A white nephrite 'eggplant' snuff bottle Possibly Imperial
Lot 14
A white nephrite 'eggplant' snuff bottle Possibly Imperial, 1750–1800
Sold for HK$ 456,000 (US$ 58,819) inc. premium

Lot Details
A white nephrite 'eggplant' snuff bottle Possibly Imperial, 1750–1800 A white nephrite 'eggplant' snuff bottle Possibly Imperial, 1750–1800 A white nephrite 'eggplant' snuff bottle Possibly Imperial, 1750–1800 A white nephrite 'eggplant' snuff bottle Possibly Imperial, 1750–1800 A white nephrite 'eggplant' snuff bottle Possibly Imperial, 1750–1800 A white nephrite 'eggplant' snuff bottle Possibly Imperial, 1750–1800
A white nephrite 'eggplant' snuff bottle
Possibly Imperial, 1750–1800
5.92cm high.

Footnotes

  • Treasury 1, no. 62

    白玉茄形鼻煙壺
    或為御製品,1750-1800

    The Castiglione of Jade Carvers' Eggplant

    Nephrite; very well hollowed and carved in the form of an eggplant with two smaller fruits growing on leaves and tendrils wrapped around the body of the main fruit and forming a natural foot supporting the bottle on three points made up of two tendrils and one leaf, with a beetle crawling from the calyx onto the fruit
    Possibly imperial, 1750–1800
    Height: 5.92 cm
    Mouth: 0.4 cm
    Stopper: jadeite, carved as a stalk

    Condition: workshop condition

    Provenance:
    Christie's, London, 12 October 1987, lot 343

    Published:
    Treasury 1, no. 62

    Commentary:
    A series of fruit-, flower-, and vegetable-form snuff bottles, mostly of white or greenish-white nephrite and sometimes with areas of brown skin, form a large and well-known group. A left-over prejudice from the days when snuff bottles were judged to a large extent by their appeal standing in a cabinet has left them generally somewhat unpopular, along with other bottles that will not stand unsupported. These are irrational prejudices, since snuff bottles were made to be viewed primarily in the hand, in use rather than standing on a flat surface, and certainly not behind glass in a cabinet. Many of the most intriguing bottles are those that only come to life in the hand, and any functional snuff bottle is better viewed this way.

    Two features support the possibility of an imperial-workshop origin for this bottle. The nephrite here, despite its lovely colour, is not flawless. It has distinctive chalky-white inclusions in the greener white material that is found on other pieces more firmly attributed to the palace workshops (see, for instance, Treasury 1, no. 149). The painstaking hollowing (achieved through a tiny mouth for a normal-sized bottle) also leaves a relatively thick foot, not as thick as on some, but sufficient, particularly in relation to the superb hollowing of the upper area, to suggest a deliberate preference for a heavy foot, which we have established as a likely characteristic of the palace workshops (see discussion under Treasury 1, no. 75).

    The likely period for this bottle is from the second half of the Qianlong reign. The massive supplies of nephrite that flooded into the court after the military occupation of Turkestan in 1759 resulted in an increase in the number of workshops producing for the court and almost certainly prompted renewed imperial interest, keeping the standards of workmanship and artistry at a peak well into the early nineteenth century, perhaps even into the early Daoguang period. The personal interest shown by the Qianlong emperor in his imperial collection is well known, and he is recorded as having personally examined every one of the thousands of pieces of jade carved for the collection in his own workshops and presented as tribute to him during his reign (see Yang Boda 1992). He is also recorded as having spent time during the latter part of his reign in correcting what he considered sloppy trends in both carving and taste. It is likely that a considerable proportion of extant imperial jade snuff bottles were made during the period from, say, 1760 to perhaps 1820 and even the later ones probably followed Qianlong taste to a very large extent.

    We have saved the most important aspect of this bottle for last. It is unsurpassed in sheer quality of carving and fluency of realistic depiction by anything produced by a Chinese lapidary from the entire history of jade carving. Other pieces may be as good but nothing is better controlled technically or more lifelike in its detail. The subject is depicted in a miraculously realistic way that is rarely achieved in lapidary work. Every aspect of the work of art represents sheer mastery both of realistic representation and the techniques required to turn it into convincing sculpture. It is the lapidary equivalent of a Castiglione painting, where one marvels at the ability of the artist to depict reality with such an astonishing combination of meticulously correct, lifelike detail and artistic grace. The gnarled branches, curling and drooping leaves and weighty fruit hanging from the severed branch are completely convincing despite the lack of coloured detail. The calyx on the main fruit could almost be peeled back to reveal the paler colour where the fruit has been protected from the light in growth, it is so realistic. The finish is astonishing. There is not a visible carving mark on the entire surface. The relief carving is separated from the ground plane by miraculous undercutting, and the polish is impeccable.

