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A Famille-Rose porcelain ‘Landscape and Imperial Poem’ snuff bottle, attributed to Tang Ying, Seal mark and period of Qianlong. Estimate 4,000,0005,000,000 HKD. Lot sold 6,280,000 HKD. Photo Sotheby’s

4.3 cm., 1 3/4  in.

PROVENANCE: Robert Hall, 1996.
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd., 1996.

LITERATURE: Lindsey Hall, ‘Trompe L’Oeil and Chinese Snuff Bottles – Part Two: An Examination of Porcelain Imitations’,Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, Autumn 1998, p. 8. fig. 20.
Hugh Moss, Victor Graham and Ka Bo Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles: The Mary and George Bloch Collection, vol. 6, Hong Kong, 2007, no. 1150.

NOTE: This is one of a pair of identical bottles from a single source (the other is in a private collection in Hong Kong), not unusual in imperial ceramic production. They are in extraordinary condition, with only the slightest evidence of having been used, and one may assume that they remained protected in the imperial collection for long enough to become highly valued as collector’s items and placed beyond use. They represent the zenith of enamelling on porcelain in the snuff-bottle world and can be associated with Tang Ying, the supervisor of the imperial kilns during the early Qianlong period and probably the 1740s.

They also introduce a new method of decorating with enamels: a monochrome enamel ground is engraved with a pattern that allows the white underlayer of enamel to show through and contribute to the design. This was apparently one of many innovations from Tang Ying’s superintendence of the imperial kilns.

The mark here was apparently written with black or dark-blue enamel on a transparent enamel ground, although the darker pigment has eaten into the enamel to such an extent that it gives the impression of being beneath it. Stylistically, the bottle is typical of Guangzhou, and the seal-script mark is unlikely for a Beijing palace enamel, where regular script was the standard calligraphy for marks;  the bottle may be an early-Qianlong order from Guangzhou.

While it is true that the Qianlong chenhan seal is rare on snuff bottles, it does appear quite frequently on other ceramics produced for the emperor—some bearing his poems, and most associated with Tang Ying’s directorship of the imperial kilns.Qianlong chenhan appears four times on one piece in the imperial collection, albeit separated into two seals, one above the other, which the relative surplus of space allowed. Another pair of vases has the seals after an imperial poem written in 1736. The Qianlong chenhan seal can be associated with Jingdezhen production in 1742 and 1743. In private correspondence with Peter Lam, the archives show that six pairs of wall vases (sometimes referred to as ‘sedan-chair vases’ because they were sometimes hung on the wall of an enclosed sedan-chair to hold flowers) were ordered with imperial poems and this seal. One is in the National Palace Museum.

The poem reads


Crying cicadas clutch the sparse branches.
A white boat sails leisurely on the clear rapids.
The wind and dew, with morning, are chill and light.
I stretch my gaze beyond the empty sky.’

Sotheby’s. Snuff Bottles from the Mary & George Bloch Collection: Part IX. Hong Kong | 24 Nov 2014, 10:00 AM