A 'famille-rose' porcelain 'gourds and bats' snuff bottle
Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, Qianlong iron-red seal mark and of the period, 17401775 6.65cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1152
Imperial Good Fortune
Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a flat lip; the double-gourd form painted with a continuous design of eighteen more double gourds growing from a flowering, leafy vine, and ten bats in flight; with a neck band of formalized lingzhi; the foot inscribed in iron-red seal script Qianlong nian zhi ('Made during the Qianlong period'); the lip and upper neck rim painted gold; the interior glazed Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 17401775 Height: 6.65 cm Mouth/lip: 0.58/1.60 cm Stopper: coral; gilt-bronze collar
Condition: usual minor abrasions to the surface from use, nothing obtrusive and mostly not visible to the naked eye. General relative condition: close to kiln condition
Exhibited: British Museum, London, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997
Commentary: The double gourd was a popular form for snuff bottles and one used frequently for imperial products. The form was produced from the Yongzheng period onwards. It is likely to have begun even earlier, and it certainly continued to be a popular form throughout the eighteenth century.
There are several features that may suggest an early date for this bottle, but without knowing how long the style of the Tang Ying years continued to influence production after his departure, it is perhaps premature to rule out a date from the mid-reign. Certainly in favour of it being either early- or mid-Qianlong is the fact that it is a rare example, although another is known from the series (JICSBS, Summer 1997, p. 1, centre); this suggests it was not made as part of a set ten or twenty, as would become standard in the later reign.
Another useful clue to dating porcelain bottles from Jingdezhen is that there seems to have been a tendency for early-Qianlong examples to be glazed on the inside, perhaps because with the wider necks of the day the interior was more visible, or possibly because many of them were inspired by enamels on metal from the court, which were enamelled inside. Those from the late-Qianlong and Jiaqing would be mostly left unglazed. (It was not until the Daoguang reign that glazed interiors became standard again for most types.) Although we have no precise date for the Qianlong transition from glazed to unglazed interiors, the fact that this example has a glazed interior suggests an earlier rather than later date in the Qianlong period.
Other features may suggest that it postdates the classic wares of the Tang Ying years. The Tang Ying gourds are on a coloured ground, as are many of the enamelled glass double gourds from the palace workshops; here the ground is left white. On the Tang Ying gourds, the fruits are realistically dappled with other colours in places to suggest the natural discolouration of the fruit. The same occurs here, but is rather more stylized, suggesting an evolved artistic concept, and artistic evolution tends to take a little time. By the time this bottle was produced it had become customary to dapple gourds, but the dappling has become a pattern standing for surface blotching, rather than a naturalistic representation of it: an artistic attempt at verisimilitude on the earlier bottle has evolved into an artistic, decorative effect. While we can be reasonably certain, therefore, that this is later than the Tang Ying gourds, we cannot be sure how much later. The mid-reign seems a reasonable guess at present.
The gourd form here has been flattened to arrive at a more subtle formal statement than the natural fruit, which tends to be equally bulbous in all directions unless constrained by a mould during growth. The compression is not required functionally; several of the enamelled-glass gourd forms from the palace in the earlier part of the reign are not compressed. And on this scale, the bulbous natural form can be held in the hand as securely as the compressed equivalent, though it may be somewhat bulky for a pouch or purse. It may have been that a flattened form had become such a standard for snuff bottles in general since the Kangxi period that it simply became second nature to compress any form. One reason for such compression was practical: it was often more comfortable in the hand, and easier to contain in a pouch or purse.