An amber and mother-of-pearl 'garden scene' snuff bottle Shibayama style, possibly by Tanzan, 1854–1930
Lot 102Y
An amber and mother-of-pearl 'garden scene' snuff bottle
Shibayama style, possibly by Tanzan, 1854–1930
Sold for HK$ 360,000 (US$ 45,893) inc. premium

Lot Details
An amber and mother-of-pearl 'garden scene' snuff bottle Shibayama style, possibly by Tanzan, 1854–1930
An amber and mother-of-pearl 'garden scene' snuff bottle
Shibayama style, possibly by Tanzan, 1854–1930
6.14cm high.


  • Treasury 7, no. 1701


    An amber and mother-of-pearl 'garden scene' snuff bottle

    ('Elegant Garden')

    Transparent brown, and translucent, variegated ochre amber, mother-of-pearl, turquoise, coral, abalone shell, gold foil, gold and cinnabar-red lacquer, and unidentified yellow and green composition; with a flat, irregular lip and recessed foot surrounded by a flattened footrim, embellished with a continuous, intimate garden scene with three perforated natural rock formations speckled with moss, around which grow flowering hibiscus manihot (Abelmoschus manihot), chrysanthemums, orchids, prunus blossoms, and nandina, with a butterfly in flight
    Shibayama style, possibly by Tanzan, 1854–1930
    Height: 6.14 cm
    Mouth/lip: 0.5/1.28 and 0.98 cm (irregularly oval)
    Stopper: translucent, golden-yellow amber, carved as an opening bud, with integral collar; original

    Condition: abrasions to lip from use; three insignificant tiny chips to inner footrim; area of gold lacquer missing and leaving a narrow, elongated rough area in the cleft of the pebble high on one main side above and to the right of the large mallow flower; tiny nibbles and chips to some of the inlays; one small inlaid leaf low on one main side missing;amber surface all minutely crizzled.General relative condition: very good

    Sotheby's, New York, 2 December 1985, lot 123

    Kleiner 1987, no. 217
    JICSBS, Winter 1985, p. 30
    Kleine Schätze aus China1993, p. 8
    Kleiner 1994a, 1994, p. 55
    Kleiner 1995, no. 360
    JICSBS, Autumn, 1996, p. 7, fig. 11.
    Arts of Asia, September–October 2005, p. 116, fig. 11
    Treasury 7, no. 1701

    Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
    Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
    British Museum, London, June–October 1995
    Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

    This is one of a very small group that represents some of the most spectacular of all Japanese snuff bottles, another being a J & J bottle that came from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it was in the Drummond Collection, bought prior to 1931 (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 301). In the archival photographs provided to Moss for research, the J & J bottle still appears in the cabinet of the museum collection, so the photographs must have been taken more than thirty five years ago. Quite how it was acquired from the museum is not made clear, but Stevens proudly published it with that provenance, so he presumably knew how it was deaccessioned and had no misgivings about it. What is important to us, however, is that it was part of the Drummond Collection and can therefore be dated prior to 1931; even without that history, we would postulate a date from the last decades of the nineteenth century.

    We discussed the two bottles extensively in Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993,under no. 301, noting the history of the type of ware known as Shibayama and the likely association with the artist Tanzan, who was responsible for some of the most spectacular Japanese bottles ever made in amber. (At the time, we transcribed his name as Tansan.) We concluded that the bottles themselves had been made in Japan, which is in contrast to many embellished bottles of the Tsuda group that were decorated in Japan on existing Chinese bottles. Tanzan seems to have made his own amber bottles, but he used old Chinese bottles, as well. Another bottle by this artist and with a similar scene is on an old Chinese snuff bottle (Hughes 2002, no. 93); and although it lacks the more flamboyant embellishments, no. 1024 in Stevens 1976is on an old Chinese amber bottle and obviously by the same hand. Interestingly, both of the old Chinese bottles have their necks covered with a silver, cloud-like cover, suggesting that they were chipped at the lip. A damaged Chinese bottle between 1854 and the 1930s would have been relatively unappealing to the main audience of foreign collectors, whereas once repaired and embellished, the original condition of the bottle made no difference, so it would make sense for Japanese makers to buy slightly damaged bottles and give them new life.

    Both this and the J & J example are of pebble form, with irregularly shaped lip and foot. This is characteristic of all the known Tanzan bottles, but more to the point, perhaps, is the fact that they are hollowed in a similar fashion, reasonably capaciously but with a rough interior, with no attempt to achieve a smooth finish to disguise the initial gouge marks of the hollowing tool.

