Chalcedony; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and protruding, flat foot; carved with raised circular panels on each main side and raised, scalloped, rounded rectangular panels on each narrow side inscribed in regular script, one with Jiaqing dingsi ('[In the year] dingsi of the Jiaqing period (1797)') and the other with Hanyuan zhai ('Studio of Magnanimity') Imperial, probably palace workshops, Beijing, 1797 Height: 5.61 cm Mouth/lip: 0.66/2.11 cm Stopper: stained walrus ivory; coral finial; vinyl collar
Condition: Original material: some flaws in the stone showing as shadowy, curling lines at the surface, with one slightly more crystalline area of a very pale yellow colour at one point beneath one narrow-side panel; none of it obtrusive. Bottle: workshop condition
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum, Singapore, November 1994February 1995
Commentary This bottle represents a standard courtly form that occurs fairly frequently during the Qing dynasty in a variety of materials. One example in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan is ascribed to the Qing dynasty and is part of a set of twenty-five, although the bottles in the set are in a variety of styles. Another Qing example comes from a set of eight, also with a variety of styles but more representatives of the raised-panel form. The one that most resembles the present bottle is dated to the Republican period, but it is surely based on a Qing model. The form also appears in glass, much of which can be attributed to the palace workshops and many of which bear reign marks.
What is more intriguing than the form, however, are the inscriptions on each of the narrow-side panels. One dates the bottle precisely to the second year of the Jiaqing period, 1797, and the other is a studio name. This studio name also appears on a rectangular jadeite bottle in the S. L. Tan Collection, and we are grateful to him for research into this particular studio, which he has been involved with for several years, providing us with proof that this is an imperial hall name of a building located in the Summer Palace. The Hanyuan zhai (Studio of Magnanimity) is the name of a studio located in Huifang Shuyuan (Library of a Congregation of Talents), one of forty scenic spots dispersed in Yuanming yuan ('Garden of Perfect Brightness'). The Huifang shuyuan was built in the seventh year of the Qianlong period (1742).
This is one of the exciting examples, gold-dust to the researcher in this field, where a hall name can not only be identified with an owner, but where we know exactly where the building stood, and even have illustrations of it in published works.
At first glance the inscriptions here appear to be wheel cut, but magnification reveals that this distinctive type of calligraphy was achieved by using repeated incisions with a diamond point. An outline is scratched into the surface of the material and then the space between is scratched with a large number of further marks until the entire area is roughened. This allows more brush-like calligraphic markings than can easily be achieved with a spinning wheel and allows for more elegant calligraphy. It may have been a style that became popular during the mid-Qing period, as it is rare on earlier works, but it appears also on the Daoguang-dated crystal bottle, Treasury 2, no. 363, the Xianfeng-dated bottle, no. 364 (both made for Prince Ding), and the jade bottle signed by Zhu Youlin in 1934: See Sale 1, lot 51, where we discuss the technique as he applied it to pictoral art. It is a different technique from that which appears on a number of earlier palace glass wares, a style that continued well into the late Qing period, where the marks are achieved by a series of lines cut with a spinning wheel, typical of which is the palace enamel on glass bottle in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 185).