A moulded 'famille-rose' porcelain 'erotic subject' snuff bottle
Jingdezhen, 17961830 5.92cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1219
A moulded famille rose porcelain 'erotic subject' snuff bottle
('Party on the Terrace')
Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a slightly convex lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; moulded and painted with a continuous scene set on the terraces of an open pavilion with ornamental rocks, a plantain, and a pine tree, in which two men and six women, all naked, are putting various bits of furniture to imaginative use, all on a gold ground; the lip and foot also gilt; the interior unglazed Jingdezhen, 17961830 Height: 5.92 cm Mouth/lip: 0.62/1.83 cm Stopper: blue and gold enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain, moulded with a formalized chrysanthemum design; John Charlton, London, circa 1972
Condition:extensive crack down from outer lip to foot with some paint, suggesting it may have been broken and restored;tiny chip to the blue enamel on the rockwork near the base
Provenance: Bob C. Stevens Ashkenazi, San Francisco, 1988
Published: Treasury 6, no. 1219
Commentary The longer-term vision of the makers of a series of erotic moulded porcelain snuff bottles can be easily missed. It is, of course, tempting to see these bottles as rather saucy subjects for snuff-taking among men. In Qing China, men did not, as a rule, have a night out with their wives, visiting another couple for a pleasant dinner. Men were more often in the company of their fellow men, whether at tea-houses, meeting for elegant pursuits or, sometimes, for less elegant ones. Even if other men visited a friend at his home, as a rule the women would be more likely to ensure that they had plenty to eat and drink and then retire and leave them to their gentlemanly pursuits. This was the time when snuff bottles would come out, and be passed around among friends, each perhaps with his personal snuff dish, onto which they might scoop a little of the snuff being offered for consumption. The snuff itself might be a rare and precious brand that had travelled half the world to arrive at the scholar's table. A nephrite bottle, delicately carved with an illustration of an ancient poem, an excerpt from which was written on its other side, would be admired for its subtlety and literary content; a fine old glass overlay snuff bottle, perhaps from the early years of the eighteenth century, would receive much admiration and mutterings of how such quality was nowadays impossible to find, and then out would come this bottle, and the boy in each of the serious scholars would rise to the surface with guffaws and ribald comments about how the odds were not quite sufficiently in favour of the two gentlemen, and how one of them had been polite enough to keep his shoes on to keep company with the ladies, all of whom, of course, still hid their bound feet inside their tiny slippers.
This was all very well, but it was not what the makers of the bottle had in mind. With astonishing prescience, they realized that long after the guffaws had ceased and the last candle had been put out; long after generations of snuff-bottle collectors had been similarly snuffed out, their products would fall, eventually, into the hands of a student of Chinese furniture who would be able to prove in a fascinating treatise precisely what sort of chairs and tables were current in the houses of scholars of the Jiaqing reign, and, more importantly, what they were used for.
Having set the bottle in its proper context, it is worth noting that this is not only the most impressive erotic bottle in the Bloch Collection, it is one of the most impressive in existence. The quality of the moulding is unusually fine, and the groups of writhing bodies in their pale colours are exquisitely well balanced as a composition against the darker, more dominant colours of the setting. The gold ground, so frequently used for this range of subjects at the time, sets off all the colours most strikingly. Another of this design, possibly from the same mould, was in the Ko Collection (Christie's, London, 8 November 1976, lot 44).