Probably Imperial, attributable to the palace workshops, Beijing, 1736-1799 6.04cm high.
Treasury 1, no. 82
青玉雕褔紋梅瓶式鼻煙壺 擬御製品，傳宮廷作坊，北京， 1736～1799
A green nephrite 'bats' snuff bottle
Nephrite; well hollowed, with a flat foot; carved with three bats, each facing upwards towards the neck Probably imperial, attributable to the palace workshops, Beijing, 17361799 Height: 6.04 cm Mouth/lip: 0.74/1.35 cm Stopper: nephrite; with integral collar, finial and 'cork'; original
Exhibited: British Museum, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1997
Variations on the meiping ('prunus-blossom vase') form appear to have been popular at the court. There are several bottles of this shape that can be attributed to the Qianlong palace workshops (see, for instance, Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, nos. 36 and 37; Chang Lin-sheng 1991, nos. 125 and 126; Geng and Zhao 1992, nos. 249, 250, and 267, Sale 1, lot 79, and Treasury 1, nos. 76 and 8385). This bottle also has a typical palace stopper with its integral finial and flat-sided collar. The 'cork' is also carved from the same piece of stone and drilled to hold a spoon. It is made somewhat narrower than the diameter of the mouth to allow for it to be wrapped with a very thin layer of real cork to act as a seal.
All of these features would allow a reasonable attribution to the palace workshops. On top of this, however, the distinctive type of jade provides us with a further compelling reason to believe that this bottle is the product of an imperial workshop.
The green of this material is quite unlike any other and appears in a series of larger objects made for the court, some of which bear credible Qianlong marks. There is a tea bowl made for the Qianlong emperor's personal use, marked Qianlong yuyong and inscribed with one of his poems dated to 1758 that appears to be of this material (see Zhongguo yuqi quanji, vol. 6, p. 32). There are also a few pieces in the Vetlesen Collection that appear to be the same material, although the illustrations in Vetlesen and Nott 1939 are in black and white, making positive identification difficult; in vol. 2 (no. 66, p. 86) there is a segment of what Nott believed was the personal altar of the Qianlong emperor, with imperial dragons in waves, and in vol. 3 (no. 125, p. 208), a magnificent wine-vessel decorated with typical Qianlong archaism and bearing the mark, Qianlong fanggu ('Qianlong, copying antiquity'); despite the identifying mark, it is inexplicably listed by Nott as being mid-Ming dynasty). Another piece, also bearing the Qianlong fanggu mark and illustrated in black-and-white but noted in Hugh Moss records as being of this material, is a large vase with aquatic creatures, rope borders, and mask-and-ring handles, also certainly imperial and probably from the palace workshops (Wills 1972, no. 88). One further piece, a magnificent vase with mask-and-ring handles and typical Qianlong palace archaism, bearing the mark Da Qing Qianlong fanggu ('Copying antiquity in the Qianlong period of the Great Qing dynasty') and very obviously by the same workshop at the same sort of time as no. 125 in the Vetlesen Collection, was sold by Sotheby's, New York, 26 November 1991, lot 36. It is illustrated in colour. Other examples are known, and all are of pure Qianlong imperial style. It may be a case of a limited supply of the material, either from a massive boulder or from a particular vein in a mine being exclusively or largely reserved for imperial use. Although rather better hollowed than some imperial snuff bottles attributable to the palace workshops, this example still has the relatively wide mouth that, although by no means exclusive to palace production, was a standard of it.
The design of three bats rising off the shoulders is unique, and it is perhaps surprising, given the imperial penchant for suspension cords on snuff bottles and for loop handles, that the bats' heads were not adapted for cord loops. The form is particularly pleasing, with the gentle convex curve of the main body balanced elegantly by the concave curve of the shoulders, which is then carried upwards by the gentle flare of the upper neck and the very slightly larger stopper, which, as a lovely final touch, has its flat-rimmed collar also very slightly flared to match the outward movement of the neck before once again changing the visual language to the echoing concave curve of the main stopper. This series of curving and flared surfaces, brought to a satisfying conclusion by the spherical finial at the top of the stopper, is in itself a considerable sculptural tour de force. It virtually dictated the orientation of the bats for the carver, since the entire visual momentum is upwards and is resolved only in the original globular finial.