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cinnabar bottle

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Author Topic: cinnabar bottle  (Read 672 times)
Rube
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« on: February 21, 2017, 08:32:38 am »

Greetings,

I'm posting a few pics of a cinnabar bottle which belonged to my great grandmother.  It looks similar in style to one recently posted in the latest catalog that was posted a few days ago on this forum.  I'm curious to its age and symbolism.  The bottle is 2 9/16" tall and the top unfortunately is glued on, I can hear spoon jingling inside.  Thanks,

Rheuben



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* IMG_8819.JPG (112.68 KB, 577x703 - viewed 28 times.)

* IMG_8821.JPG (91.88 KB, 488x694 - viewed 19 times.)
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Rube, 4th Generation Collector

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Rube
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« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2017, 08:36:56 am »

Hi all,

The catalog I was referencing is Jill Guo Gie, no. 66.
Thanks,

Rheuben.
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Rube, 4th Generation Collector

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« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2017, 10:29:14 am »

Hi Rheuben,

A lot of similarities but some differences as well.

The sky diaper on your bottle is different, quite unusual and free, the catalogue bottle has a more traditional sky diaper. The water diaper on both is similar and 3 dimensional which is not so usual in that the waves sit up from each other, again it seems your bottle is bolder in it's waves.

Could be the same person riding the tiger on the catalogue bottle as catching ? the 3 legged toad on yours. Very similar faces. Liu Hai ?

I'd say the catalogue bottle is a little better carved, more detail and depth in the clothing and clouds and a bit sharper all round so I might question if they were carved by the same person.

Regards, Adrian.
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Fiveroosters
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« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2017, 10:52:21 am »

Dear Rube,
Adrian is right, on one side is Liu Hai, witht the string, the coins and the three legged toad.
On the other side those guys are He He Er Xian, other two immortals, usually represented with the lotus (here in the right hand of the boy on the left) and the box.
Nice bottle, I agree not so skill carved but interesting especially for the symbolism.
Kind regards
Giovanni
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Rube
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« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2017, 01:45:45 pm »

Adrian and Giovanni,
Thank you both for your insights! I'm glad to learn of the symbolism on this bottle as it's all new to me. To show my utter lack of education, let me ask one more question:  what are diapers as they pertain to snuff bottles, motifs that represent sky and water?
Cheers,
Rheuben
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Rube, 4th Generation Collector

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« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2017, 02:19:41 pm »

Hi Rheuben,

Yes, background repeated patterns representing sky, water and land.

In your second picture you can see a land diaper behind Liu Hai's behind ! It is carved quite square edged whereas it is more normal to shape it with 45 degree cuts and is relatively large. Under Liu Hai is a water diaper of curved waves and there are also waves breaking on the rocks. In the sky are clouds and at a deeper layer more clouds which is an unusual sky diaper.

They can be used to date things in that different diapers were used at different times but it can be a very complicated subject, beyond my current reading except in the basic understanding.

Regards, Adrian.
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forestman
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« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2017, 04:38:18 pm »

I was going to add this to the "Old cinnabar" thread but thought I would add it here. I had put some information on lacquer on that thread but it related to Japanese lacquer and not directly to carved cinnabar. Since then I have been doing more research including 2 books on Chinese lacquer.

The first book was "Techniques in Chinese lacquer" somewhat miss titled as it is about European attempts to replicate Chinese lacquer. The second was "Chinese carved lacquer" which was far more helpful but doesn't have any mention of snuff bottles.

Cinnabar colours range from a chestnut through to bright reddish orange. The brightest reds weren't from cinnabar but vermillion and a synthetic cinnabar was used from early in the 17th Century.

I have quoted, as have others, that better pieces had 100-200 layers which is found in many publications. These are very rare and seem to have happened over a short period, dates for which weren't given and would have been Imperial pieces. Before and after this period far fewer layers were used. In the "Eight discourses of the art of living" (1591) it's asserted that in the reign of Yongle (1403-24) that a Court edict ordered that 36 layers should be used.

Thin coats of lacquer set very hard. Thicker coats set as a hard skin, under the skin doesn't set as it's sealed from air and humidity needed to set it. In order to make thicker coats set, to produce the depth needed for deep carving with fewer layers, the lacquer was adulterated by adding to it, ash, pigs blood, brick dust and tang oil are examples. These created an open texture that let air and humidity in so thicker layers set. Some attempts were made to mould a single thick layer but this was rare but heavily adulterated layers could be laid in just a few layers. The Japanese started polychrome carved lacquer (different colours in layers) in the early 15th Century with Chinese lacquerers learning from them. They also used moulded lacquer as appliqued designs.

