Realgar glass with chi dragons
Lot 78
A 'realgar' glass snuff bottle Imperial glassworks, Beijing, 1700–1740
Sold for HK$ 600,000 (US$ 77,416) inc. premium
Lot Details
A 'realgar' glass snuff bottle
Imperial glassworks, Beijing, 1700–1740
5.68cm high.

Footnotes

  • Treasury 5, no. 972


    橙色、棕色、青色、仿雄黃玻璃二螭鼻煙壺
    御用玻璃廠,北京,1700~1740

    Green Chis

    Opaque, variegated orange, brown, green, and yellow glass (known as 'realgar-glass') with extensive crizzling; with a flat lip and slightly recessed, convex foot surrounded by a protruding, convex footrim made up of elements of the design; carved with a continuous design of two chi dragons, one holding the tail of the other in its mouth
    Imperial glassworks, Beijing, 1700–1740
    Height: 5.68 cm
    Mouth/lip: 0.82/1.62 cm
    Stopper: coral; glass finial; gilt-silver collar
    Condition: shallow chip to upper neck rim filled with green composition of some sort (0.45 x 0.30 cm and less than 0.10 cm deep); other tiny nibbles to the outer lip and the inner lip; some crizzling to the exterior; small scratches and abrasions through long usage


    Provenance:
    Robert Kleiner (1997)

    Published:
    Treasury 5, no. 972, and front and back covers of one volume

    Commentary:
    With realgar-glass treated as a cameo-overlay the question invariably arises of when the carving was done. The majority of plain realgar-glass examples would be suitable for overlay carving, since there is usually at least one contrasting layer beneath the surface and if, as we believe, they were produced in large quantities in the early to mid-eighteenth century many would have been in circulation by the mid-Qing period. It is not unreasonable to assume it occurred to carvers to decorate them occasionally, thus giving them a more distinctive appearance. This was certainly the case with people who were producing fakes in the 1970s, and it continues to this day – old plain bottles were made more saleable by being transformed into overlays. This example, however, is unquestionably an original carving and, by way of a bonus, also the earliest identifiable carved realgar-glass known, not to mention being one of the earliest cameo-overlays we can identify. If any cameo overlay bottle stands a very good chance of being from the late Kangxi period, this is that bottle.

    We can be certain the carving is original by reference to the state of the crizzling. Both interior and exterior surfaces are heavily crizzled, but on the outside the effect is equally evident on both the relief and the ground planes. Had the bottle been re-cut, the shallow effects of the crizzling on the lower plane would have been obliterated. Had it been carried out a century or more ago, a visible difference between the two layers of crizzling would probably remain, even if the lower plane had again begun to show signs of crizzling. (We have discussed the distinctive green colouring which seems to occur as degradation on the surface of early realgar-glass bottles under Treasury 5, no. 705.)

    This is not the only indication, however, of an unusually early bottle, for the chi dragon here is by no means one of those standardized beasts which appears during the Qianlong period, its features stylized and simplified by years of repetition. This is powerful and vital, and while it is easy to see the later ones being an evolution of this, the reverse would be impossible. These dragons are superbly composed, displaying powerful, life-like movement and enormous vitality, details like claws and tufts of hair along the forelegs depicted with great care. Later, through constant repetition, they would become ciphers - but not yet! The heads constitute a particularly telling feature, being broad and flat, with features detailed like ancient taotie faces, making them very similar to certain Han-dynasty originals on jade carvings. This is the chi-dragon head of the early fifteenth century, or the late Kangxi period, both being times of imperial renaissance in the arts as newly established dynasties began to exert their influence, seeking to imbue cultural monuments with reflections of the past, while promising a new future. These are faces reminiscent of those found on fifteenth century ivory-carvings (see a circular plaque in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Clunas 1984, no. 13 and pl. 1), and they occur again in the artistic renaissance of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. A beast such as this can have come only from early in the Qing artistic renaissance, and although we cannot rule out a date perhaps as late as the first decades of the Qianlong date, we believe it is much more likely to be from the late Kangxi or Yongzheng reign.

    If the bottle is as early as we believe, the imperial glassworks must be the most likely source because it is doubtful whether such a combination of materials, subject matter and sheer mastery of carving could have come from anywhere else at the time. We cannot be sure when cameo-overlay carving originated, but this might possibly be a prototype, in which an overlay intended as an undecorated bottle emerged from the blowing process with a surface which inspired someone at the palace workshops to carve it. The low relief is probably also significant, since the earliest overlays would probably not have been as emphatically overlaid as later versions, once glassblowers began to produce colour combinations intended specifically for carving. Very deep relief carvings probably did not appear until the Yongzheng or early Qianlong period, and multi-layer carvings, the next obvious stage, probably not until the mid-Qianlong period. It is probably significant that the style of overlay here matches very closely what one might expect of a traditional hardstone carving, where a thin skin defines the relief, but in places also forms part of the ground plane.

