There's Snuff Choice to Please Everyone; Small Enough to Fit in the Hand but Big on Style, These Chinese Bottles Are a Collector's Dream

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), July 25, 2015 | Go to article overview

There's Snuff Choice to Please Everyone; Small Enough to Fit in the Hand but Big on Style, These Chinese Bottles Are a Collector's Dream


The history of Chinese arts and crafts is a long one. During the Neolithic period for example - it stretched from the tenth to the second millennium BC - China's artist potters were making pottery incised or painted with stylish geometric and linear designs that, for the time, show an amazing level of invention. In contrast, our cavemen were chasing their next meal.

By the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) the potters were producing remarkable earthenware, notably the impressive models of camels and horses placed in the tombs of the departed and with the Song Dynasty (960-1279) came the age of classic Chinese ceramics.

The secret of producing translucent, resonant and thin-bodied true porcelain had already been cracked and literally thousands of kiln sites across China were in full production.

By the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) extravagant and sophisticated porcelain, notably the cobalt blue and white ware so popular during the era, was being exported around the world.

Glass ingots were being imported to China from the Near East by the middle of the first millennium BC to be made into beads and other jewellery, as substitutes for rare precious and semi-precious stones - notably jade.

During the Ming Dynasty, glass bottles, vases and bowls were made from layers of coloured glass, which was carved to produce cameo-like decoration.

However, it was not until the late 17th century that the first imperial glass workshops were established in Beijing. It served the court of Kangxi (1654-1722) the fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty.

By then, the humble snuff bottle had become one of the most popular products.

Portuguese traders had already introduced tobacco to the country, but smoking was declared illegal during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912 ) although taking powdered tobacco in the form of snuff was permitted because it was thought to cure common illnesses.

The upper classes quickly adopted the habit and, when techniques were mastered for cutting and modelling jade and hardstones such as agate, quartz, cornelian and amethyst, decorative snuff bottles, sized to sit in the palm of the hand and sumptuous enough to impress in social circles, became de rigeur.

Decoration was as varied as the boundless imagination of the craftsmen who fashioned them. Motifs included mythological scenes and symbolic creatures, immortals, women, landscapes, birds, fish and flowers. Agate snuff bottles examples are among the most delightful - and valuable. Their beauty lies partly in the colour of the stone, which varies from light blue to black. …

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