A Guangzhou enamel 'European-subject' snuff bottle
Imperial, Qianlong iron-red enamel mark and of the period, 17501795 5.28cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1137
Proceeding to the Palace
Famille rose enamels on copper, with gold; with a flat lip and protruding flat foot surrounded by a flattened footrim; painted with a continuous European scene of ten figures, men, women, and youths, walking with a dog on a path flanked by foliage, rocks, and two trees, with billowing clouds above, one woman holding a dish of fruit, one man holding a vase with a flower in it, and another woman holding a single flower up to her face; the base with a band of formalized lingzhi above a band of continuous leiwen (thunder pattern); the neck with a band of three registers of leiwen above a shoulder band of lingzhi; the foot inscribed in iron-red enamel regular script Qianlong nian zhi ('Made during the Qianlong period') enclosed within a double square; the interior covered with white enamel; all exposed metal gilt Imperial, Guangzhou, 17501795 Height: 5.28 cm Mouth/lip: 1.00/1.58 cm Stopper: glass
Condition: small chip out of enamel on the neck beneath the metal lip; some abrasions and wear on outer foot above copper; gilding worn. General relative condition: very good
Provenance: Unidentified Dealer, Shanghai, (1938) The Ko Collection (1102/F) Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd. (1998)
Published: Treasury 6, no. 1137
Commentary: This rare version of a group represented by Treasury 6, no. 1136, is exceptional in having a European subject. It is also one of those with a reign mark rather than the Jingzhi mark that is more common for the group.
While it is impossible to date the costumes of the women and children who occur on most of this group, this very rare European subject gives us one additional clue to dating. A series of illustrations of foreigners that is thought to have been executed around 1760 (Howard and Ayers 1978, pp. 2331) features foreign men and women visiting Guangzhou. Each picture is accompanied by a Chinese description on a separate piece of paper mounted onto the sheet with the illustration; perhaps because of this, they are said to have been added later, but we suspect they were originally intended to be an integral part of the project. Their author clearly knew the nationality and travelling habits of each figure: he describes where they lived, how often they came to Guangdong province (i.e. to Guangzhou), and even, in some cases, what they were doing there. Among the foreigners represented are a number of Europeans, many of them women, from England, Holland, France, Spain, and Scandinavia. We find many parallels to the figures found on this bottle. Men in pantaloons with white hose above black, buckled shoes, holding walking sticks, and wearing black hats appear in the illustrations and on the bottle, as do women in full skirts with only their toes peeking out, with floppy inner sleeves and upper garments scooped down to the navel over tight inner bodice. Similar images of Europeans appear on ceramics made for the West from the 1740s through to the 1780s (Howard and Ayers 1978, nos. 276 and 277) and even later. The costumes here appear to be standard for mid- to late-eighteenth-century Europeans seen at the port of Guangzhou; since this is a Guangzhou product, whoever painted it would have seen such figures frequently. This supports the general judgement that the bottles are unlikely to date from any earlier than the mid-Qianlong reign.
It is commonly said that most arts gradually declined during the long Qianlong reign, but while this may be true of some, it is misleading to apply it to all. In the case of enamelling on glass, the trend was in quite the opposite direction. Even on metal, technically excellent enamels could be made at both Beijing and Guangzhou right up to the last years of the reign and even into the early Jiaqing period. Artistically, they may not come up to the standards of Beijing during the early years, when court artists were involved, but they remain masterpieces of the art, as this bottle proudly attests.