Imperial glassworks, Beijing, 1730-1780 Sold with accompanying watercolour by Peter Suart 5.9cm high.
Treasury 5, no. 814
A glass 'lotus and fish' snuff bottle
Transparent, pale ruby-pink glass with a few sparsely scattered small air bubbles; with a flat lip and slightly recessed, slightly convex foot surrounded by a protruding footrim made up of elements of the design; carved on each main side with a convex circular panel, one containing a lotus plant, the other a carp set above formalized waves from which grow reeds, enclosed within a simulated rope frame, the narrow sides with three panels, all framed within similar rope borders and containing six of the Eight Buddhist Emblems with the wheel, the canopy, and the endless knot on one side, and the conch shell, umbrella, and vase on the other, the neck with a border of raised beads beneath a further rope border at the upper neck rim Imperial glassworks, Beijing, 1730-1780 Height: 5.9 cm Mouth/lip: 0.90/1.64 cm Stopper: jadeite; gilt-bronze collar
Condition: There is a tiny 0.1cm chip to the rope frame at the bottom of the bottle. There is scratching and wear from use. Otherwise, workshop condition
Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart
Provenance: Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1973) Irving Lindzon Christie's, London, 12 October 1987, lot 303
Published: JICSBS, Winter-Spring 1983, p. 29, fig. 2 JICSBS, Winter 1987, p. 29 Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 70 Treasury 5, no. 814
Exhibited: Creditanstalt, Vienna, May-June 1993 Hong Kong Museum of Art, March-June 1994 National Museum, Singapore, November 1994-February 1995
This is one of a series of Imperial bottles that we believe were probably produced during the Qianlong era, possibly beginning quite early in the reign. Usually of this substantial size, they have wide mouths and are made from a range of colourless glass mixed with just enough ruby-red (derived from colloidal gold) to render the material completely transparent while lending it a ruby blush. An almost identical bottle is to be found in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 355, where we cite many others and discuss the group, although we have revised our dating a little since then). The same design is also found in other colours including yellow, which reinforces the Imperial attribution (the Smith Collection, in the Field Museum, Chicago, JICSBS, June 1972, p. 15, fig. 1), as does extensive use of rope borders, a known feature of palace decoration during the eighteenth century.
We noted in relation to the J & J example that only six of the Eight Buddhist Emblems, symbols of a generally auspicious nature, were depicted on the narrow sides, because only six panels remained for decoration given that the foot and neck took up one panel each. The missing symbolsthe pair of fish and the lotuswere cleverly represented by the subjects on the main-side panels.
This series of bottles was obviously made from the same original design, and many may have been blown into the same mould, although all surface decoration is added by the lapidary, evidence of which is supplied by differences in the carving. It seems likely that once the design was approved, an order was placed for a quantity that, since so many have survived from the eighteenth century, must have been substantial. The ruby-blush glass is so distinctive and so similar across the pink examples (despite differences in the variegation between pink and colourless glass, and varying intensities of the pinks themselves) that they may have been the result of a single, artistic impulse rather than a standard repeated over a long period.
They remain one of the loveliest groups of Imperial, faceted glass bottles and are uniformly impressive, with excellent formal integrity and superb carving. Doubtless, they were originally endowed with a lovely surface polish, both inside and out, which is characteristic of most of the surviving examples.
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