Agate; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed, slightly convex foot surrounded by a flat footrim; carved with a cameo design of a horse haltered and tethered to a hitching post Official School, 17501840 Height: 5.98 cm Mouth/lip: 0.67/2.20 cm Stopper: coral; pearl finial; vinyl collar
Condition: miniscule nibbles to inner lip, two tiny chips to outer footrim, neither obtrusive; tiny nibbles to horse's right ear; otherwise, workshop condition
Provenance: Sydney L. Moss Ltd Cyril Green J. Haines Hugh Moss Paula J. Hallett Hugh M. Moss Ltd (1986)
Published: Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 2, p. 24, Pl.V Moss 1971, p. 50, no. 126 Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, no. 211 Kleiner 1987, no. 172 JICSBS, Autumn 1997, p. 14 Treasury 2, no. 302
Exhibited: Hugh M. Moss Ltd, London, 1974 Hong Kong Museum of Art, OctoberDecember 1978 Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993
Commentary: Horses are among the most popular subjects for parti-coloured hardstone bottles. Apart from their functional importance to the Manchus, an equestrian warrior clan, they provided a popular range of rebuses and symbolism. The popular subject of a horse tied to a post, whether fully caparisoned or simply haltered, suggests unrealized potential, and wishes speedy success for an as yet untested talent. This subject is one of the more popular ones from the Official School and is ideally suited as a gift to one who has qualified to become an official. The meaning of the subject seems confirmed by one example formerly in the Col. Kedzior Collection (Hugh Moss records) where two horses are tied to a post. In cameo relief regular script beneath the foot is the title Shiqijiaxi ('Now is the time to ride'). The implication is that the horse has been captured and trained, and the time has come to fulfill its potential. Another inscribed version of the same subject was offered by China Guardian, Beijing, 21 October 1996, lot 1936 and further confirms the meaning of the subject. It has a four-character inscription, Tiangu chengcai, which can be translated as 'Realize potential'.
Our main reason for dubbing this entire school the Official School, regardless of the fact that it must certainly have produced bottles for other patrons as well, was the proliferation of subjects ideally suited to the official class. A significant proportion of the earlier output of this school is devoted to subjects wishing for promotion through the ranks of the bureaucracy, or otherwise relating directly to the court such as the galloping bannerman, or the Pekinese doves and dogs beloved of the Daoguang emperor and his consort. The majority of the subjects would have made such ideal gifts between officials and courtiers, and there must be a strong link between official life and this school, hence our name for them.
The best of the parti-coloured chalcedony horse-bottles are among the masterpieces of the medium. This is an unusual one in white relief, although such material, when found, was often used for the subject of horses. The lively beast is shown in profile, the usual manner of depiction, and its wild spirit is indicated by the obvious movement of the beast as it raises one foreleg and stomps uneasily. It is also indicated very cleverly by the halter, which is wrapped three times around the post to indicate restlessness. It is a delightful and telling touch that allows us to read the personality of the animal, which represents the warrior's ideal of a horse tamed but not dispirited. The white relief is also cleverly set against a fascinating speckled and misty ground that forms an effective receding ground for the scene. There is a subtle halo left around the horse's head in a very thin layer of the white relief, which could so easily have been removed that it can only have been intentional.
The formal integrity of the bottle, hollowing, and detailing are all impeccable, but here is another example of a superbly realized recessed convex foot where the whole foot, including the convexity, is recessed, suggesting that even if it heralded an easier option, high standards of achieving it still prevailed. It may represent the first stage along the road that led to the decline in standards and still be a Qianlong product. The style of bottle and subject would fit comfortably into the latter part of the eighteenth century, when such a first stage might be expected to occur. Cameo horses on bottles of this general form, nearly always very well finished and hollowed, can be dated to the second half of the Qianlong period by the subject of the galloping bannerman, datable to the post-1759 period (assuming they are celebratory of the suppression of the western Mongols in mid-century). What is not known is how long the style that was applied to the bannerman subject from 1759 onwards had already been in existence for other horse subjects, and how long thereafter it remained reasonably constant. For other versions of this subject, see Moss 1971a, nos. 65 and 66; Hall 1991, no. 42; Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, no. 210, which is also illustrated along with a range of others in Moss 1971, nos. 124129, and Stevens 1976, no. 537. A fine jasper example is illustrated in Moss 1971, p. 19 fig. 36. A further clue to the imperial connection is offered by similar bottles in glass overlay attributable to the court (see, for instance, Kleiner 1987, no.116, for a double overlay in white and black, probably from the early nineteenth century, and Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., 20 February 1970, lot 165, from the Claar Collection, with a red overlay horse on one side and Buddhist lions, another favourite imperial subject, in yellow and green overlay, on the other). In some cases, the horses are tethered, not to a post but to the mask-and-ring handles of the bottle, creating a clever visual play on the nature of reality (see, for instance, Sale 1, lot 43; Treasury 5, no. 894). Whether tied to a post or a mask handle, the symbolism would remain the same. There is also a small group of probably early nineteenth-century glass overlay bottles with dogs tethered to a post (see, for instance, Moss 1971a, no. 189). The symbolism is probably the same again, since the hunting dog was no different from the horse in that it had to be trained first before its full potential could be realized. If they are related, the imperial connection is strengthened yet again and the dating of the parti-coloured hardstone examples to the mid-Qing period confirmed. It is possible that the dog evolved from the horse subject and there may be a Daoguang-period reason for the switch, because few of the dog-tied-to-a-post glass bottles are likely to pre-date the Daoguang period.