Glass; the transparent bubble-suffused body with a very wide mouth, overlaid in sapphire-blue on one side with a beaked dragon, its body tightly coiled, the reverse with a slender chilong with a broad feline head and strong limbs extended, attributed to the Imperial Glassworks, Beijing.
The Merriem Collection
Christie’s, New York, 19 March 2008 lot 249
The Golden Autumn Collection of Chinese Snuff Bottles by Robert Kleiner, no. 43
The Canadian Craft Museum, Vancouver, 1992
This bottle is one of a series carved with a distinctive variation on the usual style of the chilong. Each has a coiled beast on one side with jaws opened wide and on the reverse a more benign beast with a feline head and floppy ears. Two of the series, one in blue overlay and one in a red overlay, are illustrated in The White Wings Collection, nos. 61 and 62, both powerfully carved. This bottle, however, is the masterpiece of the group and in the intense coiled power of the chilong’s bodies attains a new level of dynamism and movement.
All the bottles have unusually wide mouths, a sign of early manufacture and the tones of sapphire-blue and ruby-red in which they are overlaid were both typical of monochrome bottles produced for the court. The standard of polish and the skilfully rounded and undercut bodies are evidence of a craftsman of the highest class, fully confident in his medium. There is an intriguing mention in the Imperial archives for 1726, second month, of a blue overlay with a ‘tiger-chi’ and it is tempting to wonder whether that is a reference to this unusual group (see Treasury 5, no. 920).
The endless bodies of these chilong recall the Buddhist endless knot and are symbols of extended longevity.