Crystal with inclusions of tourmaline; well hollowed into each separate vessel, each with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; each vessel carved with a rectangular panel in low relief on all four sides Possibly School of the Rustic Crystal Master, 17401880 Height: 5.35 cm (smaller vessel: 4.68 cm) Mouth/lip: larger vessel 0.5/1.27 and 1.22 cm (oval); smaller vessel 0.48/1.18 and 1.2 cm (oval) Stoppers: nephrite; coral collars
Condition: Original material: Suffused with icy flaws and iridescence, with one more prominent one on the shoulder of the larger segment (top left if the smaller bottle is on your right); miniscule chip to outer lip, practically invisible; one very small chip on the outer corner of the footrim of the larger segment
Provenance: Christie's, New York, 7 June 1993, lot 193
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum, Singapore, November 1994February 1995
Commentary: There is enormous potential for formal diversity in combining similar shapes as multiples; here we have the linking of different-sized containers of the same basic form. The joined narrow sides, being flat, do not require any truncation of the vertical profile to achieve a strong bond, as is necessary with joined cylinders, for instance, while the different sizes of the two vessels dictate that each retain its independent raised panel on the narrow side. Had the two been of the same size, a single raised panel could have stretched across both containers. This combination of two different sizes of the same shape is a rather rare form, despite its obviousness, but of course twinned containers are uncommon in any case, and there are many other options to explore when one does decide to make conjoined snuff bottles.
Different coloured stoppers can be used to differentiate between different brands of snuff. The same role may have been played by two different sized containers of this kind, where one is never in doubt as to which container holds which snuff. In this case, therefore, the matched stoppers are entirely appropriate. Of course, aesthetically there would be no problem with adding asymmetrical stoppers to an asymmetrical form, and the exercise is well worth entertaining if for no other reason than to demonstrate the point that re-stoppering bottles has such enormous potential in the overall aesthetic.
The material here is impressive and well suffused with iridescence (though this not captured in the photography). Its use is masterly. The concentration of the denser inclusions in the larger vessel accentuates the distinction between the two containers. They sing in harmony rather than in unison and are the more complex and satisfying for it.
In the rock aesthetic of China there is a series of rocks that are designated as grandfather and grandson rocks, two rocks mounted together to create the image of a wise old sage and his callow charge. The significance of this association is that in ancient Chinese culture, the parents of children had less time for their offspring than did the older generation. Since all families lived as extended units, it often fell to the grandparents to bring up the children. They were the ones with the time to devote to intellectual and moral example and they had the wisdom for the job. For an emotionally-charged example in the rock aesthetic, see Tsang, Moss, and Ribeiro 1986, no. 78.
The hollowing out of these bottles is distinctive; the inner profile follows the outer with great accuracy and confidence while leaving an intentionally thick wall. Many of the wide range of bottles linked to the school of the Rustic Crystal Master (to whom we attribute Sale 1, lot 4) are similarly hollowed, including most of those attributed to the master himself (see Treasury 2, nos. 254, 255 and 256, for instance). For another double bottle attributable to the school, see Treasury 2, no. 252.