• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1977

    The Meriem Collection Important Chinese Snuff Bottles, Part II

    19 March 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 211

    **A RARE AND WELL-CARVED CORAL SNUFF BOTTLE

    1740-1850

    Price Realised  

    **A RARE AND WELL-CARVED CORAL SNUFF BOTTLE
    1740-1850
    Of compressed form with flat lip and recessed, slightly convex foot surrounded by a footrim, carved on the main sides with scholars' objects including cash, an album, a teapot and teabowl and vases and pots of blossoming peony and prunus branches and lotus leaves, the narrow sides carved with animal mask-and-ring handles, the horned heads with elaborate manes, the forepaws of the animals gripping either side of the ring handles, turquoise stopper with gilt-metal collar
    2 5/64 in. (5.3 cm.) high


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    Coral is a symbol of long life because it has branches like a tree, but is a stone and seemingly everlasting. At Court, coral was considered the third most valuable gem after pearl and ruby, and civil officers of the first rank wore coral buttons on their hats. When worshipping at the Altar of the Sun, the emperor wore a coral necklace and matching coral belt.

    Documents reveal that snuff bottles of coral were produced for the Court at Imperial lapidary workshops in Suzhou and Yangzhou throughout the early and mid-Qing period (see Masterpieces of Snuff Bottles in the Palace Museum, p. 29). The paucity of genuine coral bottles from this period is presumably due to the fact that only the occasional branch of coral was large enough to make a snuff bottle. Some early coral bottles are made of several joined segments, and others are constructed of distressed material, requiring coral or wax inlays to conceal the flaws.

    Coral bottles from the early to mid-Qing period are well-carved, mostly with symbolic and auspicious motifs, and tend to belong to the middle range of color, from pale salmon to a more vibrant, vermilion hue, as seen here. For representative examples, see Moss, Graham and Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, Vol. 4, Stones, nos. 427-31; B. Stevens, A Collector's Book of Chinese Snuff Bottles, nos. 591 and 593; and C. Lawrence, Miniature Masterpieces from the Middle Kingdom. The Monimar Collection of Chinese Snuff Bottles, pp. 68-69, no. 28.

    The present bottle combines the auspicious symbolism of the coral material with numerous other auspicious symbols. Natural rock sculptures, apart from representing the naturalistic aesthetic of post-Tang China, stand for longevity; one name for them, shoushi, contains a homonym for the word for longevity (shou). The prunus (mei) is a pun on the word for eyebrows, as shaggy eyebrows are a sign of advanced years. The prunus also represents the ideal gentleman, because of its ability to bloom under the harshest winter conditions. The many vases (ping) allude to peace (ping'an). Lotus (lian or he) represents peace (heping) and marital harmony. The peonies represent wealth because of their rich color and because in Tang times only aristocrats were said to be able to cultivate them. The coin symbolizes both wealth and perfection as one word for cash (quan) is a homophone for "completeness." The teapot and beaker vase, both pronounced hu, represent good fortune or happiness, and the book near a vase expresses a wish for high rank and success in the civil examinations.

    Special Notice

    Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory and tortoiseshell. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country.


    Provenance

    Alex S. Cussons Collection.
    Hugh Moss Ltd., circa 1966.
    A Private Collection.
    Sydney L. Moss Ltd., early 1970s.
    Hugh Moss Ltd.


    Literature

    JICSBS, March 1978, front cover.
    Catalogue, Canadian Craft Museum, Vancouver, 1992.
    H. Moss, Chinese Snuff Bottles, no. 1, p. 19, center.


    Exhibited

    Canadian Craft Museum, Vancouver, 1992.