Very early carved cinnabar lacquer had a thin reference layer of black laid after the base coats. This allowed the carver to know when he had carved too far. As carvers improved the black layer was dropped. Then darker reds were used for early layers with brighter layers above giving some reference of depth carved. Later as carvers improved more one shade of red was used for all layers.

There were Imperial lacquer workshops in the Forbidden City from 1416-36 and from 1680 through to the time of the Qianlong Emperor 1736-95. Imperial pieces were produce in other areas when these workshops weren't producing.

Copying of carved lacquer has been happening for centuries both by the Chinese of their own work and by the Japanese of Chinese work (and their own work) and there are likely more pieces of Japanese works that have not been attributed to them as yet.

I found one picture of a cinnabar snuff bottle researching carved lacquer and the detail on the faces of it had been lost due to handling. While purer lacquer sets very hard, cinnabar coloured lacquer seems much softer hence the test for cinnabar lacquer being to press hard with a fingernail which should leave an indent which is not something that would work with normal lacquer. Being softer obviously aids carving and I have seen some modern cinnabar bottles that have what look like small areas of melted wax in them where the detail is lost with very soft spots of lacquer where it may have been badly mixed and so adulterated it doesn't set in a normal way.

Lacquer trees are indigenous to China but were introduced to Japan from China. Sap in China was said to come from large old trees whereas in Japan it comes from young trees (7 years old) which are cultivated by copicing which may be why Japanese lacquer has a higher percentage of urushiol.

Regards, Adrian.
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Pat - 查尚杰
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« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2017, 07:19:33 pm »

Thanks for this insight into lacquer Adrian! Much appreciated and happy to learn more about this.  I have always been hesitant to buy these types of bottles as I can't discern age very well on them.
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Pat
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« Reply #8 on: February 22, 2017, 03:36:04 am »

Hi Pat,

I love learning as much as I can about things I love and am happy to pass on anything I think may help.

Dating carved lacquer seems something of a minefield, the book "Chinese carved lacquer" questions previous dates given through most of the book. So much of what is written concentrates on the highest quality items from collections and museums, most of which are Imperial, so we judge by that for dating while sub Imperial items not heavily controlled in workshops developed differently adding to the problem as does the copying and faking. The same can be said in all areas of snuff bottles.

In terms of seeing layers in carved lacquer some edges were polished at certain times which would have hidden layers. The Japanese were known to give a very thin coat of lacquer to Chinese bottles to change the colour meaning layers wouldn't show. Bottles were also waxed which might hide layers. The wearing of layers which gives a "watered silk" look (from layers been seen in worn areas) was able to be copied later on.

Regards, Adrian.

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Wattana
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« Reply #9 on: February 22, 2017, 04:13:11 am »

Hi Adrian,

Thank you for your in depth information on lacquer! This is a material I have rarely handled, and know very little about. For instance, I had no idea that substitutes for cinnabar were used that early on.

Tom
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Tom
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Rube
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« Reply #10 on: February 22, 2017, 05:10:47 am »

Adrian,

Thanks for sharing this abundance of information! Now I'm even more intrigued by this medium.

Cheers,


Rheuben
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Rube, 4th Generation Collector

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« Reply #11 on: February 22, 2017, 03:03:08 pm »

Hi Tom (and anyone else !),

From your comment about not knowing substitutes for cinnabar had been used so early it seems I might have unintentionally mislead.

Cinnabar is an ore of mercury sulphide that is mined. Mercury is poisonous and mining it is bad for the health which was known by the Romans and the Spanish used criminals to mine it which was considered to be a death sentence. It was expensive to mine, in Roman times as a pigment it was on a par with gold leaf cost wise.

Synthetic cinnabar is made from combining mercury and sulphur, heating it to produce vapours which condense as crystals which are ground to produce a cinnabar pigment. So it doesn't relate to the moulded plastic cinnabar we see.

I also implied that vermilion was different to cinnabar which was implied in my reading. They appear to be one and the same. Essentially cinnabar (mercury sulphide) is the source of the brilliant red or scarlet pigment termed vermilion. But reds weren't just produced from cinnabar as ferric oxide was also used and additives to thicken layers like pigs blood and brick dust created reds and different shades of red were used in the same periods.

Regards, Adrian.
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