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A ‘realgar’ glass facetted vase qing dynasty, 18th century

Of hexagonal section, supported on a low foot of conforming shape, the bulging body tapering to the waisted neck collared by a raised fillet below a slightly flared mouth, the glass of opaque orange, yellow ochre and ruby-red colours swirled together to resemble the realgar mineral The form of this vase, made of glass simulating the striking orange-red coloured arsenic sulphide mineral ‘realgar’, is unusual although a pair of vases of this shape and colouration can be found in the British Museum, London, one of which is illustrated in Soame Jenyns and William Watson, Chinese Art. The Minor Arts II, London, 1965, p. 144, pl. 81.  Jenyns and Watson in their cataloguing of the British Museum vases mention, ibid., p. 144, that they were originally part of the Sloane collection and came to the museum in 1753. Regina Krahl in China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795, op.cit., p. 450, notes that the British Museum vases provide a useful terminus ante quem for the present example. Interestingly, the Sloane collection further contained a pair of bowls and four cups, made in glass simulating realgar. See also a set of ten realgar glass cups, acquired in Guangzhou and brought back to Europe on the Kronprins Christian in 1732, now in the collection of the Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen, included in Bente Dam Mikkelsen et. al. ed., Ethnographic Objects in the Royal Danish Kunstkammer 1650-1800, Copenhagen, p. 218, nos. Ebc 71-82. The cups are of a similar group of realgar glass to this vase, with a dull ochre inner layer and vividly coloured outer skin of variegated scarlet and ochre with some hints of green.  The scarlet, a colour introduced by the Jesuit missionary artist Kilian Stumpf working in the Imperial Glass Workshop (also known as the Glassworks) around 1796, is in fact transparent ruby red colouration. However, it appears a different colour when placed on top of an opaque yellow or ochre ground. In China, realgar is called xionghuang, but is more commonly referred to as wuguarang (dwarf melon flesh). Zhou Jixu, a late Qing period connoisseur, described it as the first such type to appear in the Palace Workshop with its colouring containing blotches of red and yellow arbitrarily pulled together. See Richard John Lynn, ‘Technical Aspects and Connoisseurship of Snuff Bottles: Late Traditional Chinese Sources’, JICSBS, Summer, 1995, p. 8. For further discussion of realgar glass and its possible imperial origins and dating, see Hugh Moss and Graham, Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, The Mary and George Bloch Collection, vol. 5, Hong Kong, 2000, pp. 138-146, where the authors suggest that it was the product of the court from the early 18th century onwards and possibly a courtly prerogative or secret for some decades. Glass vases in the form of a tied pouch can be found with Qianlong reign marks; for example see one illustrated in Hugh Moss, By Imperial Command, Hong Kong, 1976, pl. 41, attributed to the Imperial workshop and sold in these rooms, 15th November 1988, lot 77, and again at Christie’s Hong Kong, 30th April 1995, lot 572; and another, also with a blue-enamel Qianlong mark and similarly enamelled in the palace workshop, sold in these rooms, 29th October 2000, lot 2. For examples of realgar glass vessels, see a mallet vase, from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, included in Luster of Autumn Water, Beijing, 2004, pl. 25; another mallet vase and a dish sold in these rooms, 8th October 2009, lots 1801 and 1819 respectively; and a censer, formerly in the collection of Professor Peter H. Plesch and Mrs. T. Plesch, sold in these rooms, 8th October 2010, lot 2219.

  • HKGHongkong (S.A.R. Kina)
  • 2013-04-08
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