'INK-PLAY' AGATES

'INK-PLAY' AGATES Hugh M. Moss I Cryptocrystalline or Microcrystalline Quartz I I The next step to be taken is to link the aesthetic appeal of the bot– ue with the high arts of the culture. It may seem somewhat fanciful to link an apparently lowly product to high art, and this has been a stum– bling block WiUl scholars approach– ing the subject of Chinese snuff bottles for many years. Scholars tended to dismiss bottles as 'those little tllings which are not impor~ tant.' We have all suffered from that. But consider the definition of high alt, palticularly in China, which has an extremely mature aesthetic culture: high art in China was the preoccupation of the influ– ential minority, who defined, col~ lected, and produced the arts. High alt wasn't defined by the product, but by its process. It was why it was produced, how it was pro– duced, and how it was responded to by the audience that constituted the art. ComJ11unication through the process took precedence over the product. The product was no more than a conduit for the process. The snuff bottle fits very neatly into this definition of high art. In the Qing dynasty, the influential minority included the literati class, the ruling class, and the occasional monk or sage. This was the key group of people in collecting, pro– ducing, and patronizing tlle snuff striped or striated and plain chal– cedony. Cenainly, in the snuff bot– tle world, we have become used (0 saying 'Suzhou agates' and 'shadow agates' and so the terms are pretty well interchangeable. I still cling to the English system. The quartz fam– ily of materials is covered in detail in Chinese SnuffBottles of the Silica or QUa11Z Group, which I pub– lished some time ago. The infoflna– tion in tlie section about material reflects ule expeltise of EA Job– bins of tlle Institute of Geological Sciences, London, which might ex– plain why I am still in agreement with it. The main function of quartz as a snuff bottle material is, of course, its hardness. Quartz was an ideal substance to contain snuff. It has a hardness of about 7, between nephrite and jadeite, and includes an extraordinaty range of materials. It is one of the most common mate– rials made into snuff bottles. What concerns us here is what is done with the material. Far above the material's functional appeal is its aesthetic appeal. It is a natural ma– terial, witll an infinite variety of markings and colorings, with magi– cal qualities of its own. From the earth comes an extraordinary po– tential for painterly subject matter, which we will explore. ". I I Jasper I I Quartz I Chalcedony and Agate (with stripes) I I I Crystalline Quartz I Editors.. On October 27, 1996, Hugh Moss spoke to the ICSBS members and guests in Hong Kong during the Twenty-Eighth Annual Conven– tion. Through the grace, expeltise, and very hard work of Elizabeth Jarvis and her daughter Terry in an international operation, the talk was taped in Hong Kong, tran– scribed, elucidated, and typed at least twice in Vancouver, reviewed and accepted by Mr. Moss in Lon– don, and sent on to the Journal in Baltimore. The Society is very grateful to the Jarvises for preserv– ing the Moss flavor for the benefit of all the members. The apparent oxymoron of the title "'Ink-Play" Agates' will, hope– fully and with your indulgence, be explained in the next forty-five minutes. I will begin by discussing the large Quartz family, illustrated in the chart below. QuaItz is the main heading, the generic title of the whole family. This then splits into two, the crystalline quartzes and the cryptocrystalline quartzes (the microcrystalline ones where the crystals are so small that the material becomes an amorphous mass). In the first three snuff bottles (figs. 1-3), we have examples of the QuaItz family, the first combin– ing crystalline and cryptocrystalline qualtz, as can happen quite fre– quently. We will return to these three later. The cryptocrystalline side of the family tree splits into the chalcedony group and jaspers. The chalcedony group has various dif– ferent definitions, depending on whether you are in America or Europe. In England the term agate tends to refer exclusively to the striped variety of chalcedony. In . America however, agate is a more generic term and encompasses both 4

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