Transparent, ruby-red, and milky glass, suffused with air bubbles of various sizes, including one large one and some elongated; with a flat lip and very slightly recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim made up of elements of the design; carved as a single overlay on one main side with two deer, one standing on a rocky outcrop, beneath a peach tree with three large fruit, and on the other main side with a man seated playing the flute on a rocky outcrop set amidst formalized waves, with a pine tree growing from another outcrop, the sun above, the neck with a band of formalized hair growing from the chi dragon heads, which act as handles on the narrow sides, their front legs doubling as the frames for formalized lingzhi-heads on each main side, with multiple linked rings joining the handles to the footrim, which is in the form of an oval bi disc Probably imperial, 1736-1780 Height: 8.95 cm Mouth/lip: 0.78/1.62 cm Stopper: jadeite; nephrite collar
Condition: fairly large, deep chip out of upper neck-rim and eating into lip (0.82 cm at greatest extent); bubble cut through as part of the original process; small chip to upper deer's right ear; two small chips to lower stag's antler
Provenance: Adolph Silver Mrs A. N. Silver Sotheby's, London, 6 March 1979, lot 74
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, May-June 1993
From the conceptual perspective, this is one of the most extraordinary glass overlays in the collection. The decoration on each main side is unusual and spectacular and, of course, replete with symbolism. Both deer and peach signify longevity, while a pair of deer stands for a married couple and the pine tree is a symbol of longevity. The rock, in this case, stands for mountain (shan) and the waves represent the sea (hai); together they express the popular aspirations for the immortality of the Southern Mountains, and happiness as vast as the Eastern Sea. A man playing a flute (dizi) stands for the blessing of male children (dezi), reminding us how little in Chinese art is devoid of symbolic meaning, however well hidden it may be. Even the multiple interlocking rings hanging from the handles represent continuity.
Superb as the main-side decoration may be, it is the extraordinarily imaginative narrow-side, neck, and foot decoration that elevate this bottle to the level at which a chip in the neck rim becomes almost irrelevant. In place of the usual taotie handles, the designer has chosen chi dragon heads, the hair from the back of their heads curving up to fill the neck, and their front legs defining the two lingzhi-head motifs at the apex of the main-side panels. The neck and shoulder decoration alone qualify it not only as unique but also as one of the most imaginative in the art-form, even without the addition of a string of linked rings running all the way down the narrow sides to join onto a foot carved as an oval bi disc.
The linked rings supply the most convincing justification for proposing imperial manufacture. We discussed this feature under Treasury 5, no. 784, suggesting that such an evolution of the standard, small, circular ring was probably a feature of the Qianlong period and the court, where such multiple rings were commonly used on imperial jade carvings. The rings are very slightly oval, perhaps hinting at a mid-Qianlong date, which would also allow for the unusually large size. Another courtly feature is represented by the delightful way in which the familiar overlay footrim is transformed into a bi disc. The Qianlong emperor was a voracious collector of ancient jades, including large numbers of the various discs often identified using the term bi, although other terms are more exact, depending upon the relative size of the central hole (see Treasury 1, no. 79). They appear frequently in Qianlong palace arts, illustrating the emperor's attempts to incorporate ancient culture into Manchu arts with the aim of underlining their mandate to rule. Another clue may exist in the substitution of chi-dragon heads for the usual taotie-head handles, since the chi was one of the most popular decorative motifs on eighteenth century imperial carvings. Additional evidence is supplied by the upper neck-rim which, although it might equally be explained here as a necessity to frame the flowing hair-lines of the two dragons, is a feature typical of palace hardstone snuff bottles.