Flawless nephrite; very well hollowed and carved in the form of a peach; with a severed leafy branch of the peach tree disposed around the upper portion of the fruit Possibly imperial, perhaps palace workshops, Beijing, or Suzhou, 17301800 Height: 5.02 cm Mouth/lip: 0.51/1.50 cm Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993
Commentary: This is a supreme example of a small sub-group of the naturalistic bottles discussed under Treasury 1, no. 62. They have frequently been overlooked as masterpieces of the snuff bottle genre because they often will not stand in a cabinet, although they usually have a typical snuff-bottle neck emerging from the naturalistic form. They consist of fruit forms, usually peaches in white nephrite, and they are nearly always masterly carvings, albeit in an understated manner. Different hands seem to be involved, however, suggesting the output of a workshop over an extended period. For other examples, see Friedman 1990, no. 66; Geng and Zhao 1992, no. 238; which has similar raised bumps on the skin of the fruit; and Sotheby's, New York, 3 November 1982, lot 144, a lovely example in an uninspired colour of nephrite. Attribution to the imperial workshops is strengthened by a small covered snuff dish of similar style and inscribed with a four-character Qianlong mark appropriate for the palace workshops that is still in the imperial collection (see Chang Lin-sheng 1991, no. 128). A further connection to the palace workshops is to be found in an imperial-yellow glass version of the same group (Sotheby's, New York, 1 July, 1985, lot 157) that has the addition of a bat in relief. The glass bottle is likely to have been made at the palace workshops, and although the obvious association in subject matter and style could have been prompted by jade bottles made elsewhere for the court, the more likely conclusion is perhaps that all were made at the palace workshops. There is also one very well carved example in a ruby-coloured tourmaline, typical of the late Qianlong period (Franz Collection, Hong Kong). That tourmaline bottles existed from the late Qianlong period is proven by records of the collection of three hundred owned by Heshen at his death in 1799 (Chang Lin-sheng 1991, p. 40), but it is only recently that we have begun to separate them from their twentieth century counterparts and grant them the status they deserve. The tourmaline and yellow-glass examples of this group support the attribution as a type made for the court and possibly at the court.
A second possibility is that all or some of the jade bottles of this group were an imperial order from Suzhou, since the style of carving, type of generally flawless white nephrite used, and quality of carving would also be commensurate with an eighteenth-century Suzhou source. There is no reason why the court might not have ordered a specific design of bottle from Suzhou to imitate glass and tourmaline bottles made at the palace workshops in Beijing, particularly if they were required in quantity, and there is no doubt that this group was made in quantity. If this was the case, then certain stylistic features may help us to decide the original provenance of other wares. This is a possible avenue of future research.
One stylistic feature of this bottle that links it to the broader fruit-and-vegetable group is the combination of one leaf carved with its skeletal structure in relief and other leaves incised. This feature links the carving to others of the fruit-and-vegetable form and may be a feature of a particular workshop or local style. It is found, for instance, on Treasury 1, no. 62 (lot * in this sale), with which it also shares the lipped edge to the leaves, as well as purity of material and excellence of carving.
The fruit is of the standard double shape of a peach, with the lower half of the fruit distinctly divided into two and the division fading in the middle of the fruit, leaving the upper area unified. The surface on both main sides is covered with raised bumps, superbly carved and smoothed, a common feature of bottles from this small group. The formal arrangement of the peach is also inspired with one lower segment hanging below the other, offsetting the symmetry of the neck and shoulders and acting as a foil for the concentration of the relief decoration. The relief is achieved with perfect separation from the ground plane, and it is extremely fluid and fluent, with wholly convincing gnarled branches acting as host to floppy leaves.
This bottle has been previously identified as a pomegranate, with the relief bumps on the skin of the peach read as the seeds within the pomegranate. They are, however, quite clearly blemishes on the surface rather than seeds beneath it, and in any case, the pomegranate has a very distinctive calyx that is always shown in conjunction with the multiple seeds within, wherein lies the symbolism for endless progeny.