    Although the artist is unidentified and probably doomed to eternal anonymity, carving of this quality is a signature in itself. There must be other carvings by this artist, and through them we may eventually be able to construct a little biographical flesh on the skeletal outline provided by his works. Obvious candidates in this collection are Treasury 1, nos. 63 and 65 (the latter is included in this sale), and another white jade bottle of eggplant form not very clearly illustrated in Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 28 April 1993, lot 517. If there were artists at Suzhou and in the palace workshops who were capable of this standard of carving, they would almost certainly have come to the emperor's attention and been put to work for him. The quality of this bottle raises another intriguing possibility. We know that with enamels, court artists prepared detailed designs for individual works of art that were then approved by the emperor himself before the enamelling commenced. This kept standards at a high level of artistry, ensured individuality, and inspired the administrators and artists involved at every stage of the work to do their utmost to produce the finest works of art. This is what separates palace enamelling at its height from the works of any other centre. It is almost certain that the same procedure applied to other selected works of art at the palace workshops, and perhaps elsewhere. If this is the case, there is no question that the result in jade carving would have been a bottle of this level of genius. Although anonymous at present, it seems appropriate to grant this artist the honour of being known as 'The Castiglione of Jade Carving' until we can grant him the greater honour of standing in history as a master under his own name.

    宛然如生的閃玉茄子

    閃玉; 掏膛非常規整 ,琢作一個纏繞著卷鬚的茄子,卷鬚和葉子中還結兩個小茄子,還雕琢一甲蟲
    或為御製品, 1750~1800年
    高:5.92 厘米
    口經:0.4 厘米
    蓋:翡翠,琢作蔕

    狀態敘述:
    出坊狀態

    來源:
    佳士得,倫敦,1987年10月12日,拍賣品號 343

    文獻:
    Treasury 1, 編號62

    說明:
    有一大群的用白色閃玉或蜜瓜色閃玉琢作果實形、花朵形、蔬菜形的鼻煙壺, 而因為老前輩的收藏家往往偏愛可以擺在陳列櫃的站立式煙壺,這種形式的煙壺就相對地被忽視。這是不應該的,因為鼻煙壺本來是手裏玩賞的東西,是使用的時候觀賞的,不是在平面上擺設而看望的,更不是為了擱置在玻璃後面而製造的。許多最有趣味的鼻煙壺,只有手裏拿著才算是適得其所,所有的能起作用的煙壺,也是手裏玩賞才對的。

    本壺具有兩種特色讓我們建議它是御用作坊的產品。玉料本身雖然很美好,裏面也有堊白色的雜質,而這種雜質也出現在可以確定為御用作坊製作的一些煙壺中 (如﹕Treasury 1, 編號149)。 而且,膛上部掏得很完好,但底比較厚,而底部厚好像也是宮廷作品常見的形式(參見Treasury 1, 編號75的論述)。

    本壺應該是乾隆後半期作的。1759年大小和卓木之亂粉碎之後,和田玉玉貢源源不斷地運往中原,"乾隆皇帝酷愛玉器,關心古玉鑒定考證,並親自指導作玉生產"(楊伯達1998,頁16)。現存約1760年到1820年作的御製玉鼻煙壺相當的部分可以認為是乾隆皇帝的嗜好所影響的。

    最重要的是,在中國玉作歷史上,本壺的雕琢藝術和寫實技巧都稱得上超群絕倫。特別是栩栩如生的細節和優雅的全面風格容合,真讓人叫絕。最後的修飾是驚人的,全身表面上一道刀痕都沒有,浮雕的底切很深,拋光無懈可擊。這位無名的玉匠,我們大概永遠不知其名,而他的雕琢藝術將永垂不朽。要找他其他的作品,何以從本收藏系列開始,如Treasury 1, 編號 63 與 65 (後者包括在此場拍賣),也有蘇富比,香港,1993年4月28日, 拍賣品號 517 的白玉茄子形的鼻煙壺 (照片不太清楚)。
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