Amethyst; of brilliant deep purple colour with some icy markings; carved in the form of two gourds growing from a branch with leaves and tendrils 17501860 Height: 5.6 cm Mouth: 0.4 cm Stopper: jadeite, carved in the form of a bird perched on a tiny, stopper-like form
Condition: many natural flaws and areas of icy clouding throughout; tiny chip midpoint on the main tendril falling from the top; possible small chip removed from leaf
Provenance: Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1993)
Published: Treasury 2, no. 243
Exhibited: Musée de la Miniature, Montelimar, 2000
Gourds come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, some as small as a cherry, some considerably larger than a football. They can also be confused in Chinese art with melons, which are also symbols of multiple progeny when combined with a butterfly; but as a rule, the butterfly will be present to enhance the symbolism if a melon is intended, whereas other insects or bats are more common in combination with gourds. Here, two gourds, but not of the distinctive waisted shape, are joined together side by side and wrapped in leaves and tendrils in low relief. When considering the form of this bottle, however, it is worth remembering that it has no natural foot and does not stand without a separate stand to hold it upright. The natural disposition of this shape is, therefore, a trifle ambiguous. Set down on a flat surface, it settles in three possible orientations horizontally; but held in the hand, it can lie flat or come upright to be viewed, raising the question of how such footless bottles were meant to be presented. There is no doubt in this case that the form is most comfortable upright, particularly with the rather unusual and pleasantly demanding stopper, which simply does not work in a horizontal position (unless the bird is a woodpecker).
The hollowing here is adequate but leaves quite thick walls, presumably to retain the depth of colour, which is unusually vibrant and as deep and gem-like a colour as is known in early examples of this stone for the snuff-bottle world. It is otherwise, well carved and finished, with an impressive clarity in the disposition of the potentially busy and confusing detail.
The stopper is a rarity and makes a considerable difference to the formal dynamic of this bottle. Carved from a piece of jadeite with some striking emerald-green colouring in patches, the bird-form not only makes a very practical stopper that is easy to handle, but also a particularly appropriate one for a bottle of this naturalistic form. Even the colour contrast is conceptually intriguing, setting one gemstone against another, both of which are mutually enhancing.
For another amethyst bottle of fine, deep colour and similar form (a double gourd with branches and leaves in relief), see White 1990, plate 55, no. 2, and for a glass version imitating amethyst and also of gourd- or melon-form, see Hui, Polak, and Sin 1991, no. 141. The existence of glass and hardstone examples that are similar also lends weight to the possibility of an imperial source.