Coral; well hollowed but leaving a deep inner foot area, with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; carved with oval panels on each main side, one with two scholars standing chatting beneath a pine tree in a mountainous landscape, the other with an open pavilion rising from waves offshore from a rocky bank on which a mature pine tree grows, the panels enclosed in formalized clouds from which parts of a four-clawed dragon can be seen Possibly imperial, 17001770 Height: 4.22 cm Mouth/lip: 0.68 and 0.55 (oval)/.95 and 0.8 (oval) Stopper: gilt-enamel on porcelain, moulded with a formalized floral design, with integral finial and collar; John Charlton, London, circa 1971
Condition: Miniscule chips to mouth and foot; restored section of approx 1cm to body.
Provenance: Alice B. McReynolds Sotheby's, Los Angeles, 31 October 1984, lot 128
Published: JICSBS, September 1975, p. 17 Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, pp. 88 and 136, no. 125 Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 279 Kleiner 1995, no. 307 Treasury 3, no. 434
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, OctoberDecember 1978 Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum, Singapore, November 1994February 1995 British Museum, London, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997
This snuff bottle probably dates from the Yongzheng or early Qianlong period, although we have left a broader dating range to allow for it being earlier, which is by no means out of the question. It is of lovely colour and delightful workmanship and must rank as one of the great coral snuff bottles, and certainly as one of the rarest. Although it would accord, materially, formally, and stylistically with what we know to have been court taste of the eighteenth century, the dragon in the clouds has only four claws. Four-clawed dragons are unequivocally not for the emperor, but that does not preclude imperial manufacture. Vast numbers of bottles were made by the court to be distributed as gifts, and since most of those granted the use of the dragon in its four-clawed variety, there is no reason why imperial workshops should not have made bottles as gifts to courtiers.
Another imperial link is the form, which may be taken from the field of ceramics. It is of somewhat similar appearance to the exquisite and also very small imperial enamelled glass bottle in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 186), which can be dated to the first two decades of the Qianlong period and is definitely from the palace workshops. Both are decorated with panels of figure subjects, and are of this general shape, although the enamelled bottle has a flared neck and slightly higher shoulders.
The last factor in favour of an imperial attribution, and possibly one to the palace workshops, is the exaggerated depth of foot left in the hollowing, which is otherwise unusually extensive for a coral bottle. This is what we would expect in a bottle designed for display (as a sign of imperial favour), for the heavier foot provides some measure of stability. These small bottles do not fit so comfortably in the hand; they are too small and delicate. They may fit between the fingers, but in the palm of the hand, where a normal-sized bottle is comfortable and, in most cases, sensuously tactile, they are usually too delicate and fragile to feel comfortable.