A 'famille-verte' enamel on copper with gold 'European figures' snuff bottle
Guangzhou, 17051718 6.49cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1124
A 'famille-verte' enamelled copper 'European figures' snuff bottle
Famille verte enamels on copper, with gold; with a flat lip and protruding flared, deeply concave foot surrounded by a flat footrim, and with a vertical ridge of metal dividing the bottle in two along the narrow sides and two loop handles at the shoulders; painted on each main side with a foliate panel with European figures: one panel featuring a bare-chested young boy covering his mouth with one hand and looking guilty while being held by a woman who seems to be raising something above her head with which to strike him, while two men look on, one reclining on a kang; the other panel showing a woman seated on the floor beside a low table set with a bowl of fruit, a lingzhi, and a vase containing a branch of coral, holding a fruit in her hand while a long-haired boy runs toward her, his hand outstretched, a small dog playing at his feet, with a folding screen behind them painted with a design of sunrise and turbulent waves framed with a formalized, floral-diaper design; the panels surrounded by a formalized, scrolling floral design, the outer foot with a similar design, the foot covered with white enamel; the interior bare metal; the exposed outer areas of metal with traces of original gilding
Guangzhou, 17051718 Height: 6.49 cm Mouth/lip: 0.90/1.12 cm Stopper: gilt bronze, of formalized floral design; glass finial
Condition: Restoration on both of the narrow sides running along roughly two-thirds of each, with patches also painted out on the footrim; some natural wear from use; gilding mostly worn off. General relative condition: acceptable for so early an example
Provenance: Sotheby's, London, 3 December 1997, lot 522 Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd. (1998)
Published: Treasury 6, no. 1124
It is possible that enamelling on metal was introduced to Guangzhou a few years before it was established at the Beijing palace workshops, but since we cannot be certain of the exact date of introduction at either centre, all we can say for certain is that the art was introduced to both centres at some time during the first two decades of the eighteenth century and, in the case of Guangzhou, almost certainly prior to 1712. Evidence for the date comes from a small, rectangular panel painted with a Western woman in a landscape (Gillingham 1978, no. 13) that Moss examined closely and photographed many years ago. Many such panels were made in the early years of the Guangzhou workshops, partly for inlay into larger works of art such as furniture, but also because a flat panel was the simplest form on which to practise while mastering the art. Although one part of the panel decoration Moss examined was painted in pink, part of the newly introduced famille rose palette, the rest was painted in traditional famille verte enamels. The back was covered in a poorly controlled, dark, speckled, turquoise-blue enamel. The inscription found on the back is only partly legible due to this poor control of the medium, but part of it is clearly a date. Gillingham's catalogue entry is silent on the matter, but the second character of the two-character cyclical date is legible as chen; the first is only partly legible, but is likely to be ren. The renchen year corresponds to 1712. The previous cyclical date ending in chen is gengchen, corresponding to 1700; this is not entirely out of the question as a date for the object, but it is difficult to reconcile what is legible of the first character with geng. The next cyclical ending in chen comes twelve years later, of course, in 1724, but we know that by this time the new palette of enamels was fully incorporated at Guangzhou and the art had been perfected to a level far beyond that exhibited by this experimental panel. If we accept the most likely date of the panel as 1712, the introduction of the art form took place at time prior to that date. How long prior to 1712 is uncertain; if there were only one workshop established in Guangzhou when this panel was produced, we might assume that it was the product of a very early phase in the introduction of the art and conclude that enamelling began around 1711 or 1712; however, there may have been other workshops already at more advanced stages of development.