A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880

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Lot 128
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle
1780-1880

Sold for HK$ 264,000 (US$ 34,038) inc. premium
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle
1780-1880
4.66cm high.

Footnotes

  • Treasury 7, no. 1595

    雀腦琥珀猿猴桃子鼻煙壺

    The Root of Success

    Slightly variegated, opaque yellow-ochre, and transparent reddish-brown amber (of the variety known as 'root amber'), the surface extensively crizzled, and emerald-green glass; carved in the form of section of a mature peach tree, with two leafy branches with blossoms, one with a single peach, the other with two, and with three gibbons, one holding another peach with a leaf attached, the eyes of the monkeys inlaid with green glass beads
    1780–1880
    Height: 4.66 cm
    Mouth: 0.66 cm
    Stopper: coral, carved as a twig; vinyl collar
    Condition: considerable overall age-cracking and crizzling, with one area surrounding the mouth that may have had original pieces re-glued after damage; some minor abrasion of the surface and overall softening of the detail; one green glass eye of one monkey missing. General relative condition: acceptable, given the fragility of the material and the high-flying relief

    Provenance:
    Hugh Moss (HK), Ltd (1986)
    Published:
    1987 exhibition poster
    Treasury 7, no. 1595

    Commentary:
    The material that we have come to know as 'root amber' (see under Treasury 7, no. 1575) has been put to delightful use in this unique bottle, giving the variations in colour a major role in the design. One gibbon is predominantly in the transparent brown colour; the rest of the composition is entirely in the opaque yellow-ochre colour. The effect of the differentiation is accentuated by inlaying the eyes in green glass, injecting a third colour dimension. This bottle may be assigned to a small group of irregular, sculptural, root-amber snuff bottles, probably dating from the mid-Qing period, whose members are always spectacular. Several of them share the subject of Meng Haoran and plum blossoms (see, for instance, Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 297). This unique design is one of the most appealing of the lot, to some extent because of the expressions of total bewilderment on the faces of all three gibbons, who seem to have no idea what they are doing picking peaches on a snuff bottles.

    The dating of so unique a bottle is difficult. If it does indeed come from the same group as the other pebble-form, root-amber bottles, that would suggest a mid-Qing date (from the second half of the Qianlong reign into the Daoguang). Such free-standing relief elements can be affiliated with an imperial preference during the second half of the eighteenth century for elaborate vessels, especially in ceramics and jade, with sculptural details in the round. A typical example might be a vase and cover set on an elaborate rock formation, with a fenghuang carved in the round to one side of the vase. In ceramics, bronze, or cloisonné, one finds vessels with children climbing on them and vessels ostensibly being held up by tribute bearers, to cite just two other motifs. In snuff bottles, similar vase forms are found, notably vases with figures of either boys or tribute bearers in the round. The same idea seems to have taken hold in imperial snuff-bottle production during the second half of the eighteenth century. They were less practical as snuff containers, of course, and were probably designed partly as novelties for the pleasure by those who owned many snuff bottles of different types and could afford to leave one or two dotted about the home. Such fancy forms were also popular again a little later, when foreign collectors entered the market, as their sculptural charms were attractive to collectors. Be that as it may, this bottle is well hollowed, compact, and functional: it does not look like a sculpture designed for a collector's cabinet. The extensive crizzling of the amber also suggests some considerable age, so a mid-Qing date is likely. The subject of the three gibbons would also be more suitable for a mid-Qing scholar than for a foreign collector, who would not understand or respond to the symbolism.

    A trio of gibbons has already been encountered in Treasury 2, no. 317, where a similar group is inscribed with a title that explains the rebus of the gibbons (yuan): Sanyuan tu (literally 'A picture of the three yuan'). The three yuan are the jieyuan, huiyuan, and zhuangyuan, distinguished titles awarded to the first-place holders of the three levels of civil examinations. The auspicious meaning of the title, then, is 'May you be at the top of all three levels of the civil service examination'. The first of these exams was held annually at the district level, and the successful candidate became a xiucai, thus qualifying for the second level, held triennially at the provincial capital. Passing that examination made one a juren. Finally, the candidate could sit for the third and final level of imperial examination, held occasionally at the capital (during the Qing dynasty it was held 111 times in 268 years), and attain his jinshi degree, leading to the likelihood of an official career, wealth, and power. A second layer of meaning on this bottle could be read if the two larger gibbons are perceived to be the parents of the smaller one: as a family, the group would imply the wish for progeny. The peaches, which are emblematic of longevity, provide yet another level of propitious meaning.

    三猴跳躍桃園空

    琥珀,不透明雄黃色與透明酡紅色相間("雀腦"琥珀),滿佈表面的微裂紋,青碧玻璃;雕桃樹幹、枝、花、桃子,有三個猿猴,一個手裏拿著一個桃子,猿猴眼睛嵌青碧玻璃

    1780~1880
    高:4.66 厘米
    口經:0.66厘米
    蓋:珊瑚,雕斷枝,乙烯基座
    狀態敘述:因材料陳舊,有相當多的微裂紋與裂縫,口緣或有脫而復粘的碎片,器面呈不緊要的磨損與蝕耗,一個猴之一球眼睛已告失蹤; 一般相對的狀況:看材料的易碎和浮雕的深度,尚可矣

    來源:
    Hugh Moss (HK), Ltd (1986)
    文獻:
    1987年展覽海報
    Treasury 7,編號1595

    說明:
    雕匠巧妙地利用了雀腦琥珀的斑紋來構成圖案。一頭猿是酡紅色或棕紅色的,此外都是雄黃色。猿猴眼睛嵌青碧玻璃真可謂畫龍點睛。本壺屬於一小批的不定形雕塑性的清中期雀腦鼻煙壺,視之皆爽心悅目。有的有探梅的題材,如Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, 編號297。本壺可算是其中最有魅力的,因為三頭猿猴明明不知道牠們在煙壺上摘桃子是幹甚麼的。真是一問三不知矣!

    如果本壺真的可以跟那一批雀腦煙壺聯合在一起,它大概是乾隆後半期到道光初期作的。十八世紀後半,五花八門、有獨特的瓷器與玉器在宮廷上一時風靡,也影響了鼻煙壺的設計。因為怕掉下來,具半獨立的人形、動物形雕塑成分的煙壺不太實用,最適宜當宮廷的陳擺物。後來,當歐美收藏家開始影響市場以後,這種鼻煙壺又熱起來了。不管怎樣,本壺掏規整,壺形緊湊,不像不實用的陳設物,再看琥珀面多微細裂紋,可推定為清中期的作品。

    再說,十八世紀的外國收藏家對這三頭猿猴的寓意一定一無所知,本壺不會是為那個市場作的吧。其實,中國工藝品上沒有尾巴的不一定是猿,猴子不一定有尾巴,主要是在繪畫上才有畫得一清二楚的長臂猿。但三頭猿的修飾具一定的寓意,即解元、會元、狀元的"三元",本壺的猿猴一定不是缺乏尾巴的猴子而是猿。因此,本壺大概不會是為了外國收藏家的市場作的。
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
A carved root amber 'monkey and peach' snuff bottle 1780-1880
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