    Quite apart from its importance as in the general context of overlay carving, this is one of the most spectacular of all overlays, combining the magical properties of the material with a magnificent rendering of a subject that seems, somehow, ideally suited to the medium. The surface here, which we may assume was originally partly green, whatever the degree to which surface transformation has increased the extent, must surely have reminded its early eighteenth-century patron of the surfaces of ancient bronzes, thus adding to its archaic resonance.
    Another realgar-glass bottle with a cameo-overlay design of chi dragons, which appears to be a little later than this one, was sold at Butterfield and Butterfield, San Francisco, 24 June 1992, lot 324.


    蘿薜外糾紛,蟠螭中隱見

    不透明橙色、棕色、青色、黃色玻璃(仿雄黃玻璃),表面的微裂紋多;平唇、微斂凸底、以圖樣部分形成的突出凸形圈足;雕刻通體二螭,一螭口銜第二螭尾

    御用玻璃廠,北京,1700~1740
    高:5.68 厘米
    口經/唇經:0.82/1.62厘米
    蓋:珊瑚,玻璃鈕,描金銀座
    狀態敘述:頸上部缺口填補了綠色合成物〈0.45 x 0.30厘米,不到0.10厘米深〉,口沿、唇沿有微小的咬痕,壺內有微裂紋;因累年觸摸,壺面亦有磨損與擦痕

    來源:
    Robert Kleiner (1997)
    文獻﹕
    Treasury 5, 編號572、第二冊封面封底

    說明:
    仿雄黃玻璃呈浮雕修飾時,問題總是浮雕修飾是否追加的。許多舊的無飾紋仿雄黃玻璃煙壺可當合適的浮雕對象,因為它們經常在表層下至少具有一層映襯色材料。而且,十八世紀初、中期似乎有數量相當大的仿雄黃玻璃煙壺出產,到了清朝中期備有很多件在流轉,有些雕匠突然想到把他們修飾,是合乎情理的。1970年代以來有人利用這種舊器製作假貨,假設的清朝中期追飾工作的目的也許不過是加深鼻煙壺的韻味,但還是追加的雕刻。

    但無論如何,本壺的雕飾毫無疑問是本來就有的,不但是可定期的仿雄黃玻璃煙壺最早的一件,也是最早所知浮雕重疊玻璃煙壺之一。假如有一件康熙晚期的浮雕重疊玻璃煙壺萬一幸存下來,很可能就是本壺。雕刻的日期可以根據表面的微裂紋的狀況來推測。內壁外壁都呈普遍的微裂紋,而外壁地層與浮雕層的微裂紋是一致的。如果是舊器新雕,減地平面跟浮雕層比,一定會或多或少呈現減少了微裂紋的現象。

    就蟠螭紋來說,這兩條螭雕得流暢活潑,肯定還沒到常規化裝飾的地步。螭首的風格很像些漢代玉器的飾紋,也像十五世紀初、康熙晚期的螭首,那兩個時期的皇家文化復興盛昌的時期,是宮廷藝術家有意識地繼古開今的時期。螭面讓人聯想到十五世紀的雕雅(參見Clunas 1984, 編號13 與插圖1,大都會博物館藏圓形雅飾板),而它們在十七世紀末十八世紀初的藝術復興再出現。本壺的蟠螭一定是早清的藝術復興的作品,雖然不能拒絕壁考慮乾隆初的日期,我們認為康熙或者雍正時期的可能性大。

    當時,本壺所呈現的材料、題材、精熟等,除了宮廷玻璃工廠以外,大概無法匯集。多層對比色的浮雕技術不知從何時起。本壺可能是原型,可能是吹成後有人試圖去除上層材料以雕出圖飾。之後,吹玻璃工開始使玻璃層厚點,也多考慮對比的顏色,因而淺浮雕以高浮雕代替了。高浮雕的物品概是雍正或乾隆初才有的,多層的雕塑大概是乾隆中期才有的。值得注意的是,本壺的淺浮雕技術很類似傳統石雕,很薄的皮層雕成凸起圖案的同時,也形成地面的一部分。

    Butterfield and Butterfield, 舊金山,1992年6月24日,拍賣品號324也是雕螭紋的多層對比色浮雕的仿雄黃玻璃鼻煙壺,似乎比本壺晚一點兒。
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