Possibly Jiangxi province or palace workshops, Beijing, 17401820 5.64cm high.
Treasury 7, no. 1485
Bamboo and bamboo veneer; a double bottle, each section resembling a rolled handscroll; with a flat lip and slightly recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; one cylindrical section engraved with a design of two five-clawed imperial dragons amidst formalized clouds, one of them with a flame emanating from its shoulder, the other with an archaistic, so-called guaizi long (meandering dragon) design, a stylized design composed of interlocking hook-shaped elements, held together on the two visible edges by a simulated staple-shaped loop, and at the centre of the design, which is on one narrow side of the overall bottle, by a circular ring, the design creating its own integral frame, at the corners of which are four formalized lingzhi motifs; the two footrims carved to appear interlocking; the shoulders with concentric rings Possibly Jiangxi province or palace workshops, Beijing, 17401820 Height: 5.64 cm Mouths/lips: 0.49/0.93 cm Stoppers: boxwood, with integral finials, collars, and corks; ivory spoons; both original
Condition: some abrasions to lip and footrim from use; otherwise, workshop condition
Lot 99 Provenance: Robert Hall (1995)
Published: Hall 1995, no. 3 Robert Hall, Robert Hall (unpaginated brochure, London) Sin, Hui, and Kwong 1996, no. 249 Treasury 7, no. 1485
Exhibited: The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, October 1996
Commentary: The bamboo-cortex body of this bottle is clearly visible inside. It appears to retain its original matching stoppers with integral corks, although in this case they are made of boxwood, one of a very few departures from the imperial standard of matching stoppers for this group. The original ivory spoons demonstrate again what was considered an appropriate length for spoons; we also note the overlap of the stopper beyond the diameter of the lip to give better grip for removal.
Among bamboo-veneer bottles, this stands as a unique design and a quite spectacular example of the genre. The overall conception seems to have been inspired by two handscrolls that are laid side by side and then set on end to create the bottle. The style of the dragons may indicate a date from the latter part of the Qianlong reign or perhaps even the Jiaqing period, but it could be earlier. Five-clawed dragons on an imperial work of art from the mid-Qing leave us in no doubt that the bottle was made for use by a member of the imperial family, and the archaism represents the Qianlong emperor's taste, although it carried over into subsequent reigns to some extent. What is also extremely rare here is the combination of the usual planar veneer technique with engraving on an overall flat surface. Engraved work as the principal decoration on bamboo veneer is very seldom found, presumably because the veneer technique encouraged the planar approach to decoration; incised designs, the default for bamboo or wood without veneer, would ordinarily be avoided as a distraction from the effects one could achieve with the planar work, but it certainly must be said that the counterpoint between the rounded right angles of the guaizi long pattern on one bottle and the vibrant squiggles and curves of the dragon-and-cloud design on the other are most pleasing indeed.
The single ring at the centre of the guaizi long design serves more than one function. It seems to hold the intricate design of interlocking hooks together at its centre in their imagined, free-standing original form; by doing so, it also reinforces the idea of the interlocked circles of the footrims. The design of two interlocking rings is a popular symbol of marital harmony. The scrolls and the dragons, whether represented in this creature's imagined naturalistic form or as a stylized pattern, are relied upon to impart the idea of length (the scroll is made up of a piece of long and narrow paper or silk; the dragon is characterized with an elongated body), which in turn evokes the association of longevity.