Snuff bottles formerly in the Mary and George Bloch collection (lots 100-146)
A turquoise matrix snuff bottle
Qing dynasty, 1730-1880 Of natural pebble form, sold with accompanying watercolour by Peter Suart. 4.6cm high.
Provenance 來源: Robert Hall (1987)
Illustrated 出版: Robert Kleiner, Yang Boda, and Clarence F. Shangraw, Chinese Snuff Bottles: A Miniature Art from the Collection of George and Mary Bloch, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1994, no. 244 Hugh Moss, Victor Graham and Ka Bo Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles. The Mary and George Bloch Collection, Volume 3, Hong Kong, 1998, no.418
Exhibited 展覽: Robert Hall, London, October 1987 Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum, Singapore, November 1994February 1995
Turquoise is a crypto-crystalline aggregate with crystals so fine that the stone is considered practically amorphous. Although the composition varies, it is a hydrous copper aluminium phosphate with some iron. Its hardness on the Mohs scale is slightly less than 6. It is found in a number of places around the world, including Persia, the Sinai Peninsula and Russia. It appears to have been mined in Tibet, where it is one of the most valued stones in the culture, although because of its value the exact whereabouts of the mines has long been shrouded in mystery. Marco Polo spoke of the existence of turquoise in what he called Caindu, which has been identified as modern-day Sichuan province, then largely inhabited by Tibetan tribes, so it is possible that the Tibetans simply used the stone there and gave the impression it was mined locally. It was mined in China, in Zhushan County, Yunxi County, and Yun County in Hubei province, but this is documented only for the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Xinjiang, old exhausted turquoise mines still exist in Hami, which was the first Turkic oasis to ask to be a protectorate of the Qing (in 1697). Until the war with the Zunghars, trade between Hami and Beijing flourished, and after the extermination of the Zunghars in 1759, Hami was one of the areas of the vanquished empire in which the Qing were able to have a significant military and civilian presence (which was not the case in the nephrite-producing areas about 1800 km further west). Whether turquoise was part of the tribute that would have resumed is unknown. In any case, imports by sea must have been significant.
Most turquoise snuff bottles are of a distinctly green colour that is attributable to the absorption of oils from the hand with much use, and certainly turquoise is susceptible to this, but it is also true that some turquoise is bluer than others, Persian material, notably, and some from North America. The Tibetan and Chinese material was found originally both as green and blue, and much of what was used in the snuff-bottle world would have started life as green material. To the Qing Chinese, the stone was known as lüsongshi ('green pine stone'), whether green or blue, suggesting that green was the more common colour, but according to the General Gazetteer of Hubei, pale blue was held to be the most valuable colour. Another indication that the two colours were equally used, and to some extent equally valued, is found in the number of porcelain copies of the material where some copy blue and some green material. This is good evidence, since enamels on porcelain do not discolour through handling, as the real material would.