Palace workshops, Qianlong silver-inlaid four-character mark and of the period, 17501799 5.06cm high.
Treasury 7, no. 1636
A bronze 'pocketwatch' snuff bottle
Bronze, silver, and gold; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; the bronze body inlaid with silver and gold, on one main side with a copy of a European watch face with Roman numerals, the hands set at twelve, with a second hand at forty-eight seconds, the inlay predominantly silver but with a single gold ring around the silver arbor, and on the other with a framed, circular panel with one of the Eight Daoist Immortals, Lü Dongbin, his sword strapped to his back, holding a fly whisk and standing in a rocky landscape with lingzhi and formalized clouds, the sword-hilt, belt, eyes, and the ferrule of the fly-whisk in gold, the rest in silver, with a band of pendant, formalized leaf lappets around the neck, the narrow sides with mask handles, the rings inlaid in silver; the foot inscribed in inlaid silver regular script, Qianlong nian zhi (Made during the Qianlong era) Palace workshops, 17501799 Height: 5.06 cm Mouth/lip: 0.47/1.15 cm Stopper: bronze; inlaid with a formalized flower head in silver, with a line of silver to define the collar, with integral silver spoon; original
Condition: Surface patinated and some slight wear to the gold and silver inlay; otherwise, workshop condition
Provenance: Sotheby's, New York, 25 June 1981, lot 545 Hugh M. Moss Ltd (1981) J & J Collection Christie's, New York, 30 March 2005, lot 45
Published: Arts of Asia, JulyAugust 1986, p. 55 JICSBS, Winter 1989, p. 12, fig 20 Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 262 Becker 1996, J & J, p. 20 Scott 1997, p. 20 National Museum of History 2002, p. 56 Poly Art Museum 2003, p. 128 JICSBS, Winter 2003, p. 17, fig. 13 JICSBS, Autumn 2005, p. 9, fig. 22 Scitech Trends, NovemberDecember 2006, Beijing, p. 141 Treasury 7, no. 1636
Exhibited: Christie's, New York, 1993 Empress Place Museum, Singapore, 1994 Museum für Kunsthandwerk, Frankfurt, 19961997 Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, 1997 Naples Museum of Art, Naples, FL, 2002 Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR, 2002 National Museum of History, Taipei, 2002 International Asian Art Fair, Seventh Regiment Armory, New York, 2003 Poly Art Museum, Beijing, 2003
This bottle has been subjected to damp conditions at some stage. This is obvious from the interior, which is coated with turquoise-blue verdigris sufficiently thick that it resembles the deliberate turquoise-blue interiors of painted enamel on metal snuff bottles from the palace workshops. It results, of course, from the effects of damp on the copper content in the bronze and is no different from the usually heavier build-up of blue, green, or reddish encrusted patina found on ancient bronzes buried in damp conditions. At some stage, long ago, the bottle ceased to be used. Snuff would have dried out the interior in any case, but had it been used for snuff, the owner would have had to keep the interior dry. Standing for a long period of time with a damp interior sealed in by the original stopper, the bottle had conditions that were ideal to transform the surface of the bronze into a brilliant turquoise-blue colour.
The presence of the sweep second hand allows us to tentatively date this bottle to the second half of the eighteenth century. This innovation in watchmaking would not have become known in China until the second half of the century.
Inlay work with gold and silver wire was done at a special workshop at the palace, and a great deal of it survives, often in the form of fancy inlaid wood stands for works of art. Bronze casting was also done at the palace workshops. Watches were a well-known Chinese courtly obsession throughout the Qing dynasty, but particularly in the eighteenth century. The style of the mask handles is typical of the palace workshops, with the lifelike, rather canine faces, and the four-character reign mark in regular script was a palace standard.
A valuable lesson in judging bronze bottles by their patina on an individual basis, which we have warned against elsewhere, is confirmed yet again by the state of this bottle. When published in 1993, it was of an even, coppery colour. In little more than a dozen years it has already become much darker, with a film of brown all over the exterior. This could be easily cleaned, of course, but it is an indication of how quickly the colour of bronze can change.
Whatever its colour, this remains one of the rarest of palace snuff bottles, combining a lovely shape with intriguing decoration and exemplary workmanship. (See also Sale 1, lot 137.) It also retains its original stopper and spoon, again confirming the palace standard for a long shaft, small oval bowl, and overall length reaching within a millimetre or two of the bottom of the inside of bottle. The great advantage of this watch over the real thing, of course, is that after we have written all this, prostrated ourselves on the chapel floor for past errors, done a little research, and narrowed down the dating of the bottle to the second half of the Qianlong reign, it is still twelve seconds to twelve.
文獻﹕ Arts of Asia, JulyAugust 1986, p. 55 《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》，1989年冬期，頁 12, 圖20 Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, 編號 262 Becker 1996, J & J, p. 20 Scott 1997, p. 20 National Museum of History 2002, p. 56 Poly Art Museum 2003, p. 128 《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》，2003年冬期，頁 17, 圖 13 《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》，2005年秋期，頁 9, 圖 22 Scitech Trends, 2006年11月至12月, 北京, 頁141 Treasury 7, 編號 1636
展覽﹕ 紐約佳士得，1993 Empress Place Museum, 新加坡, 1994 Museum für Kunsthandwerk, Frankfurt, 19961997 Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, 倫敦, 1997 Naples Museum of Art, Naples, FL, 2002 Portland Art Museum, 波蘭, OR, 2002 National Museum of History, 台北, 2002 International Asian Art Fair, Seventh Regiment Armory, 紐約, 2003 Poly Art Museum, 北京, 2003