1770-1870 Sold with accompanying watercolour by Peter Suart 4.96cm high.
Treasury 1, no. 187
A jadeite 'squirrel and melon' snuff bottle
Jadeite; well hollowed and carved in the form of a flattened melon, the surface surrounded by a severed section of vine from which leaves, tendrils, and a flower grow and on which two squirrels climb 17701870 Height: 4.96 cm Mouth: 0.55 cm Stopper: coral in the shape of a twig Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart
Condition: small nibble to the ear of the one squirrel
Provenance: Hugh M. Moss Ltd. Cyril Green Christie's, New York, 22 September 1987, lot 217 J. J. Lally & Co. (1987) Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (Hong Kong, 1987)
Published: Hall 1990, p. 22, Plate O. Arts of Asia, SeptemberOctober 1990, p. 95 Treasury 1, no. 187
This material is so distinctive that all of the known pieces in it would appear to have come from one boulder that may have been utilized in a single workshop. Although it could have been carved during the late Qianlong period, the most likely date is from the early nineteenth century. The material is lovely, evenly and very pleasantly coloured, and remarkably free from disfiguring flaws, even though the colour would not have excited much interest among jewellers.
There has been some question as to whether the animals portrayed are rats or mice, or squirrels. Although the tails are thinner than those normally depicted on squirrels, they are definitely intended to convey an impression of bushiness, being incised with a series of fur-like lines extending outwards from the centre of a tail that is thicker than what would be found on a rat or a mouse. The symbolism of the design showing squirrels on a melon would be the same as for squirrels on a grape vine. The squirrel is very prolific and the melon produces numerous seeds, like grapes, both suggesting numerous progeny. This meaning is reinforced by the multiple tendrils of the vine which, in turn, suggest continuity of the family line.
Jadeite was imported into China in significant quantities only from the mid-Qianlong period onwards. In Treasury 1, we observed that James Watt noted what he considered a clear reference to jadeite even prior to the Qing dynasty. In the famous late Ming connoisseur Wen Zhenheng's Zhangwu zhi [A record of superfluous things], juan 7, this comment appears: 'The fashionable stone which is clear like crystal and green (kingfisher) in colour, is what was known in the past as pi. It is not jade' (Watt 1980, p. 30). Wen Zhenheng lived from 1584 to 1645, and the book is variously considered to have been finished in 1620 or 1627. Unfortunately, the passage quoted is not an unambiguous reference to jadeite, even though it refers to cuise, 'kingfisher-green colour', and the common word for jadeite is feicui, 'kingfisher'; or perhaps Watt was confused by pi (pinyin: bi), which is often used with no mineralogical specificity; he may have thought it referred to jadeite. Wen explicitly states that the stone is clear (tongming) like crystal, which means that the material he had in mind was either a very high grade of jadeite or, more likely, green chalcedony. (See the National Palace Museum's Wenwu guanghua 2 1989, p. 95, for a thorough consideration of the question.)
Nevertheless, Burmese jadeite was probably known, if not particularly valued, before the Qianlong period. And if it was known, it may have been used occasionally for snuff bottles, just as many other materials of humble status were carved into snuff bottles. We may expect, therefore, to find the occasional exception to the rule that jadeite bottles are unlikely to predate the late Qianlong period. One such bottle has recently come to light. Lot 72 in Christie's New York, 18 October 1993, is very obviously first-phase Suzhou carving and probably dates from the first half of the eighteenth centurya point missed by everyone at the time (it was catalogued as nineteenth century without any reference to Suzhou, and its price certainly did not reflect its extraordinary importance as a jade snuff bottle or its contribution to the question of the importation of jadeite into China). The bottle went to the Grimberg Collection in Singapore and was in the recent sale of that collection by Sotheby's, New York, 14 September 2010, lot 81.