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Chinese Snuff Bottles
Chinese Snuff Bottles
Chinese Snuff Bottles
 
China Information - China Folk Culture and Art
Chinese Snuff Bottles

Chinese Snuff Bottles

Dipping snuff is a habit people don't indulge in any more. But the traditional Chinese folk art of painting the inside of snuff bottles is alive and well
at your friendly Beijing curio shop. The bottle is carved on the outside and painted on the inside, and would make a lovely addition to your
collection.
Snuff made its way via the old Silk Road. As early as 1542, the Italian missionary Matteo Ricci presented snuff bottles to the Emperor of Ming
Dynasty. By the time Qianlong came to power during the Qing Dynasty, dipping the spice-powered tobacco had become popular at court and
among society's nobles. So that China's lords ladies could dip their snuff in style, artisans were engaged to decorate the bottles. Soon snuff bottle
decorators were competing with each other.

Out of this chance encounter snuff bottle painting was born. The monk was inspired by what he had seen to devise a way to do on purpose what
the petty official had done by accident. Using a slender piece of bamboo curved at the head and soaked with ink, the monk spend hours painting
scenes inside the bottles. Perhaps this is true, and perhaps not, but snuff bottle painting began. It certainly caught the fancy of the era's rich and
famous, and fitted right into their lifestyles.

It is further reported that painting the inside of snuff bottles became popular in Beijing somewhat later, during the reign of Emperor Jiaqing (1792-
1820) of the Qing Dynasty. The bottles were transparent or translucent, so that the interior designs were clearly visible. Visitor to Beijing in those
days marveled at the great skill with which the painters could capture even the smallest details of a portrait or landscape.
A snuff bottle is generally small enough to be held in the palm of the hand, so decorations are invariably small. As a practiced in China, snuff bottle
painting takes at least three complementary skills: glassware molding, painting and calligraphy. The earliest bottles used had smooth inner walls
, which meant the paint easily flaked and fell off. For the reason, early designs were simple, using only a few basic colours.

Later artisans discovered techniques to rough up the inner surface so that the ink would stick, using iron fillings and emery boards. The result was
frosted, cream-colored glass that allowed painters to create flowers, historical and contemporary figures, and ornate inscriptions.
At present there are two international associations of snuff bottle collectors, one in the United States and the other in England. Both publish
journals and hold annual conferences. China's best-known snuff bottle carvers and painters are regularly invited to participant in the yearly
proceedings.


 
 


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