Bronze; with a flat lip and protruding flat foot; moulded in two halves joined vertically at the narrow sides; with raised panels on four sides, those on the main sides acting as flat integral snuff dishes; the main-side panels undecorated and surrounded by an engraved design of confronting four-clawed dragons, their bodies stamped to indicate scales, amidst formalized clouds with a flaming pearl between them above the panel and further clouds at the base, the narrow-side panels engraved with flowers, with formalized flames above and below the panels; the foot engraved in regular script Shunzhi yuannian Cheng Rongzhang zao (Made by Cheng Rongzhang in the first year of the Shunzhi period) with one seal of the artist, Rong The Shunzhi Bronze Forger, 18301920 Height: 5.66 cm Mouth/lip: 0.70/1.67 cm Stopper: amethyst; gilt-bronze collar
Condition: Vertical scratch in central panel, some surface abrasions from use; otherwise, workshop condition
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum of Singapore, November 1994January 1995 British Museum, London, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997
The group of bronze snuff bottles dated to the first ten years of the Shunzhi reign (and, therefore, of Manchu rule over China) was generally accepted as genuine among collectors until the last decade of the twentieth century. The present consensus, however, is that they are likely to be late-Qing wares produced by an extremely clever faker working, no doubt, primarily for a collectors' market. If the bottles themselves are fakes, we have no way of knowing whether the name Cheng Rongzhang is that of the maker or simply an invented name, so we have coined for him the name 'Shunzhi Bronze Forger.'
This example is one of the few bearing a seal as well as a signature. The seal, Rong, is part of the name the forger used. Although we do not have reliable details of the inscriptions on every recorded bottle, two others have seals (although both are Cheng, the family name, rather than Rong). One of them is dated to the sixth year of Shunzhi, the other to the ninth. When of bronze, Cheng Rongzhang bottles are constructed of two moulded halves soldered together along the narrow sides. Many metal smiths in China who worked in bronze also produced copper wares, and as often as not they would beat the copper wares into shape from sheets of metal. At least two of the bottles from the Cheng Rongzhang group are in beaten copper.