A very rare erotic hornbill snuff bottle in a lacquered case Qianlong, dated by inscription to AD1752 and of the period
Lot 294Y
A very rare erotic hornbill snuff bottle in a lacquered case
Qianlong, dated by inscription to AD1752 and of the period
£30,000 - 50,000
US$ 50,000 - 84,000
withdrawn
Auction Details
A very rare erotic hornbill snuff bottle in a lacquered case Qianlong, dated by inscription to AD1752 and of the period
Lot Details
A very rare erotic hornbill snuff bottle in a lacquered case
Qianlong, dated by inscription to AD1752 and of the period
The lacquered case simply decorated with applied tortoiseshell leaves, opening to reveal a hidden hornbill snuff bottle carved with an erotic scene in European taste of a couple in a garden beside a large applied red leaf, flanked on one side by a fierce dragon and on the other by a phoenix, both cleverly highlighted with the distinctive bright orange outer casing, the reverse with an inscription, stopper with spoon. The bottle 5.4cm (2¼in) high, the case 7cm (2¾in) high (4).

Footnotes

  • 清乾隆(1752年) 象牙雕春宮圖鼻煙壺,配漆殼

    Hornbill is one of the most rare and treasured of all materials, and it is particularly sought after by connoisseurs of snuff bottles. The now-endangered bird is native to southeast Asia, and only the front few centimetres of the casque is usable for carving. For a discussion on the appreciation and rarity of hornbill snuff bottles, see H.Moss (ed), Chinese Snuff Bottles, No.5, 1969, pp.83-88.

    The erotic subject matter, so cunningly hidden in an innocuous lacquer and tortoiseshell casing, makes this piece all the more remarkable. Chinese artists and connoissuers were known to enjoy such a humorous approach to the erotic, often concealing the main images in order to increase the element of surprise for the viewer. No other snuff bottle carved with this kind of erotic design and concealed in a lacquer casing is known to have been published.

    On the back there is an inscription taken from a late Tang poem entitled 'Offered to Secretary Zhang on the eve of the government examination' 近試上張水部 by the mysterious Zhu Qingyu (dates unknown) which reads:

    洞房昨夜停紅燭,
    待曉堂前拜舅姑.
    妝罷低聲問夫婿,
    畫眉深淺入時無.

    This may be translated as:

    Last night the red wedding-chamber candles extinguished.
    Waiting till dawn before the hall, the bride bows to the parents.
    She has finished preparing; meekly she asks
    Are my eyebrows painted in fashion?


    This is a particularly interesting poem where the voice is androgynous. The poet compares himself, an examinee, to a bride, who enters the exam hall with trepidation bowing to the examiner i.e. the 'parents in law'. The question of whether his or her eyebrows are painted in fashion has another level of meaning, that is, whether his essay writing style is in fashion or not for the exam.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that this lot has been withdrawn.
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  1. Christine Mitchell
    Auction Administration - Chinese Works of Art
    Bonhams
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    United Kingdom
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  2. Olivia Hamilton
    Specialist - Chinese Works of Art
    Bonhams
    Work
    101 New Bond Street
    London, W1S 1SR
    United Kingdom
    Work +44 20 7468 8236
    FaxFax: +44 20 7468 5840