    The workmanship here is breath-taking, with complete mastery over a range of different materials (two of which we are unable to identify, used for the tiny stamen at the centre of the chrysanthemum flowers). Employed are some of the sophisticated lacquering techniques perfected to such an astonishing level in Japan. It is not just a technical masterpiece, however: the extraordinary level of skills has been applied to an equally artistic composition. It is a busy scene with a mass of fine detail, making artistic control harder to maintain. In the hands of a lesser artist, this design could easily become confused, with detail added more to demonstrate virtuosity than to express artistic ideals. The artist has managed to keep it all firmly together here, under control,where every detail is readable, and the overall composition is powerful and evocative. The placing of the various mother-of-pearl elements is also extremely clever. They are the only iridescent elements (although the gold lacquer and gold foil both reflect light, of course) and are positioned around the central portion of the design in such a way that they stimulate the turning of the bottle in the hand. For one to enjoy the various colours they reflect, the bottle must be tilted, which then encourages the eye to move to the next piece of mother-of-pearl in either direction. One realizes with astonishment and delight how carefully their placement and sizes have been planned.

    The stopper is also of amber, and of a colour used elsewhere by Tanzan. It is certainly the original: apart from being obviously Japanese, it is perfectly fitted to the shape of the irregular lip.

    Chinese characters used in Japanese can have alternative readings depending upon their context. In the case of proper names, context is of no help; it can be nearly impossible to determine the correct reading of relatively obscure personal names or place names. The characters for Tanzan, for instance, are read Niyama or Tan'yama as a surname and Tanzan as a given name or artistic name. The name is not recorded in the various Japanese sources on netsuke carvers or lacquer-makers we have been able to access, but neither are several of the other artists who signed their Japanese names. There is a carver named Kojima Tanzan buried at the modest Zenrin temple in Osaka (Chūo-ku, Nakadera, 2 Chōme, 4-3), but at this stage in our research we know nothing more than his name and the fact that he is a 'carver'. (This information comes from a list of over 12,500 'famous graves' visited by a Yajima Fugyō of Kamakura; see Accessed 26 March 2009.) At the very least, this confirms that Tanzan was a name used by at least one craftsman presumably unrelated to the Tanzan pottery lineage of Awata, Kyoto (for which see Jenyns 1971, p. 242), whether or not that craftsman can be identified with 'our' Tanzan.

    There is a startling comment in correspondence between the founder of the Baur Collection in Geneva and his dealer in Japan that shows the difficulties faced by Japanese-made snuff bottles in becoming accepted as such. On 26 October 1926, Tomita wrote to Baur to express regret for having sold him two 'Shibayama style' snuff bottles in April of that year. He asked him to deduct the £45 from his last invoice, as he did not want any copies in the collection (Nicollier-de Weck 2007, p. 38). Such a statement is comprehensible only if we realize that,because so many snuff bottles made in Japan were fakes masquerading as Chinese snuff bottles for the Western market, any bottle made in Japan was somehow not quite 'genuine', even if it represented brilliantly the best in Japanese style and technique. Of course, Baur, like most Western collectors of the time, was not ready to recognize and appreciate Japanese-style snuff bottles, and if he had known that a given made-in-Japan 'Chinese' snuff bottle was neither antique nor Chinese, he would have been blind to the quality of its workmanship and uninterested in the play between cultures that it represented. Tomita may or may not have been more sensitive to such things, but it would have been in his interest to keep the Baur Collection purely Chinese to avoid confusion and misrepresentation. (Baur must have taken Tomita's advice to heart; there are no Shibayama-style bottles among those published from his collection today.)


    高:6.14 厘米
    口經/唇經:0.5/1.28 及 0.98 厘米 (不規則橢圓形)

    狀態敘述:經過歲月的觸摸以後,唇呈磨耗;圈足內緣有三道微不足道的缺口;一正面在木槿花上右脫掉了一道金漆,有的鑲嵌物呈小咬痕,一正面下部的葉子脫掉了; 琥珀表面有微小裂紋。 總體品相: 非常好

    Sotheby's, New York, 2 December 1985, 拍賣品號 123

    Kleiner 1987, 編號 217
    JICSBS, Winter 1985, p. 30
    Kleine Schätze aus China 1993, p. 8
    Kleiner 1994a, 1994, p. 55
    Kleiner 1995, 編號 360
    JICSBS, Autumn, 1996, p. 7, fig. 11.
    Arts of Asia, September–October 2005, p. 116, fig. 11
    Treasury 7, 編號 1701

    Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
    Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
    British Museum, London, June–October 1995
    Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

    這是最驚人的日本鼻煙壺之一。詳細的論述,可參閱 Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, 編號 301。丹山(たんざん)作出了日本非常壯麗的琥珀鼻煙壺。跟津田流派不同,丹山採用舊的中國煙壺以外,也作了自己的琥珀坯。舊壺鑲貼新點綴有 Hughes 2002, 編號 93和 Stevens 1976 編號 1024。


    日本人名、日本地名用的漢字往常有不可猜測的讀音。"丹山"之姓可念成にやま或者たんやま;如果是名或者別名,應該念たんざん。我們所查閱的日本工藝人名的工具書沒有丹山的名字。大阪府大阪市中央区中寺二丁目的禪林寺內有雕刻藝術人小島丹山的墓, 不知道他是不是我們的鑲貼工藝家。(參見, 2011年5月8 日瀏覽)

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