard as jade; cool to the touch and unyielding even to steel; mystic essence of incorruptible nothingness drawn pure from deep within the earth. The magical appeal of this combination to a culture with the deepest respect for nature and a highly developed symbolic language is not difficult to imagine. There was possibly, however, an equally powerful reason for the popularity of plain crystal, or indeed plain glass bottles, which our modern perspective as collectors of snuff bottles, rather than takers of snuff, tends to eclipse. Connoisseurship of the snuff itself was highly refined amongst the snuff-taking elite. Steeped in a culture where connoisseurship was an ingrained aspect of education and a natural hobby among the influential minority, there evolved an esoteric connoisseurship of snuff. Different colours and qualities of snuff were exquisitely graded and evaluated as fine vintages of wine are in the West. With a flawless, clear bottle, some of these qualities could be perceived, colour certainly, probably grade. The knowing eye would recognize a rare and expensive snuff through the walls of the bottle and rejoice in the companionship of arcane souls in which connoisseurship revels.

    Whatever the reasons, plain crystal bottles were valued. We know this, not from their numbers alone but from the exquisite workmanship which was expended on this material as a matter of course. It is often an indication of the value a culture places on a particular material if it is generally treated with respect, finding its way into the hands best suited to work it. Where a particular material is usually associated with high standards of both technique and art, it suggests that it was a valued material not to be wasted on second-rate craftsmanship. A piece of absolutely pure crystal, such as this, seldom seems to have found its way into the hands of anyone with less than complete technical control of the medium and they are frequently also artistically inspired.

    Formally this bottle is a faultless sculptural statement. It resounds with confidence. It is a form to be reckoned with. Like so much else in art that is truly memorable it is also pared of any unnecessary frills. The conception is as pure as the material.

    Other bottles of similar quality and within the same range of compressed or flattened spheres attest to the popularity of this satisfying shape (see, for instance, Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, nos. 92–94, and for one of almost identical form to this example, Lawrence 1996, no. 41 and another of similar form, no. 42). For another spectacular brown crystal bottle, again of this general form and quality, see Friedman 1990, no. 42.

    The stopper is made of glass and is obviously early, although its coral collar is a new addition. The glass is crizzled at the surface in the manner typical of a great deal of glass produced in the palace glassworks early in its production history. Although this phenomenon lasted into the Qianlong reign with colourless glass in particular, crizzling of blue glass seems to have been mainly a problem of the Kangxi and Yongzheng periods. Although the existence of an old stopper on this bottle is of no help in dating it, since it is known to be a very recent addition to this particular bottle, it is a rarity in its own right. Early glass stoppers are uncommon and with its archaic design, and courtly crizzling, it is among the most convincingly early examples known. Another stopper of the same material and design is also in the collection, on Treasury 2, no. 363, but without the crizzling. It is carved with more shallow relief, however, and may be from a different batch of glass with a better balance of constituents.



    高:6 厘米

    Fahardi (紐約,1978)
    Gerd Lester (1986)
    Treasury 2, 編號189
    Musée de la Miniature, Montélimar, 2000年

    無色水晶是無色石英,無瑕的材料限於一個晶體,但晶體會比較大。清代中期有22厘米以上高的無色水晶瓶子。當然,規模較小的藝術品可能是用全晶體的,也可能是只用一個大晶體中無瑕的部分,光看完成的器物沒辦法識別。可辨別年期的水晶煙壺寥寥無幾,但水晶在中國有悠久的歷史,按理說,它們從鼻煙壺早期產品以降肯定是煙壺重要門目之一,特別是在十八世紀中期。全國各地常有供應水晶的資源。如屈大均(1630~1696)《廣東新語》卷15載﹕"瓊州五指山。多水晶。光瑩照 人。望如雪霽。取以為假山。高至丈餘。價甚翔。"我們相信,1722年以前已有品質高的水晶煙壺出產,而眾所周知,清末還有供應北京內畫藝術家的水晶雕匠,所以本壺的製作日期幅度寬點兒很合理,不過,我們認為它大概是清中期,1750~1850年間,的作品。

    無色水晶煙壺具有很多優點,其中之一是鼻煙鋻賞家能從透視的壺壁視察裏邊的鼻煙,品嘗它的顏色、粗細等, 和同仁道長論短。但無論如何,中國人向來很重視雕飾簡雅的水晶煙壺,也很重視覺水晶這個質料;所以,水晶煙壺製得很多,而質量好的水晶總是送到雕刻藝術高超匠工的手裏,幾乎沒有大材小用之忌。

    本壺兼具氣魄和雅韻,設計簡單爽朗,也夠嘆觀止了。但因為這種煙壺顯然是很受歡迎的,現存有品質相若的扁腹水晶煙壺, 如Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, 編號92~94;形式雷同的有Lawrence 1996, 編號41,形式類似的有同書編號42;棕色的有Friedman 1990, 編號42。

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