A dendritic agate 'Penglai' snuff bottle Official school, 1720–1830
Lot 11
A dendritic agate 'Penglai' snuff bottle Official school, 1720–1830
Sold for HK$ 96,000 (US$ 12,373) inc. premium

Lot Details
A dendritic agate 'Penglai' snuff bottle Official school, 1720–1830 A dendritic agate 'Penglai' snuff bottle Official school, 1720–1830 A dendritic agate 'Penglai' snuff bottle Official school, 1720–1830
A dendritic agate 'Penglai' snuff bottle
Official school, 1720–1830
6.03cm high.


  • Treasury 2, no. 280


    A dendritic agate 'Penglai' snuff bottle

    ('The Home of the Immortals Agate')

    Dendritic agate; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed, flat foot surrounded by a protruding, broad, flat footrim; with an entirely natural design on one side of the Island of Penglai rising from formalized waves carved in low relief
    Official School, 1760–1860
    Height: 6.03 cm
    Mouth/lip: 0.8/2.05 and 1.98 cm (oval)
    Stopper: coral; plastic collar

    Condition: Original material: triangular flaw of more crystalline nature on main side to the left of the rock promontory; one narrow side with slightly irregular flawed area of brown speckling; a slight indentation to the opposite side of the rock promontory to the triangular flaw, indicating the original removal of a minor flaw by the artist. Bottle: Slight irregularity in footrim may suggest the removal of a small chip to the outer edge. General relative condition: very good

    Trojan Collection
    Robert Hall (1993)

    Hall 1992, no. 47
    Kleiner 1995, no. 262
    JICSBS, Autumn 1997, p. 6
    Newsletter, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, August 1997
    Treasury 2, no. 280

    British Museum, London, June–October 1995
    Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

    This is another of the masterpieces of ink-play agate bottles. It is of perfect formal integrity and detailing and is superbly hollowed to precisely follow the outer contour of the bottle. The artist has taken a natural, striated area in the stone, edged with dendritic markings, and by the addition of nothing more than a band of formalized waves around its base has transformed it into one of the subtlest and most compelling images of the mythical Island of Penglai, home of the Immortals, in the whole of Chinese art. This image of a rock jutting vertically out of the ocean was a popular one in later Chinese art and occurs frequently during the Qing dynasty. From the late Ming dynasty onwards, when the famous ink-maker Cheng Junfang popularized a design of the crag with peaches and bats to form a popular rebus, these extra elements were also sometimes included. The dendritic markings to the upper left of the rock in the illustration could be interpreted as bats.

    The style, feeling and artistic brilliance of this bottle link it irresistibly with the magnificent sorry crow in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 127), although the style of waves is different. They may be by the same artist and the difference in wave style attributable to the fact that Penglai is customarily shown with very formalized waves, whereas the sorry crow, being a unique subject, dictated no such well-established style.

    Another masterly touch here is the pale halo of striations, noted by Robert Hall in his publication, which surrounds the island as if aglow with inner, spiritual meaning, redolent of Daoist symbology. As if all of this were not enough, there is yet a further fortuitous symbol inherent in the stone. At the base of the towering rock is a natural cave created by the agate markings at the point where they give way to reflection of the rock in the water, which is also brilliantly achieved and accentuated by not carving waves at that point. The cave was also a symbol of the Daoist realm of immortality and relates to popular legends of individuals who have stumbled into a cave or opening in the rocks to emerge on the other side in a timeless, immortal realm (for discussion, see Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, p. 187 and Treasury 1, no. 131).

    The small, darker markings low on the reverse of this bottle are difficult to interpret with any certainty, but one possibility is a mythological tortoise or bixi (see discussion under Treasury 1, no. 51 and Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 5), which would be in harmony with the longevity symbolism of the Isle of Penglai.

    There is a formal feature of this bottle that may prove useful in establishing further criteria for the Official School. The neck is slightly oval, the narrow-side profile being 7 mm narrower than the main profile. Since this feature is common on this group of bottles, and usually with the narrow-side view being the narrower dimension, it must have been intentional. It may have been entirely to formal ends, and may have arisen out of nothing more than an obvious formal solution on flattened bottles. On the other hand, it might indicate a school trait, allowing us one more clue as to identity for the group as a whole.

    Apart from its impeccable form, hollowing, and subject matter, this bottle has the recessed flat foot that we have suggested as a likely feature on earlier bottles of the school, although it is not as crisply carved as some. We know that on palace glass from the early phase of carving, the crisply carved, recessed flat foot is a standard, whereas during the nineteenth century one is more likely to encounter a convex foot more carelessly finished. With Official School bottles, a very tentative guess, arrived at from a comparison of the examples in this collection, suggests that if the recessed, flat foot is a standard, although not necessarily exclusive feature during the earlier phase of the school, and the recessed convex foot a standard, although not necessarily exclusive feature of the second phase, there would have been an overlap period when one gradually gave way to the other. If we assume that the first phase is from the Kangxi period to the Daoguang, and the second from the mid-Qianlong period to the end of the dynasty, they might overlap by almost a century during which one gradually gave way to the other as the standard form of recessed foot. Although there are known Daoguang bottles with a perfectly flat foot to demonstrate continued high standards well into the nineteenth century, as a general tendency these details may provide a useful clue as to dating.


    樹枝狀斑紋瑪瑙; 掏膛非常徹底, 凹唇,斂平底,突出圈足,圈足底完全接觸地面; 一正面為全天然蓬萊淺浮雕圖
    高:6.03 厘米
    口經/唇經:0.8/2.05 及1.98 厘米(橢圓形)
    蓋: 珊瑚; 塑料座

    狀態敘述:質料:山左有結晶質的三角形瑕疵;一側面呈稍微王規則、有斑紋點的地方,山右呈微微的凹進處,是雕刻師磨除小瑕疵的地方。壺:圈足稍微不規則的地透或許是意著外沿小缺口削除非。一般性的狀態敘述: 很好

    Trojan Collection
    Robert Hall (1993)

    Hall 1992, 編號 47
    Kleiner 1995, 編號 262
    JICSBS, Autumn 1997, p. 6
    Newsletter, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, August 1997
    Treasury 2, 編號 280

    British Museum, London, June–October 1995
    Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

    這是中國藝術中難能可貴的蓬萊圖。山峰左邊的含樹枝狀的斑紋可以看作蝙蝠,山麓好像有洞,讓人想到洞天。 真是耐人尋味的神山。
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