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    Sale 2026

    Important Chinese Snuff Bottles From The J&J Collection, Part V

    17 September 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 57



    Price Realised  


    Of irregular form with flat lip and irregular, recessed convex foot, carved with a continuous landscape scene with an old man riding a donkey and being attended to by a servant on foot, who precedes him carrying a bag over his shoulder and a fly-whisk as they pass beneath a blossoming prunus tree, inscribed in regular script 'A blossom or two of prunus is the heart of heaven and earth', jadeite stopper with gilt-bronze collar
    2 in. (7.26 cm.) high

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    One of the most beautiful of the exotic materials used for snuff bottles is amber, the translucent fossilized resin of ancient coniferous trees from the Tertiary period. The three main varieties of amber used are: a range of transparent brown, golden-brown and reddish amber, much of which came from Burma, although similar material was also found elsewhere; a yellow, cloudy amber associated with the Baltic; and 'root amber,' where the transparent range of material has inclusions of opaque yellow-ochre and brown colors.

    Amber was valued long before the snuff-bottle era and was considered to be a symbol of longevity, since it was known to have lain in the ground being transformed over a long period of time. It would have become a popular material for snuff bottles from very early in the development of the art-form.

    The material used for this bottle is called 'root' amber, so called because it was believed that the resin combines with clay at the root of the tree to obtain its color. However, it is more likely that the color is the result of a chemical process.

    This bottle belongs to a distinctive group of 'pebble-shaped' amber bottles. See J. Ford, Chinese Snuff Bottles. The Edward Choate O'Dell Collection, no. 69, which has the same subject as this bottle; and another from the B. Stevens Collection illustrated by H. Moss in Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 4, p. 52, no. 20. Another pebble-shaped bottle is illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, no. 249.

    The carving is remarkably similar to the other examples quoted above, suggesting a single workshop, possibly dating to the mid- to late-nineteenth century, and possibly working in response to the European demand for sculptural cabinet bottles.

    The subject matter is believed to depict the Tang statesman and philosopher (768-824), Han Yu. He was banished to modern-day Guangdong after daring to remonstrate with the Emperor over a Buddhist relic in the Palace. He was a great lover of prunus, which he grew in his home. As he left, he broke off a branch of prunus to take with him on his exile. Although neither figure is carrying a branch of prunus, they are shown doing so in several of the other bottles from the same group. See W. Edmunds, Pointers and Clues to the Subjects of Chinese and Japanese Art, p. 125, for a further discussion on this subject.
    The inscription is the fourth and final part of a poem written by Weng Sen, who lived in the Song or Yuan dynasty, entitled 'The Joy of Reading Throughout the Four Seasons'. This line is often quoted to mean that through the observation of small things one may be able to perceive the truth (Dao) in life and the universe.

    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.


    Christie's, London, 20-21 June 1984, lot 400
    Hugh M. Moss Ltd.


    Moss, Graham, Tsang, The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle. The J & J Collection, Vol. 2, no. 297
    The Art of Chinese Snuff Bottle, Poly Art Museum, p. 50


    Dallas Convention, October 1985
    Christie's, New York, 1993
    Empress Place Museum, Singapore, 1994
    Museum für Kunsthandwerk, Frankfurt, 1996-1997
    Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, 1997
    Naples Museum of Art, Florida, 2002
    Portland Museum of Art, Oregon, 2002
    National Museum of History, Taipei, 2002
    International Asian Art Fair, Seventh Regiment Armory, New York, 2003
    Poly Art Museum, Beijing, 2003