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A Baroque pearl, crystal, glass and gold snuff bottle. snuff bottle, attributed to Guangzhou, 1760–1799. photo Bonhams

3.92cm high. Sold for HK$840,000

Footnote: Treasury 7, 1659

異形珍珠、水晶、玻璃、 金鼻煙壺
御製品,推定為廣州作,1760~1799

The Emperor's Southern Pearl

Baroque pearl, crystal, transparent red and green glass, and gold; well hollowed with flat lips and no functional foot; the baroque pearl body asymmetrically encased around the upper area with gold, giving way to a formal, waisted neck, the mantle encrusted with clusters of red and green glass and faceted crystal; Imperial, attributed to Guangzhou, 1760–1799; Height: 3.92 cm 6 Mouth/lip: 0.39/1.02 cm; Stopper: pearl; gold finial; gold collar with integral 'cork' and spoon; original; Condition: perfect

Provenance: Private Italian collection formed in the late 1940s (by repute)
Giorgio Irneri, Lugano (1973)
Robert Kleiner (2001)

Published: Treasury 7, 1659

Commentary: There can be little question that this was made as an imperial gift, and given its similarities to the two pairs of bottles Treasury 7, nos. 1660-1663, we can also be reasonably certain of a Guangzhou origin for reasons given there. By the Qing dynasty pearls were highly valued as gems, and used to decorate the hats of the emperor, empress and imperial concubines, and according to Cammann (JICSBS, Summer 1985, p. 16), the laws of the later-Qing, announced during the Qianlong reign, confined the use of a pearl-bead necklace to the emperor. Even the heir-apparent was not allowed to wear a necklace of Eastern Pearls (fresh-water pearls from rivers north of the Great Wall). Freshwater pearls were plentiful in China during the Qing dynasty, found in rivers from Guandong province to north of the Great Wall. They would also have been imported from the many different sea-pearl producing areas within trading distance of Chinese ports, and probably from as far afield as India and Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka). An enormous pearl like this, kitted out with solid gold, is highly likely to have ended up being presented to the emperor, probably as impressive tribute. The workmanship suggests that it was made for the Qianlong emperor. Apart from being typical of the more baroque side of his taste, the matching pearl stopper here is also likely to have been made specifically with the emperor in mind. The similarities between snuff-bottle stoppers and court hats, both imperial and official, has been noted before, and we have found that whenever we find an obviously original pearl stopper of this sort, it accompanies an imperial bottle which could easily have been used by the emperor himself. In this case, even the spoon is made of gold. Only one other baroque pearl of anything like comparable quality exists, the famous one in the Oakland Museum collection with its green jadeite shoulder mantel of leaves (see Jutheau 1980, p. 131, fig. 1; Williams 1977, p. 21, no. 520, also in JICSBS, December 1977, p. 29, fig. 60; JICSBS, Summer 1984, p. 13, fig. 17; JICSBS, Summer 1998, p. 15, fig. 39 top, and Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty 1978, no. 101). That, too, is likely to have been made for the emperor.

Further evidence of the Guangzhou origins of the present bottle is provided by an extraordinary double-gourd snuff bottle in the Royal Ontario Museum (kept, intriguingly, in the European Department - no. 928.29.272, illustrated in JICSBS, Winter 1989, p. 5, fig. 18). The compressed form has a European watch inset in the lower bulb surrounded by encrusted red glass (presumably) and pearls. It has a matching stopper inset with a band of small pearls, and was probably also made as a gift for the emperor. The integration of watches and clocks into fancy works of art, frequently with inlaid gems or more often glass, to be presented to the emperor was standard at Guangzhou during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Another related bottle, simply encrusted with a formalized floral design in green and red glass with the centres of the flowers in either glass, as catalogued, or possibly crystal was in Christie's, Hong Kong, 3 May 1994, lot 924 (also illustrated in JICSBS, Spring 1994, p. 34 lower left).

This spectacular little gem, in both the literal and metaphoric sense, is one of the great imperial snuff bottles. It is unique, outrageously impressive, and gorgeous. It is one of the crowning glories of the Bloch Collection and, given that George Bloch was an expert on the subject of pearls and one of the many sources of the funding for the collection was a dealership in pearls which he maintained as a side-line until quite recently, it seems entirely appropriate that it should have come into the collection.

皇帝的南洋珠寶

異形珍珠、水晶、透明紅色、綠色玻璃、金;掏膛完整,平唇、無功能的底足,異形珍珠腹上部以金覆罩,鑲嵌有玻璃和刻面的水晶,其上為縮腰頸

御製品,推定為廣州作,1760~1799
高:3.92 厘米
口經/唇經:0.39/1.02厘米
蓋:珍珠,金鈕,金座與塞、匙為一體
狀態敘述:完善

來源:1940年代形成的意大利私人珍藏(根據傳聞)
Georgio Irneri,,盧加諾(1973)
Robert Klein (2001)
文獻﹕Treasury 7,編號1659

說明:本壺毫無疑問是為了進貢而作的。考慮嵌玻璃的金覆罩,大概是廣州作的。按清代冠服制度,珍珠的飾用有詳細的規定。隨便舉例子﹕據《大清會典事列》,"皇子冬朝冠......十一月朔至上元用青狐......飾東珠十......夏朝冠......飾東珠五......飾東珠四......朝珠不得用東珠......朝帶......每具飾東珠四......皇子福晉朝冠......飾東珠十......飾東珠各七。小珍珠 三十九......垂珠三行二就"等等。看本壺巴羅克風格,一定為乾隆皇帝所喜愛,而相匹配的珠蓋呈現像清代朝冠的形式,我們早就發覺到了,看到顯然為原件的這類珍珠蓋,總是跟合理地視為御用鼻煙壺搭配的。再說,連匙都是黃金作的。可相比的只有帶翡翠覆、罩很有名氣的奧克蘭博物館收藏的那一件;參見Jutheau 1980, 頁131,圖1;Williams 1977, 頁21,編號520;《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, 1977年12月,頁29,圖60;同,1984年夏季刊,頁13 ,圖17;同,1998夏季刊,頁15,圖39上;以及Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty 1978, 編號101。那件也概是為了進貢而作的。

皇家安大略博物館藏的另一件煙壺可當為廣州出產此類珍珠鼻煙壺的旁證。它是卓越的細腰葫蘆形壺,扁身,下腹嵌入洋懷錶,錶周圍嵌紅玻璃(據推測)與小珠,相配的蓋也嵌小珍珠一圈(歐州部所藏,928.29.272,Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, 1989年冬期,頁5,圖18)。十七、十八世紀,廣州的工藝匠經常把懷錶和精巧別致的進貢品結合起來,它們也常常呈鑲嵌的玻璃塊和寶石。皇家安大略博物館的那件煙壺一定是貢品。可比配的還有佳士得,香港,1994年5 月3 日,拍賣品號925(Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, 1994年春期,頁34,下左)。

Bonhams. Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I, 28 May 2010 to 29 May 2010. JW Marriott Hotel www.bonhams.com