Published Apr 3 2013, by


The Kangxi emperor (reigned 1662–1722) was a renaissance man whose patronage of the arts was surpassed only by his intuitive administrative abilities and military prowess. In 1698, he took the remarkable initiative of opening the only imperially supported glass studio in China’s history. The works of art made in this early eighteenth-century workshop were a fusion of European and Chinese forms and decoration, and very few survive to this day.

This bottle is one such work and of a type specially designed to sit on a scholar’s desk for use with a calligraphy brush. The gentle curves of its globular form, achieved by standard glass-blowing techniques, sweep up from the base to a stout, raised neck in emulation of a Western prototype. The vitreous mixture that was used to create its deep aquamarine color contained too great a percentage of alkaline com-ponents, so the surface has visibly “crizzled” over time. Crizzling occurs when the glass surface breaks down physically and typically manifests itself, as here, as splotchy patches of silvery gloss on the exterior. This effect is characteristic of Chinese glass made between 1700 and 1730 and may well have been an intentional design element favored for its accidental qualities.

The outer surfaces of this bottle have been wheel-etched throughout with a classic flowing lotus design. This technique approximates Venetian diamond-tip engraving and, together with the form, highlights an ever-distinctive union of Chinese subject matter with European technology in the best innovative, imperial Qing-dynasty tradition.