A dendritic chalcedony 'frog and lotus' snuff bottle
Official School, 17601850 6.65cm high.
Treasury 2, no. 311
The Count Blucher Green Cameo Chalcedony
Dendritic chalcedony; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and shallowly recessed, slightly convex foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; carved with a cameo design of a frog seated on a lotus leaf in a pond defined by a line of formalized waves above the foot Official School, 17601850 Height: 6.65 cm Mouth/lip: 0.72/2.42 and 2.35 cm (oval) Stopper: coral, carved with a chi dragon; vinyl collar
Condition: Possible very slight trim to outer footrim to remove tiny chips, but possibly just the way it was made.
Provenance: Bluett and Sons Ltd. Hugh M. Moss Ltd. Kurt Graf Blucher von Wahlstatt (Count Blucher) Hugh M. Moss Ltd. Alice B. McReynolds Emily Byrne Curtis Robert Kleiner (1987)
Published: The Antique Dealer and Collectors Guide, January 1967 Moss 1971a, p. 77, no. 59 Stevens 1976, no. 496 Kleiner 1995, no. 278 Treasury 2, no. 311
Exhibited: British Museum, London, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997
Commentary: There is a variety of chalcedony that has planes of green material running through the more usual pale honey-brown colour. Although, as a rule, the green is not made up of such strong and obviously dendritic filaments as the range of material known as moss agate, it is infused with moss-like markings, even if on a fairly microscopic level, and just about qualifies as dendritic. Because of the colour, the material tended to be used for a range of subjects where green was of particular significance. Different subjects applied to a different colour range might suggest a different School, but there are a number of bottles that have similar subjects in the more conventional colours of material that prove beyond a doubt that they are from the Official School. Even without these, the sizes and shapes, style of carving, and the manner in which the colour is used would all be sufficient to identify them with the school.
As a rule, the subjects shown on these dendritic green relief bottles are frogs, lotus leaves, and crickets, all of which are ideally suited to the material. For examples, see Helen White 1990, Snuff Bottles from China, Pl. 20 (four examples), Jutheau 1980, p. 105, no. 5 (left) and no. 6 (an extraordinary bottle previously thought to be a late anomaly but one that was probably made in the late Qianlong palace workshops). For a bottle similar to this, carved with the same subject, see Stevens 1976, no. 545, where nos. 544 and 546 are also of a similar range of material, the latter bearing a strong resemblance to early nineteenth-century glass overlay carving. Another of the group is illustrated in Hall 1987, no. 17, and an unusual example with a large carp and lotus is Treasury 2, no. 312. There are also related bottles in glass overlay from the mid-Qing period, further strengthening the imperial link between the Official School bottles and others probably carved at or for the court. A green overlay quite similar in composition to this example is illustrated by Moss 1971a, no. 230. It is even on a transparent, brownish-yellow ground very similar to the ground colour here and it may have been a direct glass copy of the stone versions.
The lotus-and-frog was a subject ideally suited to this material, and it is one of the popular images. The lotus (lian) and the frog (wa) are combined to elicit the term lianwa which means '[May you produce] children one after the other'. Quality can vary considerably, as in the wider range of Official School bottles, but this is one of the finest examples known. The carving exhibits the standard control of the better products of the school and the bottle is superbly hollowed and detailed. It is also of the common, generous proportions favoured by the school, although that may represent only a particular phase of its overall production, perhaps from the late Qianlong into the Daoguang period. The three lotus leaves and single lotus pod, the petals having fallen to reveal the seed pod at the centre of the flower, are arranged so strongly across the main face of the bottle that the little toad or frog on a fourth leaf in the lower right hand corner of the illustration is in danger of being ignored. Once spotted, however, he is extremely convincing and as well carved as any in the medium. A small, uncarved circle of green on the upper shoulder, to the left of the main illustration, represents the sun.
The narrow-side view demonstrates the control with which the ground plane has been separated from the green relief without interfering with the formal integrity of the bottle, not an easy feat where one must balance natural markings with a chosen form and make both work perfectly.
The slightly convex recessed oval foot is far from careless. Although shallow, it is well carved and matched to a neatly finished and formally impeccable flat footrim.