Snuff bottle - ROM2005_3226_1


Snuff bottle

Medium:Enamel on copper
Geography: China
Date: mid 18th-19th Century
Period: Qing Dynasty
6.2 x 3.8 cm
Object number: 918.21.18
Credit Line: The George Crofts Collection
Not on view

This small bottle was used for storing snuff, a finely ground tobacco inhaled through the nose. While there are accounts of smoking tobacco in China from the early 17th century, there is no official record of snuff until 1684, when it was among gifts presented to the Kangxi emperor by European missionaries. The habit of snuff taking immediately became popular at court and miniature decorative bottles were specially designed to hold small quantities. As the practice spread beyond the court, the demand for snuff bottles grew, fashioned from almost any material that could be formed in the shape of a bottle.

The art of painting in enamel colours on metal was brought to China from the West. The scene depicted on this bottle shows European figures in 18th century style clothing in a Chinese landscape setting.

The Qing dynasty emperors Kangxi (1662-1722), Yongzheng (1723-1735) and Qinglong (1736-1795) were particularly fascinated by the process. On more than one occasion an appeal was made by the European Christian missionaries at the court for an expert enameller to be sent to China.

"P. Rinaldo and P. Perrone write that the Thirteenth Prince would like to have a good enameller, as this profession is very much and almost solely appreciated by the Emperor (Qianlong). But such a person is required to be a master in the art and must know how to properly bake enamel, something which the Chinese do not know how to do." (From the minutes of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide, Rome, 1729.)

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